Once upon a time there was a prince; a dreamer prince; artistic pursuit was the love of his life; reciting poetry aloud, enacting at drama were his passion.
The carefree life style was suddenly cut short; his father, the ruling king, died and the prince was snatched away from his poetic world to become a monarch; the romantic young boy was burdened with the duties of a kingdom at the age of only eighteen years.
Though popular with his subjects, his mind strayed away from politics and eventually he gave way to his heart’s calling; commissioned a fairy tale castle, ‘Schloss Neuschwanstein’, on a high cliff at a secluded place to retreat from public eye and take refuge in his world of fantasy.
No, the king is not a character from a fairy tale; he is real, King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Ironically, due to his eccentric behavior, he was named ‘fairy tale king’.
There is a subtle hint of a fairy tale in the very name of the castle, Neu-schwan-stein, New Swan on Stone.
After death of King Ludwig II in 1886, his dream castle was opened for public viewing.
In the summer of 2010 during our short visit to Munich, capital of Bavaria, the southern State of Germany, we enjoyed a rendezvous with this famously romantic castle.
On a bright sunny morning our train journey started from Munich main station.
German country side with verdant rolling lands dotted with farm houses and far away hills standing guard was a picture of tranquillity.
The scene was occasionally punctuated by small lakes and fields covered by carpets of wild flower.
German country-side, lakes and wild flowers
The heady concoction of freshness of nature laced with a fine weather was intoxicating. We hardly noticed that the two and a half hours journey from Munich to Füssen, the closest station to Neuschwanstein Castle, was already over.
From Fussen station, a bus ride of around ten minutes took us to the Hohenschwangau village situated at the base of the cliff. A Little ahead of the bus stop is the ticket centre for castle tour.
The last lap of the journey was still remaining.
We opted out of first of the three options, which is a walk uphill of approximately 45 minutes; instead we waited for the shuttle bus service.
Suddenly the familiar sound of horses trotting down concrete road alerted us; within minutes an open carriage driven by two bulky horses appeared round the corner.
First sight of our drivers
Santanu, our son-in-law, took instant decision to ride up the hill in this horse-driven carriage. This is the most expensive option of all three, but worth every penny.
The horse-driven open carriage
The steep uphill ride magically transformed us into members of a royal entourage. Two huskies pulls the carriage up a steep mountain path flanked by tall trees; streaks of sunrays flashes through their silky emerald foliage; the azure sky sparkles high above; a hushed silence prevails as if in respect of the royals passing; the silence is broken only by clip-clop of horses’ hooves and gurgling of occasional mountain brooks.
A deep inhalation of the fragrant fresh air is enough to make one feel years younger.
The carriage ride ends almost at the cliff top.
Ambiance of uphill carriage ride
The long journey from morning till noon demanded a hearty lunch.
Restaurants lining one side of the road vie with one another for attention and meal options galore; German, French, Italian, Greek, even Chinese food is on offer.
Our obvious choice was authentic German spread of pork knuckle roast, chicken schnitzel mit (with) pommes frites (potato finger chips) baked salmon fillet etc., to be washed down by Hofbrau beer, the famous Bavarian beer, an icon of Oktoberfest.
The tender, juicy pork knuckle with a knife stuck in it became the centre of attraction.
Pork knuckle roast
A further uphill walk of ten minutes was needed to reach the entrance gate of the castle; on our left lay the Alpine foothills and lakes; on the right the sheer rock wall of the castle is jutting out towards the sky.
Wall of the castle
The first glimpse of the castle was again magical; we could almost visualize knights on horseback galloping towards the castle filling the atmosphere with echo of the reverberating sound.
Each entrance ticket is assigned a tour number and tourists are allowed to enter only when their numbers are displayed on the screen at the gate.
The Entrance with the screen
We had to wait outside the gatehouse for a while; the gatehouse is adorned with royal Bavarian coat of arms and flanked by two stair towers.
In due course our numbers appeared on the screen; on entering we came to the lower level of the castle courtyard forty five minutes before the scheduled time of our English guided tour.
The scenery on the south with mountains and the ‘Pollat’ gorge is eye catching; the "Marienbrücke", a bridge hanging high over the gorge looks tiny from this distance; father of Ludwig built II as a gift to his Prussian wife Marie.
Marienbrücke bridge hanging over the gorge
Eventually our numbers were announced and through a flight of steps we reached the upper level of the courtyard; the group members gathered together along with the guide.
We entered the castle building and reached the corridor.
The Castle Corridor
The corridor is overlooking the meadow on the north; the cottages of the far away village look tiny; the boats sailing in the lake still further down seem to be white dots.
Visitors can see the castle only through a guided tour and photography is prohibited inside.
It is designed as a castle of the Swan Knight, a fictitious medieval legendary knight; hence swan features everywhere, on murals, paintings, upholstery, decorations on furniture, stain glass windows etc.
King Ludwig II was a great patron of Richard Wagner; the themes of the decorations are influenced by the composer’s operas.
Innovative technologies of the nineteenth century like telephone, central heating, running hot and cold water on all the floors, modern kitchen appliances, automatic flushing system in the toilets, battery operated bell system to summon servants, lifts to carry meals on upper floors etc. were used in the castle.
The main building is a five storey structure; originally two hundred rooms were planned, out of which only fifteen have been finished containing the king’s living quarters, throne room, the Singer’s hall, servants’ quarters etc. The castle was built as a secluded home of the king, not his court.
The guided tour of thirty minutes ends in the second floor containing a shop and a cafeteria. A model of the castle is kept here.
The castle exit is on the opposite side of entrance; eager to explore the ‘Marienbrucke’ bridge, we followed an uphill path towards it leaving the castle behind us.
Neuschwanstein Castle to Marienbrucke bridge
Far below on our right lay the Hohenschwangau village with the Hohenschwangau Castle in it and the Alpsee in the background.
Hohenschwangau village from top
A pleasant surprise was awaiting us at the bridge; the Neuschwanstein castle can be best viewed from ‘Marienbrucke’; it looks mysterious, aloof and unreal.
The magnificent castle with soaring towers stands tall on the high cliff against a dramatic backdrop. It looks like a ‘fairy tale castle’.
In fact, ‘Schloss Neuschwanstein’ was Disney’s inspiration for ‘Sleeping Beauty Castle’.
View of Neuschwanstein castle from Marienbrucke
King Ludwig II stayed aloof from his stately duties, plundered his personal fortune and borrowed heavily from friends and relatives to build his dream abode.
He was named a ‘mad king’, ‘fairy tale king’ and was probably murdered, but today Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular of all the palaces and castles in Europe.
Every year 1.4 million people visit the castle. In 2007, Schloss Neuschwanstein was a finalist in the online selection of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’.
His creation has made him immortal.
Photo courtesy: Santanu Chakraborty