Neuschwanstein Castle: A Dreamlike Journey into Bavarian History

30 September 2016. It was the 4th day in Germany, and we bid farewell to Munich and headed to our new destination! We were off to the charming German village of Füssen, famous for not one, but two spectacular castles.

While I hadn’t prepared much for the trip, I didn’t know much about Neuschwanstein, and I was completely unaware that there were two castles!

In the morning, we encountered a classic German situation: a train had broken down in the middle of nowhere, and the entire route was closed. I had only heard stories about the infamous unpunctuality of German trains, and now it was our turn to experience it firsthand. I remember feeling a bit panicked, but also a sense of adventure as we waited for only 40 minutes before catching the next available train.

And when we arrived at the station, you can imagine the scene: more than 200 people were waiting for a bus to the castles. Filled with enthusiasm, I suggested, “Let’s walk!” I can’t say our stroll was terrible, but looking back, I wouldn’t repeat it at the same pace.

If we had taken the bus, we would have missed walking through the charming town streets and seeing the adorable cows with their long ears. When I was a child and often visited our country house, I saw so many cows in the fields, but they all had the classic short ears. But here! Alpine cows have an absolutely different look, much cuter!

I also had the opportunity to take some beautiful photos of the castle from the street. Oh, how I love my budget and powerful camera lens! I don’t use it often, but I love the photos it captures. I must say, those photos turned out quite successful. Other attempts to capture the castle were just meh.

I don’t regret taking that stroll, but I was out of energy when I realized I had to climb. For a fee, tourists can use horse-drawn carts. However, I couldn’t bring myself to support animal abuse after seeing the poor horses, who didn’t seem thrilled to be hauling carts up the mountain.

As I climbed, I felt dreadful. I couldn’t fathom how the horses go up and down so many times a day. And then, I caught sight of something—a dollhouse? At that moment, I hadn’t been to Disneyland yet, but when I finally visited and saw the main castle, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities. Walt Disney visited this castle in 1955 with his wife, and the first park with Sleeping Beauty’s Castle opened that same year. Maybe Disney was already inspired before he visited the real castle.

In real life, the castle has a somewhat gloomy story. It’s a real castle, but it was created for… beauty? Not for defense. I would say for the soul, because this castle was created by Ludwig II of Bavaria, also known as the Fairy Tale King or Mad King Ludwig. In Russia, people often call him Mad King Ludwig, but it’s not fair in my opinion. This man struggled a lot, and he wasn’t mad at all. Even the people who surrounded him said that he was absolutely normal. But the fact is, this man built castles using government money, and to prevent wasting too much money, on June 8, 1886, a council of doctors, based on witness testimony and without a personal examination of the patient, declared Ludwig II “incurably mentally ill.” On June 9, the government deprived the king of his legal capacity.

He built his castle and moved there before it was completed. But he had been living there not for a long time, only 172 days until his mysterious death. His project was unfinished. After 6 weeks after the king’s death, the regent decided to open the castle for paid visits in order to repay debts, as well as gradually complete the project. Over the course of several years, the work was completed, but the king’s plans were not fully realized: the knight’s hall was not finally completed, the 90-meter tower with the church was not built at all, as well as several other rooms and a large park with terraces and a fountain west of the building. Nevertheless, the castle turned out to be the main local attraction. By 1899, the debt was completely repaid, and from that moment Neuschwanstein became a stable source of income for the treasury, continuing to attract more and more tourists from all over the world to this day.

Today, visitors pay tribute to King Ludwig by visiting his tomb as well as his castles because now people understand that he was a very unhappy man, not mad. Oddly enough, the very castles that were criticized at the time in Bavaria as a waste of money on the part of the king and a burden on the budget, have now become extremely profitable tourist attractions for the Bavarian federal state. The palaces, handed over to the state by Ludwig III’s son, Crown Prince Ruprecht in 1923, have already paid for themselves many times over and attract millions of tourists from all over the world to Germany every year.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to go inside because tickets needed to be bought in advance and I missed this moment. I can’t say that I regret it; I prefer to visit places, especially castles, with real history, but this one felt artificial to me.

After many years, I can’t say that Neuschwanstein is a must-see. Absolutely not. But the ticket-selling website shows that it’s a really popular place, and I advise you to buy tickets at least one month in advance. Souvenirs and food are so expensive there. That’s the real madness!

We took so many photos, feeling so strange after visiting it. Then we went to Nuremberg where we found the second amazing host from Couchsurfing. We rested at the top for about 20 minutes and went back to wait for our bus, which goes to the station. By the way, the Bavarian ticket is valid for the bus. Just show it to the driver and get into the bus.

At the end of the day, the Augsburg-Nuremberg train was about an hour late, it was chock-full of tourists and… scouts who were going to complete their assignments. They sang songs loudly, laughed, and were dressed in the same uniform. One of the schoolgirls told me that the participants were seeing each other for the first time (that is, the guys were recruited not only from different schools, but also from different cities) and for several days they would be in Nuremberg performing tasks aimed at navigating the terrain. Such an unpredictable and completely unique Bavaria.