Alps and the Neuschwanstein Castle
Alps and the Neuschwanstein Castle
My love affair with the Alps began inside the tight cabin of the now defunct Pan Am airlines. When I saw the wrinkled, craggy mountain tops breaking through thick clouds, I held my breath. Nothing like this majestic splendor had ever crossed my eyes. Immediately, I took a few pictures, not minding that a 126 box camera wasn’t the proper tool for such a sight. Ever since then, we got lucky enough to pay our respects to the Alps with a few trips.
The best resorts in the Alps for me, since I am not a climber or a mountain goat, are the lakeside towns and fishing villages. Most of the Alpine lakes are carved by glaciers; the water inside the lakes sparkles like a gemstone, be it a blue topaz, emerald, or lapis lazuli, and the lakes are edged by fancy gardens and all sorts of greenery.
In nice weather when the strong sun shines on the mountains and the area, compassionate peaks embrace the lakes and send cool breezes down on their protégés. These are the times to live for, whether one takes a short hike through the woods or by the lakeside or moves higher up to climb.
One climber asked me to accompany his group at least during the first part of their climb, which consisted of nothing else but hiking, and told me I could always take the cable back. I told him I was too old for that and it would be risky. His eyes lit up. “But it is just the point,” he said. “Risk is great. Risk is the healthiest thing one can do for himself.”
So I let myself be convinced, although I had no idea how far the walk would be. From a distance, the place he pointed to seemed close enough. Little did I know that to go there, we had to take a serpentine path and even do some rock climbing, something I had never done in my life. Soon after we started out, I felt tired, beat-up, and clumsy. Worse yet, what little dignity I had left, I had to give it up; during the climbing part, I let people pull me from above while others pushed my butt up from below.
In hindsight, I think, by accepting the offer to climb, I did push things (like asthma) a bit, but I got a sense of satisfaction from dealing with fears and hardship. A lesson like this one is applicable beyond the mountains and beyond any hike even if one wheezes a little.
Once I asked a climber what the hardest in climbing a mountain was. He said, “The last few hundred feet to the summit, because you have to step across from the snow patches on to the loose rock.”
His words made me look at a few mountain photos carefully. He was right. As snowy or icy a mountain appeared, its top ridges could be detected as bare rock, sometimes as a solid line, sometimes as broken rocks. Especially on the Alps, the only things that whiten the top ridges are the clouds. Is it because the highest heads do not wear crowns?
Talking of crowns, the Alps have quite a few castles built on them. The most interesting ones are those King Ludwig built in Bavaria. We visited it on a trip when we went to see one of my cousins. For an only child, I have scores of cousins, most of them scattered around Europe.
Neuschwanstein is an ivory castle with majestic spires sitting on a solitary peak. To enter the castle we had to wait in line, buy tickets, and then wait in line again because tourists from all lands come to visit it. I heard, during the last few years, they built a separate ticket place before entering the castle and also tickets can be bought beforehand, I don’t know if online or by mail. When we went there, about ten years ago, we had to wait in long lines just to get inside.
Neuschwanstein is a very pretty castle. My cousin’s husband told us to come back and see it in winter if we could, because then it looks like something out of a fairy tale. Although it was summer during the time of our visit, the castle looked magnificent, like a place any princess would want to wake up in. I could only imagine what it would be like in winter. The entire façade of the castle was of limestone found near Swansee (Swan Lake) nearby, and the walls that supported the stones were of brick. Against the backdrop of Bavarian Alps, this white castle with red trim (because of the bricks) stood like a dream.
Once we were inside, I couldn’t believe the splendor I witnessed; neither could I believe all those spiral stairs we had to climb. An old lady (at least a lady older than me) just stopped and sat on one of the steps and waved us past by her. Although I didn’t blame her one bit, we were tripping over our own feet as we tried to go around her since the staircase was so narrow.
Neuschwanstein castle was built during the second half of the nineteenth century, as an imitation of a medieval castle. Then this castle itself was imitated by Walt Disney for his sleeping beauty’s castle.
King Ludwig was said to be homosexual and had a special relationship with Richard Wagner as the musician’s patron. Rooms on the third floor are based upon the legends of Wagner’s operas. For Tannhauser a winter garden and grotto and for Lohengrin a chamber and a throne room with a vaulted ceiling supported by columns and decorated with stars. The throne room surprised me because it was almost exactly like the inside of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which I have seen inside out. Also there was another place on the fourth floor dedicated to Parsifal.
King Ludwig was a romantic. Besides his fantasy of the third floor cave built for Wagner’s Tannhauser, the king had a love for swans. The motif of swans repeated itself in small statuettes throughout the castle. There’s a life size porcelain swan which is said to be the king’s favorite. Even the tap in the kitchen had a swan head.
All through the castle there were breathtaking chandeliers. King Ludwig’s Bed boasted the most intricate woodcarvings with the bed covers embroidered in glitzy decorations.
The kitchen was large with a vaulted ceiling with a huge stove in the middle of it. There was a basin near a window. We were told that it was for keeping the king’s fish fresh.
Another castle nearby, yellow in color, was the castle where Ludwig grew up. We were too tired to visit that one. Anyhow, I believe all the castles in Europe are good to look at from the outside, walking around inside them is interesting but too tiring.
Kudos to King Ludwig, Neuschwanstein Castle had been equipped with the best technology of its times. The toilets were flushable at each story and there was running water on all floors. The castle had central heating system and a winter garden with glass sliding doors.
King Ludwig built other castles too. Another one people said was interesting is Linderhof, to the east of Neuschwanstein. These castles cost so much that, even when almost finished, they were opened to the public for money, to cover the expenses. To this day, that tradition continues.
To me, King Ludwig seemed to be a character created to inspire any writer. Known by many nicknames as the Swan King, Dream King, Mad Ludwig or The Mad King of Bavaria, Ludwig was an extravagant spender who became king at the age of 19 and never fit in with the royal crowd. He had serious problems relating to all people in general and to women in particular.
Even as a child of 12, King Ludwig was fascinated by the legends and Wagner. After becoming king, when he couldn’t stand Munich’s society, he withdrew to the Bavarian Alps where he met Wagner and began a long but very stormy friendship with him until Wagner’s death.
It is said that Neuschwanstein was built in Wagner’s memory and Ludwig irritated the builders and craftsmen by showing too much interest and getting on their nerves by his constant intervention while his palaces and castles were built.
Ludwig’s death was a puzzle also, for he died under questionable circumstances three days after he was declared insane. Some think that he might have been murdered. His death was by drowning in a lake to the south of Munich.
In our day, the legendary king Ludwig’s fairy tale castles are a huge tourist attraction and they are said to be a very important source of income for the state of Bavaria.
I was very much impressed with the environs around the Neuschwanstein Castle. Although the place had become too touristy, the landscape, the mountains, and the colors were breathtaking. There was a bridge at a distance where, from higher up looking down at the scenery, we could see the castle in all its grandeur. If grandeur is the word to use for the Alps and the castle, gaudy grandeur has to be the definition for the castle’s insides, even if the castle appeared cute and charming from far away.
A question I still ask is, would this same castle capture so many imaginations, had it been situated elsewhere other than the Alps?
For the same token, would we have the same exact study of psychology today, had not Jung visited these mountains with his father in his youth? After all, he considered mountains and trees as symbols of the self. He believed that all knowledge about the world, understanding, thought, dream, opinion, philosophy, peace, and courage existed inside a mountain.
Maybe Jung was right. In any case, don’t people look up high for things of quality?