Aristocracy

Fabulous Neuschwanstein: How the King of Bavaria dedicated the castle to Wagner and inspired Disney.

We are accustomed to believe that kings erected fabulous castles for their lovers, favourites or wives. However, Neuschwanstein Castle, perhaps the most famous castle in Germany, featured on the screensaver of Disney cartoons, was dedicated by the last Bavarian King Ludwig to the great composer Richard Wagner.

Neuschwanstein is the most popular castle in Bavaria, a place of pilgrimage for tourists. From the point of view of architecture, it is curious, borrowings from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Moorish architecture. It is based on theatrical scenery.

Neuschwanstein was a living, material embodiment of sketches by theatrical designer Christian Jank for Wagner’s opera ‘Lohengrin’. Subsequently, Jank was involved in the design of the castle together with the architect Eduard Riedel.

Medieval motives in the interiors of the castle.

Ludwig was fanatically fascinated by Wagner’s music, and in his own way in love with him. Ludwig provided the great musician with financial support and considered him his close friend.

Decoration details inspired by medieval art.

At the age of sixteen, Ludwig attended the premiere of Lohengrin in Munich, a turning point in his life. During his mountain walks, he loved to imagine himself as Lohengrin and even ordered a costume for himself, in which he seemed to himself like the hero of the opera.

The decoration of the chapel and elements of wood carving in the neo-gothic style.

Ludwig wrote to Wagner: ‘The castle will be sacred and unapproachable. Here we will feel the divine breath of heaven.’ And it’s true, Neuschwanstein is located in an amazingly beautiful place.  It rises on top of a cliff and fits perfectly into the landscape. Wherever the gaze falls on him, Neuschwanstein is magnificent in any angle, and every time it opens in a new way, it sparkles with whiteness against the background of a mountain ridge and then hangs over a gorge, then, enchanted by its beauty, looks into a mountain lake.

Luxurious furniture in Neuschwanstein Castle.

Ludwig was reclusive and loved solitude (which was considered very strange for the king and, as a result, served as one of the reasons for accusing him of insanity).

He forced his advisers to travel in search of a truly protected area, but they never found a heavenly place for their king. He planned to buy a desert island. But, he was told that, apparently, there are no more such on earth. And the king decided to retire to the mountains. All his fantastic castles are located far from cities, on islands, surrounded by forests, or high in the mountains. Neuschwanstein, despite the crowds of tourists besieging it, looks both fragile and unapproachable, like a reflection of the soul of Ludwig immersed in his dreams.

Neuschwanstein is called a castle, but this is just a tribute to its fantastic, exaggerated ‘medieval’ image. The castle is defensive in nature. But, it should be surrounded by a moat and a severe stone wall. In truth, Neuschwanstein is a bizarre architectural fantasy designed to transfer romantic Ludwig into the world of Wagner’s works.

However, the king did not want to live in a real medieval castle! He loved comfort and the latest inventions, so the construction of Neuschwanstein was a real revolution from a technological and organizational point of view.

Details of the decoration reminiscent of the times of chivalry.

At the construction site, a steam crane and Portable engines were involved, running water was supplied to the castle (bathrooms are located on each floor), central heating, electricity and even telephones were installed.

In addition, the construction of Neuschwanstein temporarily resolved the issue of employment for local residents. Ludwig insisted on the strictest adherence to safety measures. An insurance fund was created, and builders were paid sick leave and compensation.

An engraving depicting a singing hall.

The first stone was laid in 1869. The external appearance of the castle is unusual, but its interior decoration is even more surprising. Everything in it, from chandeliers to tapestries, literally every chair and every doorknob, is associated with Wagner’s operas.

If initially, the castle was supposed to be a country residence, where you can receive people and do business, then thanks to Ludwig’s constant amendments and his new and new ideas, the interiors of Neuschwanstein acquired a simply fantastic, grotesque look. The interiors were designed by Julius Hoffmann, who oversaw the completion of the building after Ludwig’s death. Most of the decoration was created in German workshops and a large share in Bavarian ones.

Royal bedroom.

Everywhere there is the image of a swan, now in tapestries and curtains, now in wooden carvings, now in sculptures. The heart of the castle is the singing hall, where Wagner’s operas were to be performed for the august spectator, Ludwig of Bavaria. True, during his lifetime, Ludwig never heard the singers’ competition; this idea was embodied only in more recent times. The hall is decorated with tapestries with scenes from the life of the knight Parsifal, who wandered in search of the Holy Grail.

Fragment of the royal bedroom with neo-gothic motives.

The last king of Bavaria paid special attention to bedrooms and offices. It is in them that his preferences are always fully realised. Ludwig’s private chambers are made in a neo-Gothic style, and even the stove seems to copy the facade of some medieval cathedral. There is a swan-shaped washing jug, swan figurines on a canopy, and embroidered heraldic swans. A small chapel with graceful stained-glass windows adjoins the bedroom, where Ludwig could pray to his patron Saint Louis.

But the dining room is surprisingly modest and small as the king preferred to eat alone. There is something very democratic about what, for Ludwig, ‘being alone’ meant being completely alone, without servants.

Dining room at Neuschwanstein Castle.

In two of his other famous castles, the service problem is solved by a lifting table, which ‘leaves’ from the lower floor already served, but in Neuschwanstein this turned out to be impossible. But Ludwig was persistent in his decisions. Therefore, a manual lift connects the kitchen with the dining room.

Despite the fact that during the life of Ludwig the castle was not completed, he managed to try all the wonders of technology contained in it, enjoy the beautiful views and, perhaps, feel as what his subjects considered him, the ‘fairy king’. And after his death, Neuschwanstein became an inspiration for many, for example, for the Disney studio, which repeatedly used his image in cartoons.

Text Sofia Egorova, Translation Michael Walsh

Excerpt from the feature film Luchino Visconti Ludwig

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