October 31, 2015

Island Castle Dreams

A beautiful autumn day always makes me feel like I've won the lottery and paid to make everything warm and colorful. I love fall so much more than spring, and could stay in perpetual autumn forever.

The day I ventured to the Chiemsee was such a day, when every minute lengthened and the hours stretched into what may have been a day, but felt more like a long vacation.

The Chiemsee beckoned me for many reasons, but the biggest draw to Bavaria's largest lake was the unfinished French castle on the forested island of Herrenchiemsee.

It was a bit of a commitment to get there, but easy for a person who loves walking in sunshine! From the Prien am Chiemsee train station, it's a twenty minute walk to the ferry dock. During the summer, a small train makes this journey a lot faster, but as soon as October hits, the train takes a break. The ferry is a nice fifteen minute ride on the Chiemsee, but upon arrival at the island, the castle itself is another twenty minute walk. This can be alleviated by paying for horse and carriage rides, but that's never really been my thing, and there was no reason to rush this experience.

The round trip ferry cost is about eight euros and the castle tour is also only eight euros. For a Versailles imitation, this is extremely reasonable.


Yes. Ludwig II, who we all magically credit as the fairy tale king creator of Neuschwanstein, also started this palace project as a massive homage to King Louis XIV.

Looks familiar, doesn't it? Let us remember that Ludwig II and Louis XIV were NOT contemporaries of each other, and Ludwig II dwelt in the romantic past of anything that could help him escape his present reality.

For him, this meant making his own Versailles, albeit a little bit bigger, a little bit better, and a little bit more extravagant. But alas, his over-the-top dreams were never realized because he ran out of money and died soon after.

What was this new palace supposed to be like? The outside front you see of the castle was meant to serve as the central section and two wings of the same size were planned for the right and left to resemble Versailles. The 1/3 of the castle that was built had seventy rooms - but only twenty of which were ever finished, and only ten or so which are available to view during the castle tour. No photos are allowed of the ornate and decadent interiors, but you can search Google to see some of what I'm talking about here.

The most expensive room was the Louis XIV bedroom chamber, meant to exemplify the throne of the Sun King in all its splendor. It was as overwhelming as Versailles itself, touched with gold and rich fabric, and facing the east for the sun to rise through the windows. It's the most expensive bedroom of 19th century Europe and no one has ever slept in it.

I will say that this Hall of Mirrors was magnificent, bigger in every way than the original in the southeast of Paris. The crazy thing is that no party was ever held here, and during the ten days that Ludwig did spend in the castle, he had the servants light the thousands of candles of the Viennese chandeliers in the room so he could walk through it alone.

The strangest room was Ludwig's bedroom. Because of his obsession with the Sun King, he had somehow arrived at the conclusion that he himself was the Moon King. This meant his bedroom was in hues of blues, with a large glass blue globe at the foot of his bed: a night-light that gave the effect of moonlight in the room while he slept. Creative, but probably part of the reason he was called Mad (not Moon) King Ludwig.

My favorite room was the dining room. The chandelier is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my entire life. Made completely out of porcelain, every detail was meticulously crafted into a flower or bird and painted in soft pastels. It was like springtime falling from the sky! The other cool thing about the dining area was that the table was attached to a crank mechanism that could bring the table down to the lower floor to be filled with food, then lifted back up to the dining room to be consumed. No wait staff seen or heard!

Another interesting feature finished before construction was stopped is the enormous bathtub. It's more like a medium-sized indoor pool, about twenty feet in diameter and at least six feet deep. It took something like eight hours to fill the "tub" with enough warm water.

The symmetry of the building and gardens was established and remains lovely even if it is unfinished. In many ways, it is a relief that Ludwig never finished this grand project, as it had already cost more than both Neuschwanstein and Linderhof (his other Bavarian castles) combined. The more I learn about Ludwig II, the more I understand that he was a very lost person, trying to fulfill his emptiness by chasing after a nostalgia for things of a bygone era. He unfortunately did this in too large of a scale, and irresponsibly at the expense of the Bavarian budget.

We tourists like to enjoy majestic kings and queens, stories of places and people that distance themselves into legends. But while we can appreciate the ingenuity and vision of the fairy tale Moon King, we must also consider the cost. Money is one thing, but Ludwig ultimately paid for his poorly timed artistic expressions with his life.

But it's no wonder Ludwig chose Herrenchiemsee for the realization of his Versailles dreams. It's a stunning landscape and would have proven more impressive than Versailles itself as "the Versailles on an island." If this palace had been finished, maybe Versailles would have become "the Herrenchiemsee of Paris."