The name may not slip so easily off the tongue of English speakers, but Schloss Neuschwanstein, hugging the Alpine foothills above a broad plain, is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. It lies south-west of Munich, near the town of Füssen and close to the border of Austria.
Neuschwanstein may look like a medieval castle but it’s only about 120 years old. It’s a paradox typical of its creator, Bavarian king Ludwig II. He had little time for the hard work of governing, but looked back fondly on the days of absolute rule. He was gay and struggled to reconcile his sexuality with his Catholic faith. He shunned most human company but needed enormous palaces in which to be grandly, magnificently alone.
Ludwig’s imagination was fired by the German composer Richard Wagner, and if he’d had his way he would have spent his time in solitude watching private productions of Wagner’s operas (with the occasional handsome coach driver for company). But times were changing too quickly to indulge the Romantic whims of the feckless king. Ludwig was deposed in 1886 on a spurious charge of insanity (most agree that although deeply eccentric, he wasn’t actually mad). He was taken from Neuschwanstein and died a few days later in mysterious circumstances.
The castle was unfinished at that point, but there is still enough for the modern visitor to admire over two floors. Interior highlights include the gilded neo-Byzantine throne room, the heavy carved wood of the king’s neo-Gothic bedroom and the Singers’ Hall, full of historicist imagery. It’s worth extending your visit to include Ludwig’s nearby childhood home, Hohenschwangau, from where the young prince first looked out and saw his castles in the air which would one day become castles of brick and mortar.