01.08.2010 - 01.08.2010
Several years ago, someone gave us a coffee table book with a picture of Castle Neuschwanstein inside and Langston has had a hankering to go ever since. We decide to delay Salzburg for a day and head south to visit the famous castle of King Ludwig.
I first encountered Mad Ludwig when I was studying music as an undergrad. Because of his influence on opera, a picture of him – raving and cartoonish – usually appears in music history books of this period. The second son of Maximilian the II of Bavaria, Ludwig took the throne by default when his older brother was deemed mentally unstable and incapable of ruling. Forced into this position at age 18, Ludwig was more artist than ruler and one of his first acts was to summon Richard Wagner to his courts and to commence commissioning works. Wagner's operas were the pinnacle of artistic expression for Ludwig - vast enough in score and scale to capture his romantic vision. And for Wagner, Ludwig's patronage was the perfect solution to the weighty debts he had accumulated in his early years. This partnership influenced 19th century music in a powerful way, making it possible for Wagner’s massive works to come to fruition.
Ludwig's Neuschwanstein is a shrine to Wagner. Each room depicts themes from his operas and the sheer level of thought with which he pays homage to his hero is awe inspiring. Swans from Lohengrin are carved into the woodwork, an actual grotto from Tannhauser with a plans for rainbow creator connects two rooms, and a massive chandelier in the shape of a Parsifal crown hangs over one of the most gorgeous mosaic floors ever created. For not the first time, I regretted not knowing more about this period of opera as there were references just waiting to be decoded almost everywhere we looked. The castle, though never completed, amazes. Even more amazing, it’s just one of the castles he had built during his short reign.
While building elaborate castles at tremendous public cost is probably not the best way for a King to endear himself to his subjects, his determination to carry out an artistic vision left the world with these glorious monstrosities that have more than paid for themselves many time over through the 6000 tourists who visit them daily. But at the time, they probably cost him his life…he was found floating face down in a body of water not too long after his advisors accused him of insanity. A cross is planted in the water where his body was found.
Langston commented that you can't help but be a little bit happy that someone with his eccentric interests and taste held the country’s purse strings long enough to create these architectural wonders. It made us think again about the artistic decisions we make in our daily lives. Practicalities are usually the rule for us but every once in a while, we throw caution to the wind and invest in something for the sheer joy of owning that which brings us aesthetic satisfaction. We agreed that they are decision we rarely come to regret.
Hopefully, Ludwig felt the same.