Anyone who knows me knows that I have an obsession with Disney that borders with madness. I’ve grown up absorbing most of my life lessons from Disney, I quote Disney, and I can recite all the dialogues from a lot of movies with the correct timing, tone and even voice. So, in 2010, while I was doing my dissertation in college on Architecture in Animation, focusing primarily on (surprise!!) Disney, and came across the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany that had apparently inspired the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland, I placed it right to the top of my ‘Things to See Before I Die’ list.
Of course, this was ages before any sense of wanderlust had stirred within me, and I just vaguely knew that someday I would like to see it.
Fast forward 3 years, I’m in Milan, and the 8000km distance between Neuschwanstein castle and me had shrunk to just over 400kms. I decided to start my 5 week trip in Munich and, completely by chance, I found out that the castle was a 2 hour train journey away. Of course, there was no way that I could skip that!
The first thing I did when I got to Munich was sign up for a Neuschwanstein Castle tour with Sandeman’s tour group. It was WAY out of my budget, and since it was right at the beginning of my trip, I didn’t even have the excuse of telling myself that I had spent less than expected earlier.
Nevertheless, 32 Euros down, I, along with 4 others (1 each from Taiwan, Germany, Australia and the US) + the guide (from England- how mulitcultural were we?!!) sat on the 2 hour train journey from Munich Hauptbahnhof to Fussen.
Neuschwanstein castle was built by the ‘mad’ king of Bavaria in Southern Germany- King Ludwig II (also known as the ‘Fairy Tale king’). He was ridiculed during his time for the same reason that he is so loved right now- he decided it was worth a lot of money to build extravagant castles all over the place. At that time, it seemed like a waste of money. Now, we have this…
(This image is, obviously, not mine. I couldn’t manage a good one)
King Ludwig II was a big fan of the German composer, Richard Wagner. The name Neuschwanstein means New Swan Stone and comes from Wagner’s ‘Swan Knight’, and a lot of rooms in the castle have been inspired by Wagner’s operas. There’s even a little grotto with an artificial waterfall and a ‘rainbow machine’ which doubles up as a passage into the conservatory and the study next door. The grotto refers to the Horselberg grotto in Wagner’s opera, Tannhauser.
Unfortunately, Wagner himself never visited the castle as he died before it was built.
The castle was built in the medieval style, even though its actual construction took place in the late 19th century. It has modern amenities for plumbing, heating and even telephone lines.
The ticket to go inside the castle (and the locally organised guided tour) was not included in the Sandeman’s price, and I contemplated spending the extra 12 Euros for the longest time before I finally decided to go for it. We were strictly told that there was no photography allowed, so I was quite surprised (and rather annoyed) when a Google search turned up a number of results…
(In my opinion, the tour of the inside wasn’t really worth it. And even the outside, though utterly gorgeous, I only really went because of the ‘Disney’ tag.)
After the caste tour, we went on a simple two hour hike back to the bus stop. I found that much more fun than the actual castle (what an anti-climax, especially after spending 50 Euros for exactly that!!!). There were clear streams from which we could actually drink water, and one of them was the perfect place to click a picture with a cheesy caption involving the words ‘Disney Flavoured Water’ (I really did that, and I don’t regret it).
Anyway, let’s get back to the king. The list of his eccentricities is quite long- he sometimes went to sleep in the day, and stayed up at night (okay, that’s almost normal), asked his servants to take him on sleigh rides, made faces at himself in mirrors, invited imaginary friends to dinner (and always had his table set for four), and the list goes on and on and ooonnn…
The king never married, and was rumoured to be gay. Funny story here. Our guide, Jon, told us about the king being gay, so we were aware and prepared long before we entered the castle. During the official castle tour, however, when some random man in the crowd asked the official tour guide why Ludwig didn’t marry, her response (brilliant sidestep, haha!) was ‘The king appreciated women’s purity, but not their sensuality’. I could swear I heard muffled snorts and giggle from people who understood what she meant, and the way she phrased it!!
In 1886, when the king was 40, Bavarian officials decided they had had enough of him and his madness and conspired with a doctor to have him declared insane. A few days later, Ludwig and his doctor were both found dead- drowned in a shallow lake- after they went for a walk. No one knows for sure what happened that day.
The tour ended when we got back to Munich and split up (I went for a hefty Bavarian dinner of pork knuckle and potato dumplings 😛 with these two girls), and went to find my new couchsurfing host. In short… We moved on.
So everything was going QUITE great, and I was bragging to everyone who would listen about how dreams come true because look my dream of going to the ‘actual Disney castle’ just happened and etc etc etc and then of course came that MOMENT that everyone warns you about… The higher you go, the harder you fall.
(It’s possible I’m building up the situation a bit too much, but, really, you have to feel my pain…)
The other day, just last week, I found a list on Buzzfeed (arguably the BEST excuse to procrastinate. Seriously) about 9 real life locations that inspired Disney films, and I opened it rather smugly because I just wanted to feel all pompous about being able to check one off my list. The first item on the list helped me do just that.
The SECOND item on the list, though…
The Sultan’s Palace from Aladdin, and the Taj Mahal.
Slow clap, please, that I spent 50 Euros in a country thousands of kilometres away just so I could see something that inspired Disney, when, in fact, a perfect version was LITERALLY (well, almost) in my backyard!!
(I’ve seen the Notre Dame cathedral too, but it was by chance, rather than by choice, and I didn’t spend a ton of money going out of my way to SPECIALLY see it, like I did for the castle)
It’s true what they say, huh, you never really appreciate something that’s so close to you (did anyone ever say that? Or did I just make it up?).
So that is my story of finding Disney at home, with a little info about the fairy tale Neuschwanstein castle, and the mad King Ludwig. Do you have any such stories? Have you visited any of the places on the list? Tell me all about it in the comments!!