Fairytales in Real Life, July 9th
Fairytales are, by nature, conjured by the creative mind of an imaginative writer. However, almost all are inspired to some degree by actual circumstances or places, and deep in the heart of Bavaria lies the castle that is said to have inspired the children’s tale of Sleeping Beauty. The major difference between the fairytale and the reality is that the site is quite accessible to visitors, and the true story of its inhabitants is not so idyllic.
Neuschwanstein Castle, known as the Konigschlosser to Germans, is the crown jewel in the cap of beautiful Bavaria. The area is known for its stunning landscapes and picturesque towns, but this place is something really special. The noble white turrets of the castle rise from the evergreen forest on a perfectly placed outcropping, a roaring river running down the mountains just behind. To add to its vanity, the castle overlooks a vast plain of small towns and lakes, a scene straight out of a storybook.
However, as Phillip and I pant breathlessly up the steep hill and begin our guided tour, we learn that the estate is somewhat shrouded by a dubious past. It was built by King Ludwig II as an escape from the world, being in a far corner of southern Germany. He was somewhat of an introvert, making him a very unusual king.
Despite his intention for the castle to be a place of refuge, King Ludwig was nonetheless determined that it be stunning in appearance and inspirational in prescence. Much of the castle is left unfinished, but the rooms that are intact are grandiose and elaborate in design and detail. During construction of the palace, King Ludwig was deteremined by a royal council to be mentally ill and unfit to reign. Two days later, his body and that of his pyschiatrist were found in Lake Starnberg, close to Munich. The details of his death remain a mystery to this day, but the castle was opened to the public for touring a mere 6 weeks after his death.
After our tour, we huffed and puffed our way up to the Marienbrucke, a bridge over the gorge behind the castle. Though terrified of heights, I was determined to get the very best angle for photos, which is from the middle of the bridge. So, baby-stepping my way across the wet and slippery boards, I adopted a wide stance and gripped the railing with one white-knuckled hand, taking the coveted photos with other. Ever my faithful friend and husband, Phillip stood beside me encouraging me to “Look at that!” which was always far below, the direction I was desperately trying to avoid glancing. Though he is too kind to outright laugh at my hysteria, he couldn’t hide his amusement as I “raced” off the bridge as fast as my shaking legs could take me. But I did it!!!
Though the castle’s actual history casts a dark shadow over its existence, it is wildly popular with tourists. This enthusiasm is shared by the nearby towns and local residents, who also capitalize on their fairytale settings. Phillip and I finish off the day shopping in the nearby towns of Oberammergau and Garmish-Partenkirchen, famous for their woodworking and handmade crafts.
A little fairytale, a little history, and a little shopping makes for a happy day! Like giving birth, the paralyzing fear of my “close brush with death” is a distant memory as I look over my pictures of Neuschwanstein. This castle was at the top of my list for places to visit in Germany, and I’m so happy to have seen it in person. It’s still there, just waiting for you….. Just some food for thought.