From Munich, my brother and I took a day trip up into the Bavarian Alps to visit two of the three castles built by the “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Our first stop was the one castle completed during his lifetime: Linderhof Castle. Ludwig became king in 1864 at the age of 18 and ruled for 22 years, but his power was severely limited. Bavaria was a parliamentary monarchy, so by Ludwig II’s time, the king was basically a figurehead. Ludwig II spent his time building castles and enjoying the music of Richard Wagner. In fact, he spent so much on building the castles that people thought he was crazy, and he was deposed in 1886. He died under mysterious circumstances shortly afterwards.
Visiting his castles is a strange experience. It’s clear that the guy was not living in the here-and-now. Linderhof is a good example – the entire place is modeled on Versailles in France. Every square inch of space is covered in elaborate decoration 200 years after that kind of excess was out of fashion. The entire place seems to be gilded, though the tour guide assured us that only 4kg of gold was used in the whole palace. Only 4 kg? That seems like more than enough to me. The palace is also filled with portraits of Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King,” who was Ludwig’s hero. It also includes portraits of Louis’ mistresses.
Ludwig never married and had no known mistresses of his own. He cancelled his one engagement because he was certain he could not make her happy. It’s pretty widely believed based on diary entries that he was gay, but he was conflicted about his sexual identity due to his Catholic faith. Ludwig was also quite eccentric in his habits: he slept during the day and was awake at night; he insisted his meals be served on a table that rose out of the floor (filled on the lower level by servants he never saw) and staged elaborate plays in his homes. Hearing these stories and seeing the castle he spent a fortune building, you start to understand how the fine people of Bavaria might have thought he was a little nuts.
Though the castle interior is spectacular, with no expense spared, I was more impressed with the grounds at Linderhof. Everything had been weatherized for winter, but you can tell the stately gardens and fountains must be majestic in the spring and summer. I also loved the woodlands around the castle with views of the Bavarian Alps in the background.
Title quote: King Ludwig II to his governess