The next day I went to visit the NEUSCHWANSTEIN *, the castle of doom which the king left, as convicted madman, to mysteriously expire a couple of days later at the age of 42. Again, I had to meander on zigzag roads, through alpine valleys in one of the most bucolic lands I have been in my life, near the border with Austria. The great chance that accompanied me during my whole life thanks to you, my revered guardian angel, operated once more and I was not admitted in the castle. It was overbooked until evening (6000 thousand heads a day) and I wasn’t ready to go back to Bad Tolz during night time for a bushel of gold. I didn’t know then that I was lucky but I discovered it when I began to read the story of this maddest of all dear Ludwig projects. So, after I attacked the steep slope of the path leading to the top of the hill where I got in some thirty minutes, partially wet and totally free of incipient heart attack signals, I got confronted with a contraption that was as different from Linderhof as a slap from a kiss. But let’s get afar of metaphors and tell what it is because what it was supposed to be is just history. Well, it is a historicist contraption. Some German folks, not all, but many of those who had the means decided in the 19th century that the architecture of their time was not smart enough and that they had to take inspiration, somewhere in the past. This attitude, be it justified or silly, however you like, was called historicism. This time Ludwig dug into the Romanesque style which was an honest formula to build stone castles with high, thick compact walls, incorporated buttresses, barrel vaulted halls, few and narrow, rounded arched windows, hefty towers, a tricky entrance, a strong portcullis, a nasty moat if possible and a keep, a huge inner tower – where the owner cum family could get refuge from successful attackers or from his own brutish soldiers. These castles were battle stations. This style faded around 1000 – 1100. The king got inspired, first source, by two other historicist castles, Pierrefonds in France and Warburg in Germany, which were, like his, FORGERIES, meant to appear something else than they were. Even during his life time part of the professionals were denouncing it as a hateful KITSCH. Maybe it was, but things and appreciation change. By the way do you know Koons? His Orange Balloon Dog made in auction 58.4 million US dollars! The second source of inspiration was threefold – on one side the Wagnerian operas, subject and decor, on another side the German myths with emphasis on the romantic ideal of knighthood and on top it, of course, the link between kingship and divinity.
The king, who was in platonic love with Wagner, wrote to him that he raised this mammoth project in that stupendous location for him and with him in mind. It was true. Wagner had the rudeness to die in 1883 while the castle was still a building site and never visited it. It was started in 1868 and only in 1886, some 18 years after that, the shell and solely parts of the inside “compartments” were finished. I will not say too much about the inside because I haven’t seen it, and I will say little about the outside because I couldn’t turn around. I will insert nevertheless some images I freely rented from people who were more alert than me or arrived at a better moment to avoid making this post a dry dish. However, what I have seen, i.e. the enormous bulk of the asymmetrical building with its steep, wisely punctured high walls, driven towards the celestial vault by the most sophisticated array of towers, turrets, pinnacles and even chimneys, a kind of metaphysical levitation, was largely enough to pay for the efforts I made. Sure, it carries a muddled message, the outside instead of a tough Romanesque fortress offers a very cute picturesque outlook (that Disney Pictures adopted, remember) while the inside from what I saw and read will beat down the most ambitious theatrical outfit. Neuschwanstein is a giant theater inside and outside, with no border between the stage, decor and hall, with some subtle post-Romanesque and pre-op art interpretations, topped by some sharp neo-Gothic accents, created for the joy and appreciation of two actors, Ludwig and Richard, one in corpore and the other through his art.
I promised that I would keep this report as short as possible and write only about what I have seen. However, that is not the only oath I made and didn’t keep in my life. The more I became involved with that magic and cursed contraption, the more I felt the necessity to provide some salvation buoys which may help some, me too, being threatened to sink, if not in the cold waters of the Starnbergsee, for sure in the complicated saga and major psychodrama of this castle. From the architectural point of view this castle is much more a ”folly” than the other two. Even if the dominant outlook of the outer shell is Romanesque the array of towers, their formal variegation – square, round, turrets, spires, pinnacles etc. is Gothic. The building is made of bricks capped with marble or sandstone with the exception of the Gatehouse. There, the original red brick layers are shown stone framed, tightly contained between two round corner towers and a central stone portal. On the very high west facade, which I saw, a double balcony is the dominant component. Neither the composite Gatehouse facade nor the balcony are pure representative of Romanesque or Gothic styles. The castle first “plans”, there were dozens after which cost a fortune, were drawn by a previous scenic painter, Christian Jank** who sensitively reacted to the declivity of the ground, the top of the hill, the direction of the ridge and the grandiose scenery. As a result the Gatehouse and its courtyard are built on a level lower than the king’s palace and its courtyard. The castle has two axis, there is an angle between the two cuboids composing it and the symmetry was given to the dogs. The desire to offer different views of the wonderful surroundings is always present: either by the orientation of the buildings, the rhythm of the windows, the platform of the square tower (45m), the height of the round north-west tower (65m) and the amazing opening on the south side, whose eastern half was left unwalled this time by decision and not by lack of funds. Big innovation! Was the whole historicism mode a producer of “follies”? It is not so sure. The king’s father, Maximilian II, whom nobody accused of madness, built the Hohenschwangau, a neo-Gothic palace less than a kilometer away from his son’s creation that does not shock anybody. It is probably much less artistic and exciting.
After some lengthy talk with my dear friend the Imperator upon the semantic overlapping of the terms castle and palace in various languages and in all the sources of scholastic information I consulted, I arrived to some, probably imperfect, but for the moment operative conclusions. Tomorrow I may change my mind. If function is the determinant criteria, what for me it always was, Ludwig built palaces and not castles even if Neuschwanstein looks like one. By respect for his memory and for my slight understanding of the German language I will call this one a CASTLE and I will reserve the term palace (Palas in German) for the western, dominant wing of the building. All disapprovals, denials and recriminations are accepted in advance with feinted goodwill. The plan of Neuschwanstein was deceptively simple. I inserted a ground plan which will enable a natural guy to grasp the articulation of the various elements and their scheduled, not always achieved, functionality. The elevation is a little bit more complicated. A three stories high Gatehouse and a five stories high King’s Palace form the east and west sides connected by a complete building element north, the so called Knights House and by an incomplete south element – the so called Bower or Ladies House. It was a kind of inaccurate name, the ladies were rare there, the king broke two betrothals before the day D and passed away a bachelor (Junggeselle). Two important structures meant to crown the project, a chapel in the upper courtyard surmounted by a 90 meters tall KEEP, never went over the state of foundation. Worth to mention, technology was at work during the building process (cranes) and after for maintenance reasons – telephones, elevators and central heating.
Even if the facades are moderately decorated,the inner, the one facing the courtyard, a little bit more, with few sculptures and some fine Luftmalerei, the palace as a whole is without doubt a white elephant. It counts 200 distinct spaces but no more than 15 rooms and halls were completed by the time of the king’s demise. Among them there were eight medium-size rooms forming the king’s suite, on the third floor, The Singers’ Hall – the largest of the all ensemble above the King’s suite while the Throne Hall is extending on both third and fourth floor. The last two are prestigious: the decoration is plethoric, opulent and eclectic, call it an aesthetic amalgam, a knightly tourney of symbols, styles and skill. The imagery relies heavily on scenes and characters from Wagner Lohengrin and Parsifal, on the Holy Grail legend in the interpretation of the medieval poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, on old German mythology and on christian royal claims of the divine status of the kings. Materials and techniques are gloriously going into battle with no restrain. There are frescoes and canvasses, carved wood and stone sculptures, embroidery, precious mosaics, handmade furniture, heavy curtains and amazing bronze and crystal chandeliers. It is a world of colors and textures. Fourteen wood carvers worked more than four years on the king’s neo-Gothic bed canopy without finishing it. The table of his dining room cannot alas come up through the floor, the kitchens being too far away. The elevator will provide the service. But how is the table moving from the elevator into the dining room? I haven’t the foggiest idea. There is also a grotto originating from Wagner’s Tannhäuser equipped with an artificial waterfall. I avoid to go into details, the contraption has too many erotic psychoanalytical connotations.
I refuse to go into the Singers‘ Hall and into the Throne Hall, they are beyond depiction and beyond styles, they came from a fairy tale. They are lavishly, abundantly ornate, sublime or repelling, this is up to the onlooker, according to the horror vacui rule, that means each square centimeter is busy. If one is stubborn enough one will notice mauresque arches and byzantine floor mosaics. Better look at the photos. The Singers’ Hall is the temple and the abode of the music. The Throne Hall is the temple of the king by divine grace. Alas, is it sign of fate? the throne was unachieved before the DEMOTION. The two magic halls never filled their function. They are the halves of the king’s ultimate virtual MAUSOLEUM while Wagner was already well settled in the ground behind his Wahnfried house at Bayreuth.
After having spent only 17 nights in his unfinished castle, tried the first time his hand to public money (he asked for a loan from the parliament) and failed, totally bankrupt***, the king is declared mad (what he was not, he was only an irresponsible spender) demoted, arrested and brought to the Berg castle on the shore of Starnbergsee under the surveillance of a leading psychiatrist, Dr. von Gudden. They didn’t come back from a walk they took together in the afternoon of 13th of June 1886. Some four hours later they were found dead. The king was floating face down, in shallow waters, less than one meter deep. Official version said that Dr. Gudden was strangled and that the king committed suicide…Strange enough he forgot to fill his lungs with water and was a great swimmer in his youth! No bloody Saudis thugs have been seen prowling around…If wrongdoing, then it was a clean (nett) German job! The curtain could fall – and raise on a new, long lasting performance which brought till now 61.000.000 visitors to the castle. Business is booming.. The spot of Ludwig’s demise is romantically marked with a stone cross planted in the lake’s bottom and it became a cult site where fans come to take picturesque selfies.
In a rare moment of empathy, I didn’t find the whole story amusing notwithstanding the fact that he was the main artisan of his own misfortune. To improve my mood A., my friend proposed the next day a (careful) walk on the shore of the beautiful Tegernsee. It was a sunny day and the encounter between golden sun rays and rippling tiny blue waves carried high resolution movie value. Add to that the quality of the meal in a quiet little restaurant facing the lake, truite mèuniere for me and smoked zander for her, both of outstanding taste. By the way, you know, said A., Ernst Röhm, the chief of the SA, the Sturmabteilung and his “minions” were butchered by the SS in a hotel near the shore in front of us. Die Nacht der langen Messer? Ja… I was thinking that this happened at the SA headquarters, but it appears that here each lake has another story…
* The exhaustion was not the only motive to miss the visit to HERRENCHIEMSEE palace. The real reason came into my mind only recently. A distinguished friend and great art-lover talking of Ludwig palaces expressed his preference for this last one and pontified:” it is the most beautiful of all the three and even more beautiful than its model, i.e. the Palace of Versailles!” Bingo! I never liked Versailles, scared to feel an alien presence, a cousin of sorts, directly related, to the monster who made King Minos palace such a spooky place, prowling through the infinity of corridors and the maze of halls….
** It is amazing to notice how much Jank’s drawings made before the launch of the Neuschwanstein project determined the final outlook of the castle notwithstanding him never being, to the best of my knowledge, the architect in charge.
*** Things change rapidly and amusingly. Argentina is a veteran bankrupt, Greece didn’t have money to pay the salaries of the state workers and got 300 billions euros to buy peanuts, France have a debt of 98.5 of the GDP and Japan of 223.8…The world is rushing ahead with glee and success into total bankruptcy. Poor Ludwig, he was born too early, today we have REFINANCING LOANS and HE COULD EVEN GET MARRIED!
THE CASTLE OF DOOM