Invariably dubbed ‘Fairy-Tale Castle’, ‘Dream Castle’ and ‘Swan Castle’, Neuschwanstein (which literally means “new swan stone castle”) is built through a folly of a mad Bavarian king, and immortalized by through follies of many romantics of the years that followed, which included one Walt Disney, who copied the castle for his princely fairy-tales (including Sleeping Beauty).
Built in southwest Bavaria, not far from the Austrian border, the most photographed building in the world was an idea of Ludwig II of Bavaria (“Mad King Ludwig”) who thought it would be nice to dedicate not only a grotto and a room but also an entire castle to the Swan Knight, Lohengrin, of Wagner’s opera.
Despite wild assumptions that the castle was designed by the king, aided by his comrade-in-lunacy Wagner, it was actually designed by one Christian Jank. The king was deposed and died before the castle was finished, but many tapestries and paintings inside which depicts scenes from Wagner’s Operas reflects the king’s infatuation with Wagner’s work.
The guided tour starts at the servant-quarters on the first floor, and take us through a spiral staircase to the Lower Hall on the third floor (the second floor was not completed). The Throne Room is on the right; the king’s apartments are on the left. The main staircase and the Lower Hall, decorated with scenes from the Sigurd legend of the Ring Cycle. (The saga of Sigurd’s wife Gudrun is in the Hall on the next floor.)
Only fourteen rooms were finished; the Throne Room which resembles a Byzantine church was completed, but the throne (which is to resemble an altar!) was never built. Decorated with semi-precious stones and faux-mosaics (paintings), the throne room took its inspirations from Munich All Saints Church and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The wall paintings show law-makers from the ancient, heathen and Christian worlds, who accompany along with angels, Christ, Mary, St John and six canonized kings. On the opposite side of the room is the Archangel Michael and St George.
The balcony, which is accessible from the Throne Room, has a magnificent view of the surroundings. (However, for the good view of the castle, however, one has to climb the nearby Marienbrücke (Marie’s Bridge))
In the king’s chambers, an anteroom leads into the Dining Room. This is followed by the Bedroom and the Oratory. The Salon, which is entered from the Dressing Room, is in two parts and is the largest room in the apartment. The next rooms are a grotto and a conservatory. The king’s study and an adjutant’s room end the tour of the third floor. Most rooms in Ludwig II’s apartment are Romanesque but his bedroom is Gothic.
It took 14 woodcarvers four years to complete the elaborate oak carvings of this room, and the king’s bed, which resembles a Gothic church. The wall paintings are of the Tristan and Isolde epic. The king’s private oratory is also Gothic, and accessible from both the bedroom and the dressing room. Originally planned large castle chapel was not completed. The altar, wall paintings and stained glass windows of oratory show the life of St. Louis IX of France, Ludwig II’s patron saint.
The Reading Salon is a ‘Swan Corner’. Four columns separate the main room from the “Swan Corner”. In the Salon the king was surrounded by illustrations from the Lohengrin saga, painted on coarse linen to look like tapestries. In this room the swan leitmotif appears not only in the pictures on the walls but also on the textiles and the doors and as a life-size naturalistic china model.
The pictures on the walls of the Dressing Room show the minnesingers and poets. The ceiling is a special feature: instead of being panelled with wood, it is painted with an illusionistic scene. Through the open roof of a garden bower with a trellis of vines, the observer looks up into a blue sky with birds.
Between the Salon and the Study is the most unusual room in the castle: the Grotto. When the doors are shut it looks like a natural dripstone cave. In Ludwig II’s day a small waterfall and coloured lighting created a romantic atmosphere. A hidden opening in the ceiling enabled him to listen to the music in the Singers’ Hall above. The room is an allusion to the Venus Grotto, where Tannhäuser succumbed to the charms of Venus (a saga illustrated in the next room, the king’s study).
A glass door which opens by sliding down into the “rock” leads from the Grotto to the Conservatory. Through the large glass panes there is an uninterrupted view of the Alpine foothills. The fountain in this room was originally intended for the Moorish Hall on the second floor of the castle.
The tour continues up the spiral staircase to the fourth floor. A palm-tree shaped column ends the main staircase, under a ceiling resembling a starry sky. Next to it is a dragon made of limestone, the “guardian of the tower”. The wall paintings resume the fate of Gudrun, the widow of Sigurd.
A Hall and the so-called Tribune Passage lead to the largest and most important room in the castle, the Singers’ Hall, directly above the grotto. The Singer’s Hall—decorated with The story of the Grail King Parsival, the father of Lohengrin—is the largest room in the castle. Despite its name, it is to serve as a banqueting hall and singers’ hall. In direct contrast is Ludwig’s small personal dining room. The king preferred to dine alone and his meals were transported from the kitchen three floors below through a manually operated lift. The wall pictures in the Dining Room are of the German troubadours or minnesingers. The highlight of this room is the centrepiece of gilt bronze of Sigurd’s fight with the dragon Fafnir.
The tour ends on the ground floor of the kitchen, which has been preserved exactly as it was in Ludwig’s day. However, Ludwig himself enjoyed its services for only two years.
Owing to his eccentricities and his rumored use of state funds (unfounded, since Ludwig actually used his own money to build the castle), Ludwig was removed from power before the castle was completed. He drowned himself soon after (mysteriously) and the castle and its amazing interior were opened to the public.
It was said that at the end of the Second World War, a hoard of gold from the German Reichsbank was stored in the castle, only to be carried off to an unknown place in the last days of the war. Rumors said it was plunged into the nearby Alat lake. Many other stolen items, from gold and antique jewelry to furniture and famous paintings were also stored at the castle. They were destined for Adolf Hitler’s personal collection.