Good evening! How would you like to go on an adventure to a beautiful kingdom with a mountain-top castle glowing in the moonlight? This magical kingdom is called Schwangau [Shwang-gow] and it is far, far away in the lush countryside of Germany. And I’ll bet you’ve even seen this castle before! Here’s a clue: it’s also known as The Magic Kingdom and is a place where families go to enjoy time together and cartoon characters came to life. If you said “Disneyland” you are correct! At the center of Disney’s kingdom is a gleaming white castle with tall towers. I bet you’ve seen the image of this castle in Disney movies or on t-shirts – or have even been there in person. Did you know that the famous Disney castle is actually based on a real-life castle called Neuschwanstein (NOYSH-VAUGHN-STEIN) in Germany? Want to visit it? Great – let’s go!
Climb aboard my invisible, supersonic jet and take a seat. The jet roars to life and we rush down the runway, zooming into the sky like a speeding rocket. We pierce floating, fluffy clouds and settle at cruising speed among the stars, zipping along at lightning speed. The night settles in and we fall off to sleep.
The next morning, we land in Germany. We exit the plane and board a bus for the castle, driving up a steep hill into a thick forest. We zig-zag back and forth up the mountain, then suddenly stop. Jutting high above us, peeking above the pine trees is a gleaming white castle with tall towers piercing the blue sky Neuschwanstein – just like the castle at Disneyland! We are on the top of a mountain and the castle is perched on the edge of a rocky outcrop that drops two thousand feet to the valley below. How did they build this amazing castle so high on this rocky ledge? The workers who built this castle must have been VERY brave! Let’s go inside!
A friendly tour guide named Gunter meets us as we enter a courtyard. He tells us that this castle was created from the imagination of a ruler named Mad King Ludwig II in the 1800s. This king was very creative and had a wonderful passion for beautiful things – like plays, operas, and architecture. He didn’t like fighting wars or discussing laws – those things were boring and sad! He wanted to build castles all over Germany that reminded him of castles from the past and the knights who protected them. He lived in a world of his own imagination. He drew detailed sketches of ballrooms, throne rooms, and indoor caves with sparkling lakes. This is why many people called him “mad” or crazy. Who had the time or money to do such silly things? Most people were working in the fields or the town to earn just enough money to eat.
Inside the Neuschwanstein Castle
Our tour guide, Gunter takes us inside the Neuschwanstein castle and we walk through long hallways with arched windows overlooking the countryside below. Lakes glisten in the distance and a cool breeze wafts through the windows. We enter the throne room – a huge hall straight out of a Disney movie! The hall glistens with gold everywhere – on the walls and ceilings – and drips chandeliers as big as cars! Red marble pillars line each side of the hall. Paintings of saints and angels in brightly colored robes look at us from the gleaming gold walls. The marble floor glistens with images of trees and animals. At the far end of the room, white marble stairs lead up to a landing surrounded by more golden walls and smiling saints. No throne is there but the room is glorious! Definitely fit for a king!
Next, we walk to Singer’s Hall – another huge room with a massive beamed ceiling of dark wood. Tall golden candelabras stand along the walls. They look exactly like “Lumier” from “Beauty and the Beast” – only taller! I would LOVE to see these candelabras come to life and dance around the room! Red velvet benches and large windows line the walls. The room is so big you could throw a football or baseball in here! Gunter tells us that this is the room where plays and musicals take place.
He then walks us down a long hall to the king’s bedroom. Dark wood is everywhere – the walls, the ceiling, the floor – even the bed. This room is much darker and less fancy than the other rooms. Tapestries of medieval knights hang on the walls. The bed is HUGE. Gunter tells us it took 14 carvers working day and night for 4 years to carve the bed and canopy!
Neuschwanstein Castle’s Hidden Cave
He then tells us he has a surprise for us. He walks us through a narrow passageway into a dark, spooky cave! They call this a “grotto” and there is a small waterfall flowing down one side of the cave. Stalactites hang down from the walls dripping beads of water. Colored lights bounce reflections across the cave. We look around for bats – this is the perfect hangout for bats. Luckily there are none. Gunter tells us that the king liked to sit in this cave and read or write, hidden away from all the noise of the castle and town below. He was a hermit and loved to be alone in this cave or out in the woods at night. Gunter said the King liked to take midnight sleigh rides in the winter, riding for hours in the cold and darkness.
This hidden cave is amazing. Do you think Neuschwanstein castle is where Walt Disney got the idea for a tunnel into the Disneyland castle? We ask Gunter about this and he tells us that King Ludwig built another castle called Linderholf that actually has a huge cave with a lake, boats shaped like clam shells, and music set to lights where he could watch plays and operas. How cool is THAT? This guy wasn’t crazy – he was AMAZING – and it looks like Walt Disney thought so, too!!!
No Longer King
Gunter tells us that King Ludwig never finished Neuschwanstein castle and actually only spent 5 months here. He was always planning and building more castles. King Ludwig’s uncle, Leopold, and the government ministers became very upset by King Ludwig’s building of castles. He was spending a lot of money on these castles and not doing the normal work of a king, so they decided to remove him as a king. They lied and said he was crazy and had him arrested. He was taken to another town to be put in jail. The poor king was only 40 years old and never completed all of his amazing castles.
His castles sat unused for many years. During WWII, the Nazis used this castle to store their stolen artwork from palaces, museums, and homes in France. They were ordered to destroy the castle and the stolen goods when they were losing the war, but thankfully they never did it!
Not So Crazy After All
But King Ludwig’s legacy lives on. Today his castles attract millions of tourists a year – and his creations continue to inspire people to this day – like Walt Disney himself!
So, what do you think of King Ludwig? Do you think he was crazy? Lots of amazing people were thought to be crazy when they said things like the world was round or tiny organisms cause diseases. Is that crazy? Does Ludwig’s passion for architecture and plays make him crazy?
Maybe he was just a misunderstood man who liked using his imagination. He envisioned amazing palaces with no wars or troubles, surrounded by music and water and light. He liked to be alone with his thoughts and ideas. His beautiful cousin, the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, said of King Ludwig: “The King was not mad; he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams.”
I think this is a good lesson to show kindness and tolerance for everyone and to accept them the way they are. Everyone is unique and has their own special gifts and talents. Some people are outgoing and chatty; others are quiet and shy. Some like to play sports; others like to draw, paint, build, experiment, or explore. Everyone is special in their own way. So, let’s appreciate each other and be kind. Remember, kindness is truly universal.