In its variegated history, Germany has been the setting of fairy tales and real-life terrors. These are joined in Munich. Originally, I chose to travel to this city for my most depressing motivator: the belief that while I am able, I should witness firsthand the remnants of a concentration camp. Poland is a bit out of reach for me, so I decided on Dachau. I will not discuss this much further, as the experience is distinctly disturbing and to detail my thoughts would not be quite in line with my intended mood for this blog.
In contrast to Dachau, my other intention for visiting Munich was to take a day trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein, a nearby castle and the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Despite not allowing any photographs indoors, it is the most photographed building in Germany. This means that tourism runs rampant, and I learned an hour past the deadline that to see the inside of the castle, reservations must be made two days in advance. I held on to the hope that I would be able to buy tickets on site, given that it was snowing, not tourist season, and I intended to arrive at 9 am. It turned out to be a shorter line to buy tickets than to wait in the “express line” for those who reserved in advance. I don’t exactly advocate showing up unprepared, but at least in this case, most things that I was completely unprepared for turned out better than my series of plans and backups. On a whim, I bought a combined ticket that included a tour of the nearby Schloss Hohenschwangau, a much less remarkable structure externally but still another castle to visit.
As with most visitors, my intentions were primarily visual – Neuschwanstein is a beautiful building, after all. The castle was entirely satisfying in this matter, but I found myself most fascinated with the building’s creator. My tour inside this building turned out to be fairly unremarkable, but after further research I attribute this to a lackluster guide. Certain highlights interested me, such as the modernity of its design. Electricity, central heating, and running water (from the mouth of a swan statue into the King’s washbasin) were cleverly designed amenities incorporated in the overall elaborate aesthetic. The entire interior was intricate and beautiful, including such odd choices as a faux cave and extensive murals detailing scenes from the operas of Richard Wagner. This made me question how such things came about – a lucky choice of designer, or a King who actually took the time to think of all of this? The building’s beauty is self-evident, but there were few mentions of the people and stories that normally populate such a project. Small comments in passing hinted at more: the castle is largely unfinished, and only housed the king that built it for less than 200 days, before he died under mysterious circumstances.
As I waited for my tour at Hohenschwangau, I began researching this King Ludwig II. It turns out, his life is utterly fascinating. My tour in his childhood home of Hohenschwangau turned out to be fantastically informative of him and his family as well. This actually is a great combination – Neuschwanstein’s beauty attracts you and presents the mystery, while Hohenschwangau, less dramatic in its exterior, holds the information and history of the family. Due to the fact that it was actually lived in, the interior is filled with stunning gifts and intricate details. The king’s bedroom was even outfitted with glowing stars and a moon that changed to match the actual moon’s phase. The details of Ludwig’s life started to come together, centering around the theme of fantasy. He was utterly obsessed, and his entire life seemed to be out of some tale.
Ludwig ascended the throne at only 18 and was known to have little interest in ruling. According to Wikipedia, “he was not prepared for high office, [but] his youth and brooding good looks made him popular in Bavaria and elsewhere.” This trend marked his life and eventual death. His fantasies appeared most notably in his obsession with Wagner, going so far as to consider abdicating the throne to follow him when he left Munich. Instead of getting too concerned in politics, Ludwig wished to elevate the cultural aspects of Bavaria, by investing in the arts and using his personal fortune to build an assortment of castles and palaces. His advisors believed this spending to be unreasonable, though they have now paid for themselves many time over due to the high-traffic tourism. Ultimately, they conspired to depose him and had psychologists declare him insane. The next day, he and his psychologist were found in the nearby lake, drowned allegedly as suicide. As his cousin, Empress Elisabeth of Austria stated, “he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams.” Perhaps he should have left the throne for a life that suited him better.
As we travel, we unkowingly walk in the wake of uncomprehensible depth of history. I often get caught up in what is availible for me to go see right now, but forget to research the lives of those who came before. Even when there’s no tour guide or sign detailing what was significant, I can take it upon myself to follow leads that interest me, adding significance where little was before. That’s not to say that the present is less important. The entire history of a place should be appreciated and enjoyed. On this note, with my little remaining time in Munich I decided to follow a recommendation by my Grandpa. He travels constantly, and as he is of German heritage, he often comes to this country. As an inspiration in both my desire to travel and to become an engineer like him, he recommended I visit the Deutsches Museum. I only regret not being able to spend as much time here as the museum deserves, given that it is the world’s largest STEM museum, with substantial amounts of English descriptions! Any Tech student would love this museum, and I highly recommend setting aside as much time as you can to explore.