Located a few minutes away from Füssen and the small town of Schwagau, Germany lies the pretty yellow castle known as Hohenschwangau (meaning roughly 'high above Schwangau'). This castle shared its location with the better-known Neuschwanstein that sat on a different hilltop along the same ridge. Both were associated with King Ludwig II of Bavaria -- he built Neuschwanstein but grew up in the much older Hohenschwangau. Consequently, the two castles were very much opposites. Hohenschwangau was much older, much more traditional, and was loaded with artifacts dating across the Wittelsbach dynasty. However, it was worth noting that the present-day Hohenschwangau was not the original, having been destroyed by Napoleon's forces, then rebuilt later in the 19th century (see note below).
Visitors to the area had the opportunity to purchase guided tours of either castle, or both at a reduced rate -- although the tickets were not cheap by any stretch. Only guided tours were permitted, unfortunately. They are carefully timed in order to handle the tremendous quantity of visitors that came even during poor weather. When the ticket was purchased, the time of the tour and a tour group number were assigned. After four visits to Hohenschwangau, I strongly suggest that visitors shoot for as early as possible during the day. The lines got very long very quickly.
There were two ways up to the castle, either the very steep short walk up the stairs in front, or the much longer but less severe inclined road that went through the forest around the back. The second photograph shows the entranceway at the back, through a lovely decorated archway leading to the waiting area, and outdoor terrace with a wonderful view. There were four lines, each with an electronic sign indicating which tour groups were to assemble at each line. At the appointed time, our turn came and we entered.
Sadly, photographs were not permitted inside -- as was the case with all the Ludwig castles. Hence, the following description is given from memory, and it may be imperfect. The tour covered at least two levels of the castle. The first room was for me the most memorable. It contained a showcase of the crests of every Bavarian city. Upstairs, there was a royal dining room that was covered with numerous extraordinarily large brass centerpieces, so large they fill up the entire dining room table. Each one had a story all to its own, where and from who it came from and what it commemorated.
More than the other castles, the Hohenschwangau museum devoted a lot of space to the life and times of King Ludwig II. Several walls showcased photographs of the young Ludwig and his younger brother Otto, their extended family, and the ladies they came to know and other bits of social trivia. Other rooms presented the darker side of the king, as he transformed from a wavy-haired thin and handsome young man to a very rotund and unpleasantly paranoid person in his later years. The tour guides told us of how Ludwig bankrupted the Wittelsbach treasury through the pursuit of his monuments -- the three castles or palaces he built. They then told us of his mysterious death by a lake, a death that was never resolved but speculated to have been an assassination. Whatever tidbits I missed, there were no shortage of bookstores or museum shops after the conclusion of the tour to look up more information if I desired.
Upon completion of the tour, we exited to a second terrace containing a pair of swan fountains -- one of a boy carrying two swans and the one shown in the third photograph of a swan craning its neck to the sky, surrounded by rosebushes. From the front of the castle, we were able to get a great view of the Alpsee, shown in the fourth photograph. Because of the positioning, there was not a good place from below to get both the castle and the lake. However, great overhead shots were available at a vantage point well above the Neuschwanstein. By following the main path to the intersection for the Marienbruecke and climbing a little further, there was a ledge that looked directly over both the castle and the lake, while the trees obscured some of the tourist structures underneath.
Words could not describe how wonderful this castle and the surrounding area were. Even with the thousands from around the world that visited the location on a daily basis, the natural beauty of the area was well preserved and the conduct of the tours and the services available were absolutely professional. This place was a must for any visitor to southern Germany.
Trips taken 18 August 2000 and 19 August 2001 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin