For Suan, visiting Bavaria for the first time coincided with her meeting of pen-friend of 15 years. Imagine meeting the person whom you wrote letters and exchanged gifts with for such a long time! You see, living in Amsterdam meant it was an easy 1½ hour flight to get to the capital of Bavaria.
The region that Suan’s pen-friend lives is said to be one of the wealthiest in Germany. It was the site of an independent Kingdom that eventually joined into the confederation of the German Empire in 1871, aka the First Reich.
In Medieval times, Bavaria was a rich agricultural country on its own. In fact, despite not having colonies or direct access to the sea, the region boasts one of the most number of beautiful neo-Baroque style castles, more appropriately palaces built mostly in the 19th century. In the lake district of Fuessen near Switzerland, there are three famous palaces: Hohenswangau, Newschwanstein and Linderhof. And this trip makes up the,
For this soujorn to the country we did not drive, but engaged the services of a travel agent.
Because we were based in Munich, we spent the better part of a morning getting to and exploring Neuschwanstein – “New Swan Stone”, said to be the inspiration to Walt Disney when he created the magic Kingdom in the 1950s. The palace was constructed with great cost by King Ludwig and was the last of a series of palaces built in his name. You see, the King was more interested in art and architecture than politics. A relative introvert some would say, daydreaming up things only Kings can… so the saying ‘building castles in the air’… might have some truth in it.
Set on a crag of rock high above the Schwangau district, the cost of paying for building and maintaining all the palaces before Neuschwanstein caused the country’s parliament to rein in the King’s budget. Thus, the palace was never fully built and is still in partial construction today. King Ludwig did not live to see his dream castle completed though he did move in for almost 6 months. He was pronounced “mad” and was one day found drowned by the lake under mysterious circumstances… yeah someone/somebody decided to nip the problem in the bud.
When we got to the site, first there is the need to purchase tickets (if coming independently). Now buses at that time will transfer you to a hill opposite the castle. And as you walk toward the Marie bridge (Marienbrucke) where you will have a wonderful side views of the castle.
Photos were not allowed inside the castle at the time of our visit but that should now be ok? We enjoyed a quick guided tour, two of the more than a million visitors each year. While we do not have inside photos to share, we did use the opportunity being at the castle to take in the panorama of the surrounding countryside. See that little speck in the distant? That’s Hohenswangau castle. Did not get there though, which was probably King Ludwig’s initial inspiration and considered the original fantasy castle.
And Linderhof? Well it was under extensive restorations when we got there – so we could only see a façade of the palace made with a printed tarp! The smallest of the 3 fantasy palace castles, it looks so inspired by Versailles (here). Being small, it felt more like a mansion than as palace/castle.
Fortunately for us, the legacy of King Ludwig’s other palaces have been wonderfully preserved and can be visited not just in Fuessen, but also in the capital of Munich – home of sausages, sauerkraut and beer. The Swan is the main “character” on Bavarian Heraldry and the regalia of royalty bear this beautiful bird. Can you imagine how proud Suan felt when she told the guide her name? The guide called her “your grace” in return. What a compliment?
The city has them too
The Nyphemburg palace in the center of the city is yet another testament of the wealth of the Bavarian region. Surrounded by gardens and Swan-filled lakes, the palace appears to be built with France’s Versaille as inspiration. French influence in those days was very strong indeed. See we told you that you’re fashionable when you have copycats.
The opulence of the 19th century continues to be displayed with the vast arrays of ceiling paintings. This is clearly of the influence of the Renaissance era, refined through the French Baroque and eventually revived in the mid 1800s by wealthy royalty and nobility. We spent hours enjoying and looking at the immense pieces of art work on the ceilings of the Nyphemburg – definitely a place to visit for a day.
Though not much of the ornate furniture remain, one can imagine the opulence and grandeur of the palace when it was occupied by royalty.
Yet another great place to visit is the Residenz, the original home of the “Electors” of Bavaria – later known as Grand Dukes. In the Middle Ages, Germany was not one country but a mix of many small states speaking the same language/dialects. Large states or regions “vote” to elect an Emperor, who had little power though a much sought title. And Bavaria was one such state. Over time, these nobility became bold and assumed noble title such as Dukes and Princes. The great noble in Bavaria assumed the title of Grand Duke, but his heirs eventually dispensed with formality and styled themselves Kings altogether.
In most palaces, there is always a hallway know as the “Hall of Mirrors”. The stucco and gold gilded wood of the hall coupled with the mirrors made this place very bright. Which was the point since they did not have electric lights and flame bearing lamps were probably frowned upon or at least limited to reduce risk. If you read our other articles you might notice we mention a lot of fires in castles and palaces…
Pictures taken without flash reveal the intensity of the reflected light within this enclosed environment. Now remember this was also in a way a home, so in this palace, the hall contains portraits of the Kings, Queens, Dukes and Princes of Bavaria past. Sort of a family portrait gallery like we might have these days except they have a lot of room!
There is a curious structure called the Antiquarium in the palace, which is like a passage way linking one end of the palace to the other. It is also beautifully decorated with wall and ceiling paintings depicting the live of Jesus. Such was the devotion of the time. We eventually chanced upon what appears to be the bed of the King (apparently the Queen sleeps in a separate room). While does not appear large, it is very finely decorated. Imagine sleeping in this room all by yourself.
Within Munich, one would be best served buying a Munich City tour card that affords the holder access to the city’s transport system and discounted entry to many sites such as the fantasy palaces we’ve shared. A full day is a must to see the city before even considering getting around outside of it.
And if one drives, this would be the best option for getting outside of Munich. Of particular consideration would be to get to Fuessen and Schwangau even though we did ours with a tour group. We went to Starnberger See (lake) by train though and met up with Suan’s pen pal for lunch. So exploring Bavaria was a great experience for us since it mixed in both a touristic adventure with meeting up with friends. We went into the woods together! The rich history and culture of the region gave us a glimpse of a time when Germany was at its economic heights in arts, science and literature. Bavaria definitely deserves deeper exploring. We sure would like to return since there are yet many more places to see than we have been on this journey.
We were in the fantasy castles and palaces in April 2003
If you are ever in the Fuessen area, remember to check out Oberammagau. Every ten years the Passion play takes place. Folks here are very serious about and the folks playing characters grow their beards to look the part. No wigs or fake moustaches… only the real stuff.