Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Monday, March 24, 2014

a whole lot of fairytale.

As great guy enters his third smoke-free week, his mood deteriorating with each clean breath he takes, I decide to head south for a couple of days.



Do you ever think you could use more fairytale in your life? I do. And, I knew just where to go to find some. The mountain town nestled high in the Bavarian Alps, of Schwangau.


Take a crazy king, one large swan, a hint of grail; drizzle some hollywood, throw in a splash of Disney, add lots of fresh spring air, pre-heat with Celtic folklore and Roman ruins, and you’ve got yourself plenty of fairytale.

This region has been enchanted, long before Clooney or Disney or even the mad King Ludwig himself drew attention to it. Maybe it's the thin mountain air or the laid-back ease of the people, but to call this place magical does it injustice. Schwangau has seen the likes of one or two fairytales in its time; Ludwig creating the most jaw-dropping building as their setting.


Once upon a time… there was a young king who was shy, tall, with dark hair and blue eyes. He could have been a real hit with the ladies, but he was from all accounts, a recluse with a wild imagination. His parents summered in an old castle nestled in the Bavarian Alps on the shore of a deep, mountain lake. Also known as the fairytale king, Ludwig’s favourite place was here. Hohenschwangau.


Ludwig wrote to his friend, Richard Wagner of his dreams for a new castle: “It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights' castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day…the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world…This castle will be in every way more beautiful and habitable than Hohenschwangau further down, which is desecrated every year by the prose of my mother; they will take revenge, the desecrated gods, and come to live with Us on the lofty heights, breathing the air of heaven.


Castle of the grail.

With traces of human habitation in the area from as long ago as 14000 B.C, the region was settled by a Celtic tribe long before the Romans ruled over it. In 54 A.D. Emperor Claudius built the Via Claudia, a road still navigable through this area, leading from Venice all the way to the Danube River.  

As Ludwig grew older he identified more and more with Parzival, the medieval Grail King. Ludwig was obsessed with topics of sin, purity, faith and redemption. He had Neuschwanstein’s rooms designed to reflect this never-ending conflict; the ultimate quest for good. What would have been the Throne Room turned into the Hall of the Holy Grail, and plans were made to create a bath hall in homage to the ritual bath of the knights of the Grail, but they were never finished.

The Hall of Singers - Wikipedia
The Swan Knight.

The swan, which was already an important symbol within the dynasty, became a figure of purity for Ludwig, beginning in childhood. In Neuschwanstein, Ludwig covered huge walls with romantic scenes from Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin, about the Swan Knight. And his patronage allowed Wagner to avoid bankruptcy and created the now wildly popular Bayreuth Music Festival.


This is Wagner’s prophetic account about meeting King Ludwig: "… Today I was brought to him. He is unfortunately so beautiful and wise, soulful and lordly, that I fear his life must fade away like a divine dream in this base world … You cannot imagine the magic of his regard: if he remains alive it will be a great miracle!" Ludwig only lived to be 41 years old, dying under mysterious circumstances in Starnberger See after being declared insane by the Bavarian government and stripped of his power.


Monuments Men.

Hitler's stash of more than 20,000 stolen pieces of art, was rescued in 1945 just before the castle and contents were to be destroyed by the retreating Nazis. Over a six week period, members of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the Allied forces (in total 350 men and women) found and removed paintings, drawings, and statues from Neuschwanstein; including Rodin's bronze The Burghers of Calais.

I saw one of the original castings of this impressive statue at the Met in New York City years ago.

A casting of Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais” stands on a farm cart in an Allied collecting point- photo www.magazine.williams.edu
The casting found at Neuschwanstein was recovered in this account: “I was heading for a remote castle in some woods, but I couldn’t get to it with the Jeep because it was perched high on a rock. So I got out and started walking through the forest. Soon I spotted some woodsmen who looked as though they were taking a break, standing around in a group talking. As I got nearer, it occurred to me they were standing quite close together and looked rather dejected … and they weren’t moving much. And if they were talking, they certainly were being quiet about it. Then in a flash I realized I had stumbled on The Burghers of Calais, Rodin’s famous bronze grouping of six men about to be martyred, just sitting in the woods!” — Charles Parkhurst (www.magazine.williams.edu)



Cinderella.

Shortly after the end of WWII, Walt Disney toured some of Europe’s most romantic locations looking for inspiration for a new little movie he was working on, Cinderella. He found just what he was looking for when he saw Neuschwanstein Castle. Disney and his engineers copied Neuschwanstein’s multiple turrets and white, fairytale magnificence to create the perfect backdrop for Cinderella’s triumphant good over evil ending; perfectly in line with Ludwig’s whimsically, romantic dreams. 


The real thing. When you come to visit the area of Schwangau, you will find the real fairytale in the freshest mountain air, heavy with the scent of newly dunged fields (okay that's not so fairytale) and the comforting smell of wood-burning stoves throughout. Tiny white flowers burst into the cool spring air, dotting the fields, while a lone white church makes itself heard with a gong, gong of its bell. Mouth-watering, hearty German cooking will greet you in each brauhaus and braustüberl, to accompany home-brewed weizen beer; perfectly thirst quenching after an afternoon of hiking in the footsteps of mad men. Watching over it all, perched on the side of the mountain, is Neuschwanstein.


As the sun moves to sleep and dusk settles in, the mountains create a safe, silhouette cradling castles and crazy on three sides, tucking everything safely in. Now, I will head to my tiny, attic room in Haus Martina, my head spinning with weizen-filled wishes and fairytale dreams......I feel good here.


Sources:
http://www.neuschwanstein.de
http://www.fussen.de
Neuschwanstein Castle information

Schwangau tourist information materials
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