Neuschwanstein Castle

(It lives up to the hype)

Was King Ludwig II a madman or a genius? Think about it for a second. On one hand, the King spent all his fortune and then some to build fairy-tale castles for his personal pleasure. On the other hand, Bavaria is now the top tourist destination in Germany, thanks, in large part to...well, you know, the same guy.

Now, more than 130 years after the foundation of Neuschwanstein had been laid, it has become one of the most photographed, most famous, and most talked about castles in the world.
Neuschwanstein
This is the photo from the Tegelberg mountain--about 20 minutes hike from the castle
Many people are familiar with Neuschwanstein without even knowing it. What do you think the sleeping beauty castle in Disneyland was modeled after?

Neuschwanstein ("New swan's stone") was created by King Ludwig II with the help of a theatrical designer. Despite its medieval looks, the castle is about as old as the Coney Island Cyclone. The construction started in 1869 and was never fully completed. The King died in 1886 under very mysterious circumstances. He was found dead in the lake. Prior to his death, Ludwig II was declared insane by a medical commission. The validity of the diagnosis is still disputed today.

Neuschwanstein is an easy day trip from Munich. Many guidebooks, including the Lonely Planet, which I used, recommend getting to the castle as early as possible "to avoid the massive crowds." In reality, I think, getting to the castle in the afternoon is not a big deal, unless you want to visit more than one castle in the region in the same day.

I visited Neuschwanstein on June 26th, 2000. I took an 8:51 train from Munich and arrived in Fussen at 10:57 (German rail system is perhaps only second to Swiss when it comes to on-time departures/arrivals). From Fussen train station one has two choices: a) walk 5 kilometers, b) take a bus for a few DM (Actually the third option is taxi, but come on, we're all on the budget here). I took the bus, and in about 5 minutes I arrived in Shwangau-a tiny village at the bottom of the hill from where I could see the castle in the distance.
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Another photo from the Tegelberg mountain. This hike is worth it!
All I could say was, "Wow. How the hell did they build this in the 19th century?" The view was magnificent. And it was about to get only better.

From the bus stop it's about 25 or 40-minute walk up the hill to the castle, depending on which road you take--longer less inclined road or shorter but steeper road. It's a pretty decent hike, so if you know you have physical problems walking uphill I suggest you take a horse carriage for about $8.

When I got to the castle it was almost 1pm (I lingered in Shwangau a little). I went to the ticket booth, paid 12 DM (old college ID still does the trick, otherwise it's 15DM), and bought a 15:10 English tour of the castle (You cannot tour the castle on your own).
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Hohenschwangau castle--about 20 minutes walk from Neuschwanstein. King Ludwig's childhood home.

I had about 2 hours before the start of my tour, but it wasn't like, "Oh God, now what? I have to wait here for two hours. I wish I had gotten here earlier." On the contrary, these two hours provided me with the opportunity to walk in the woods surrounding the castle and take great pictures of Neuschwanstein from different angles.

There is a great view of Neuschwanstein from Marie Bridge, which is built at a height of 91 meters over the waterfall. Many tourists take pictures from here. The views are awesome, no questions, but what many people don't realize is that one can take an even better photo shot if you walk to the other side of the bridge and climb up the Tegelberg mountain. The trail gets pretty rocky and steep, but if you are in average physical shape you should have no problem. About 10 minutes into the climb, you will notice a cross. Apparently, this is a monument to someone who jumped down to his death from there.
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Hohenschwangau castle--up close and personal.
From the cross, you'll notice a loose trail going up. A thin wire blocks this trail. I just stepped over it, and continued to climb. The higher I climbed, the better the views of the castle became. I took a few pictures from there and then just sat on the grass enjoying the magnificent view of the castle without the crowds of people. I probably sat there for hour. It truly was a million dollar view.

The castle tour lasted only 35 minutes, and it wasn't anything special. Ludwig II was a big fan of Richard Wagner and he surrounded himself with paintings of characters and events from Wagner's operas. One room I found really impressive; between the living room and the study room, the King built an artificial cave! What a wild imagination!

King Ludwig II intended Neuschwanstein to be "one of the most beautiful [places] ever to be found." With all the modern publicity and fame, I had high expectations. And you know what, Neuschwanstein lived up to the hype.

Marie Bridge provides an excellent picture opportunity. Instead of walking up to the castle you can take a ride with these two beautiful horses.


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