by Thomas Abeltshauser
He was cosidered a homophile excentric and left visible traces with his castles in the picturesque landscape of Upper Bavaria. A trip in the footsteps of fairy king Ludwig II.
Murder or suicide? Genius or madness? Addicted or sick? Perverse or misunderstood? No, we are not talking about Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, even if the parallels are amazing. It is about a real king, the fairytale king. Ludwig II of Bavaria, builder of the most legendary castles in the country, patron of Richard Wagner and art in general, but also lonely eccentric and unhappy lover. Just as the life and death of the King of Pop have long been the subject of legends, Ludwig’s image overshadowed by fog of cover-ups and myths. Could there be a better time to follow in his footsteps through autumnal Upper Bavaria? In our luggage: Heinz Häfner’s book “Ein König wird beseitigt” (A King is eliminated), published last year, from which we read to each other while driving, as well as a travel guide on the subject of King Ludwig.
Our first stop is Nymphenburg Castle on the outskirts of Munich, where Ludwig was born on August 25th, 1845. In the birthing room there is a bust of little Ludwig. A pretty child. A Weisswurst breakfast in the nearby Königliche Hirschgarten may not be quite befitting, but it gives us an idea of what makes Munich so particularly beautiful. Further south we call at the first actual castle built by Ludwig: Linderhof. It is the smallest, most beautiful and the only one that was actually finished and in which Ludwig spent lots of time. As with all castles, you have to join a guided tour to see the inside. It is astonishing how consistently Ludwig’s inclination to his own sex is concealed. When we stand in the large bedroom, our guide, a girl, declares in all seriousness: “Ludwig didn’t have to share the King Size bed with anyone, because he was only engaged for two weeks”. We briefly consider whether we should read to her from the letters quoted in Häfner’s book. In these, Ludwig gave very precise instructions about the boys that his stable master Karl had to get for him. We decide not to comment. We rather enjoy the lavishly shiny interior, which even Versace would have considered over the tho. However, you can only guess how great Ludwig’s creative urge and his escape from the real world were once you stand in the Venus Grotto.
Above the castle, an open-sesame rock leads you into a completely artificial grotto. The king used to float in a swan-shaped boat on the grotto lake, a waterfall and light effects providing the right atmosphere to listen to Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”. We are cold because the 130-year-old central heating behind the dummy walls is no longer in operation. At Ludwig’s time it must have been very cosy.
We check in at Moosbeck Alm in the early evening, a small country hotel near the village of Rottenbuch, which attracts us with a “King Ludwig Suite” – and does not disappoint. Landlord Hans, “the only gay in the village”, has been running his gay oasis openly gay for over 30 years and has created an idyllic and eccentric empire for himself. In addition to the suites furnished with great attention to detail – besides the Ludwig there is also a Sisi- and a Luitpold-Suite – there is also a rustic log cabin with swimming pool for nudists. A painter has painted Greek adonises on the wall in the sauna area, which are based on the landlord and his now deceased lover. There is a huge miniature version of Neuschwanstein Castle in the garden – made of concrete.
In the evening, sociable Hans likes to gather foreign guests at the regulars’ table, where gay Ludwig fans regularly talk shop and Hans tells about his and the king’s life. This often results in late bed time.Bbefore we leave the next morning, we briefly visit the Rottenbuch baroque church, which is no less impressive in its splendour of gold and angels than the nearby and much better known Wieskirche.
But we want to continue our journey towards today’s highlight: The real Neuschwanstein castle. It sits incredibly dramatic next to the family castle Hohenschwangau on a rock ibefore the alpine panorama. Once you have reached the top of the rock you struggle with the feeling of standing in a Disney set. It all seems unreal, not only because of the souvenir shops on the never-finished floors and the Japanese tourist hordes. Only the singers’ hall on the top floor reconciles us. What a room for concerts! We spend our second night at Schlosshotel Kranzbach near Garmisch, a 100-year-old country hall in English style that the eccentric aristocrat Mary Portman had built in the middle of large pastures. The hall has been developed into a wellness design hotel within two years and is probably the most secluded hotel in Germany sitting in the middle of 130,000 square metres of completely undeveloped land, surrounded by a fabulous mountain panorama. We spend the evening after dinner with cocktails by the fireplace before we retire to our rooms. What peace!
The private toll road, which leads to the Kranzbach, also leads to another castle, Elmau. From there, there are several ways up to Ludwig’s most unknown building: the Royal House at Schachen. Up at 1866 metres above sea level, he often spent his birthdays, the servants had to entertain His Majesty in oriental robes or only scantily dressed in the lavishly furnished Turkish Hall. It takes 3.5 hours on foot to reach the small mountain retreat that can only be visited during summer. We continue our Ludwig tour to the northeast. After almost 200 kilometres by car through the fantastic hilly landscape of the foothills of the Alps, past lush meadows and picturesque towns such as Gmund am Tegernsee or the spa town of Bad Tölz, we reach Lake Chiemsee.
We take the boat “Siegfried” from Prien to the Herreninsel, where Ludwig had his third castle built. Herrenchiemsee, like Linderhof already, was built after the design of Versailles. This one is more impressive and bigger, but only partly developed, since the King and the kingdom of Bavaria simply ran out of money during construction. The completed part is breathtaking nonetheless. The 98 metre long Great Mirror Gallery in its golden splendour with 44 candelabras and 33 chandeliers is even longer than the one in Versailles. The royal bedroom and its 3 x 2,60 metres large bed surpasses that of the Sun King. You can take a look at the ermine coats and browse through the rapturous letters to Richard Wagner in the adjoining Ludwig Museum.
On the way back towards Munich, we stop at Lake Starnberg, where Ludwig was interned on June 12th, 1886 in Berg Castle, his summer residence. The eccentric king was declared mentally ill and incapacitated three days before. Not far from the castle there is a wooden cross in the water where he and his guard, the psychiatrist von Gudden, were found dead on June 13th. The circumstances are still unclear today. We check what Häfner has to say about the event, who stays out of this debate but plausibly deducts that the king was by no means insane, but was probably eliminated because of his building frenzy and living out of his homosexual inclinations more and more openly.
Back in Munich, we arrive just in time to gain access to his final resting place in St. Michael’s Church. Right next to the altar there is a wooden hatch in the ground which leads down to the princely tomb. Here are all the remains of the Wittelsbach – so also the Kini (Bavarian nickname for the king). Even in death Ludwig outshines them all. Only in front of his coffin are several vases filled with white lilies. When we ask the guard who the flowers are from, the answer is simple: “People bring them”. On the coffin is a plaque: “For Ludwig – the most wonderful king”. When we leave the church, we are standing in the middle of Munichs pedestrianised shopping street. Local girls scurry between H&M and Pimkie. Time also for us to come back the present.
We spend the evening enjoying wheat beer and oven-fresh roast pork and dumplings in the restaurant of the traditional Munich gay hotel Deutsche Eiche. And let the Kini rest in peace after four days of following in his footsteps.
(Published in Spartacus Traveler 04/2009)
Official homepage of tourism board München Oberbayern e.V.
HOW TO GET THERE
Munich Franz Josef Strauß aiport is one of the most modern in Europe, all major airlines serve it. Lufthansa links several German airports and Munich several times a da, return tickets start at 99 Euros, www.lufthansa.com
More centrally located is Munich main station. It is one of the busisest stations for Deutsche Bahn (DB) in Germnay. Tickets and information on www.bahn.de
It makes sense to rent a car of a King Ludwig tour. For those who do not bring their own car a rented car is the solution. Rental offices can be found at the airport or big railway stations. If you want to stay Bavarian, a BMW is the best option. Holiday Autos offer a 5- days-rental of a BMW 5 series from 300 Euros, www.holidayautos.de
Moosbeck Alm (Moos 38, Rottenbuch) The gay-managed country hotel features a lovingly equipped Ludwig suite, a sauna area, a remotely located nudist log hut and a mini-Neuschwanstein made of concrete in its garden. A gay oasis in most beautiful surroundings, as excentric as the Kini, www.moosbeck-alm.com
Schlosshotel Kranzbach (Kranzbach) The Kranzbach near Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a genuinely royal treat. The exquisite wellness design hotel housed in a 100-year-old English country hall is surrounded by 130.000 sqm pristine nature. Ideal for hiking and relaxing, www.daskranzbach.de
Deutsche Eiche (Reichenbachstrasse 13, Munich) The gay hotel in Munichs old town has become a classic years ago. Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Freddy Mercury used it like a second home. Carefully redecorated, it is now in the 3-star superior standard category. It comprieses a luxury suite, traditional restaurant and an enormous sauna on four floors, www.deutsche-eiche.com