When Ludwig’s father died in 1864, 18-year-old Ludwig became king of Bavaria and did what any 18-year-old monarch obsessed with Lohengrin would do: He summoned for his idol, Richard Wagner. Ludwig paid off the composer’s countless debts and became his patron, financing the lavish premieres of Wagner’s operas. “Beloved one, Holy one!” Ludwig wrote in a letter. “I am like a spark longing to be inflamed and illuminated in the rays of your sun.”
Like a die-hard fan, young King Ludwig commissioned a theatrical set designer to create architectural plans to build a magnificent, idealized medieval knight’s castle to pay homage to Wagner’s operas Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. Spending his personal fortune and not public money, Ludwig built a series of elaborate palaces to create a fairy-tale fantasy world that he could rule as a reclusive king, enjoying operas and plays privately staged for an audience of one.
“Wait a second,” says Ashley, as we walk uphill toward Ludwig’s new castle (now called Neuschwanstein, meaning “new swan stone”). “Isn’t that the castle in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?”
“Yes,” says Debbie, “and Around the World In 80 Days.”
“There better be a ride inside,” says Julia.
Inside Neuschwanstein, paintings, murals, tapestries and mosaics depict romanticized scenes from the legend of Lohengrin. Huge chandeliers lit by more than 600 candles hang in the massive Hall of Singers. In the majestic throne room, inspired by the St. Sophia Basilica in Istanbul, Julia takes a look around, summons her inner Beauty and the Beast and says, “Where’s Belle, Lumiere and Mrs. Potts?”
For our girls, the crowning jewel of Ludwig’s New Castle is the stunning view from the Marienbrüke suspension bridge that spans Pöllat Gorge, only a 15-minute walk uphill in Ludwig’s backyard. From there, we walk down the gorge trail, admiring the 148-foot-tall Pöllat waterfall.
“This is like a real, live fantasyland,” says Ashley.