You know the one I mean! The one everybody calls the “Disney Castle.” What most Pinners don’t know is that the castle is interesting in its own right! I’m here to tell you why. And if you don’t know why people call it the “Disney Castle” in the first place? Well, I’ll tell you that, too!
The castle is actually called Neuschwanstein. (Yeah, “Disney” is easier to say.) It’s located in southwestern Bavaria, near the German-Austrian border, right by Füssen, making it an easy day trip from Munich. (Easy public bus routes go straight there!) The castle was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the nineteenth century. Let’s scrape up some painful high school history memories and talk about Ludwig. Dude was intense! He’s sometimes known as “mad King Ludwig” or the “Swan King” or the “fairy-tale king.” None of which are particularly flattering nicknames. It’s said that Ludwig was really into medieval chivalry and mythology, as well as Richard Wagner‘s operas. (Some people think he was in love with Wagner. But I mean, in those days, who wasn’t?)
In any event, at a certain point hobbies become obsessions, and Ludwig went ahead and jumped the fine line between the two. He went castle-building crazy, sending his personal finances plummeting and his state responsibilities, well, they weren’t exactly as exciting as castles. But perhaps the most magnificent project he started was Neuschwanstein. Ludwig had the place built in the 1860’s. That makes the castle, well, not really that old in the grand scheme of castles. But it was built upon the ruins of two medieval castles in the Bavarian Alps and within sight of Ludwig’s childhood home…er, childhood castle.
It’s no surprise Ludwig decided to rebuild where his father and the royals before him did. Look at those views! One of the old medieval castles in the area was called Schwanstein – so after Ludwig’s death, people just tacked on the “neu.” (About as creative as the naming of New York.) The castle is said to have been built with Wagner’s operas and operatic characters in mind…whatever the hell that means. It’s a castle of splendor, of decoration, of imagination – having exactly zero defensive features or mechanisms, which is, of course, usually the purpose of castles. (Apparently the purpose of this one was Pinterest. Mission accomplished.) It’s a long walk to the top of the cliff where the castle perches. My friends and I, being incomprehensibly lazy, decided to price the horse ‘n buggy rides that were shuttling people to the top. Miraculously, they were seriously cheap!
So we took the easy way out, yelling obscenities at the poor walking bastards we passed on the way up.
Once at the top, your best photo ops are going to be outside the castle since,
A) that’s where the views are, and, B) flash photography isn’t allowed inside.
During high tourist season, you may not even be able to score a tour, which is the only way inside. But that’s okay, because the real treat is the great outdoors.
Supposedly 30 people died in the construction of the castle. Surprising? Hell no! See if you can one-up them and not perish on these cliffs.
If you do make it up to Neuschwanstein, make sure you pay a visit to the nearby Marienbrücke (or, “Mary’s Bridge”). (There will be signs for it everywhere.) Though visiting the actual castle is cool, the stereotypical, breathtaking view of the castle that you’ve seen so many times on Pinterest? That’s from the bridge.
Now, I don’t consider myself afraid of heights. But holy shit, man, was that scary! And, like most scary things I do, totally worth it for the view!
Because of its location in the middle of nowhere, the castle, unlike a lot of cool shit in Europe, survived WWII without a scratch. In fact, it became a place for the Nazi Party to dump the stuff it plundered during the war, including a shit-ton of art. For some reason, that didn’t get Neuschwanstein onto Pinterest. But this did: After the war, Walt Disney toured Europe with the wifey, presumably looking for inspiration for his magical projects in the U.S. He supposedly found said inspiration in Neuschwanstein. If you look at Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland, or Cinderella’s castle in Disney World, you can see similarities with the German jewel. (There are a ton of similar details that people have noted; I got too bored reading about them so I sure as hell won’t force it on you.)
The fact is, old Walt took inspiration from a lot of other places, too. Like Versailles and some other places in France and…and…who cares? Nazis stayed here, y’all! I find that monumentally more interesting. The castle itself was never fully completed to the extent of Luddy’s plans. He was declared “mad” and deposed by his cabinet. Shortly thereafter, both Ludwig and his psychiatrist were found dead in a lake near Munich. The mystery surrounding the deaths was never solved. Put that in a Disney movie, why don’t ya?