Hohenschwangau & Neuschwanstein Castles, Germany, March 31, 2012
A few explanations first.
- Hohenschwangau is a small (mostly tourist) village in the German Alps in the south of Bavaria. It is just south of the larger village of Schwangau. The castles seem to have Schwangau addresses so are probably of the larger town in a postal sense.
Hohenschwangau means a high area or region of the swans. Instead of high it could also mean expensive or large.
I say the village is tourist because it seems most of the infrastructure is tourist related. Anyone living there probably resides in Schwangau a few minutes to the north.
- Hohenschwangau Castle sits a few hundred feet to the north or west above Hohenschwangau village. The direction depends on where your vantage point is in the village. It is built on a hill on the site of the old medieval castle of Schwanstein.
- Schwanstein means stone or jewel or gem of the swan, or swan jewel, swan stone, etc.
- Neuschwanstein Castle sits above both the village of Hohenschwangau and Hohenschwangau Castle about a mile to the east. Neu means ‘new’ so it was named to be the “new” castle of Schwanstein.
The Swan is the representative bird of the area, and the castles.
The area with its castles is a picturesque little town right on the Alpsee Lake. In medieval times it was home to Schwanstein Castle, the redoubt of a family of German Knights. The castle became empty in the 1500s and it fell from disuse into ruin as time passed slowly by.
Schwangau, Hohenschwangau, Schwanstein, and Neuschwanstein all have the word schwan in them. Schwan means ‘swan’ so each name references the bird. The swan is in the coats of arms of the ruling Bavarian family and as such is their adopted symbol.
In the 1832 Crown Prince Maximillian of Bavaria (later King Maximillian II) bought the ruin, and began to rebuild it in 1833. He renamed it Hohenschwangau. It was his official summer residence and also found use as a hunting lodge. He built the annex where his children stayed.
When Maximillian died in 1864 his son Ludwig became King Ludwig II. Ludwig never married so his mother maintained her residence in the castle while Ludwig took over his father’s floor. In 1869 he began building his own castle, Neuschwanstein (featured in the next post) on an adjacent hill about a mile away. His bedroom study still has the telescope he used to view construction progress of the Neuschwanstein.
While Ludwig was king Bavaria lost a war to Prussia. This was part of Bismark’s grand design to unite the German states under a system ruled from Berlin with a German Emperor, Wilhelm I. With the war lost and Bavaria included as part of a larger Germany the Bavarian kings had very little power other than what the government of the state of Bavaria would grant them. In Ludwig’s case he built lavish castles including Neuschwanstein. Socially he became what I would charitably describe as reclusive and eccentric, although he enjoyed travelling Bavaria and visiting with its common citizens.
Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances in June, 1886. He was found drowned in a lake with the psychiatrist who had declared him mad a few days earlier. His mother continued to live in Hohenschwangau until she died in 1889.
Ludwig’s younger brother Otto had been declared mad years before so although Otto became king his uncle Prince Luitpold, the queen’s brother-in-law was declared regent. Luitpold lived in Hohenschwangau until he died in 1912. A year later the castle was presented to the State Government of Bavaria for use as a museum. Members of the family continued to use the castle in seceding years. Famous among these was Crown Prince Rupprect who was a German Field Marshall in WWI.
Once we knew we were going to Germany my friend Crawford Kirkpatrick told me he wanted to visit Neuschwanstein Castle over our one free weekend. As the weekend approached two other fellow workers, Dave Meagher & Tom Whitted said they would come along. I was somewhat hesitant at first because the weekend was supposed to be cloudy and rainy. I was also hesitant because it was a 4 hour, 215 mile drive over unfamiliar roads. As the week wore on I resolved to go and made a full commitment.
Saturday morning March 31 rose overcast and gloomy in Bamberg. We ate breakfast and got off by 7 am. Dave, Crawford, and I had tour reservations so we were forced to be there by 11:00 am for a noon tour. If late our reservations could be given to other tourists. I was driving. I turned the route over to the on board navigation system and off we went.
As we drove further south the clouds dissipated and the day became cool and clear with only a few clouds in the sky. It became perfect touring weather. The last half an hour was on gradually winding two lane roads through some very interesting farm country with buildings built in a typical Alpine architecture. It would have been nice to stop, but we had the dead line to get our tickets.
Dave had been there before and assured us we could see Neuschwanstein castle from miles away across the low rolling hills and that was in fact the case. The geography of the area was interesting to me. The foothills and the alps suddenly seem to rise out of the rolling plain. The castles are in the foothills just above the plain. The mountains to the south tower above all rising many thousands of feet in just a short distance.
The village is just inside the foothills with the castles on either side. Most of the buildings in Hohenschwangau seem to be either hotels, restaurants, or souvenir shops. All of them seem to be in that same quaint alpine style. Here is a photo of one of the buildings near the ticket office.
With our tickets secure in hand Crawford, Dave and I walked up the hill to the castle rather than take a bus or a wagon. Walking on foot is cheap, and offers a lot more exercise. From about halfway up the path to the castle this view of the Hohenschwangau presents itself.
The rebuilt castle is on the left. The swan fountain, not seen in this shot, is at its base & the garden, also not seen, is at its left. The annex, built (I think in the 1850s) is the building on the right. The castle’s souvenir shop is inside the annex. The rest of the annex was not on the tour. Between the two buildings is a courtyard, a large wall fountain and a driveway leading down to a road.
A little further along the path these views presented themselves.
Near the top of the path I got this shot of the castle tower.
Waiting for our tour to begin I got this shot of the castle from the courtyard.
This is the wall fountain in the courtyard.
The outside of the fountain wall faces east or north east. I put my camera over the top of the wall and got this shot of the rolling plain below.
Walking to the left the driveway goes down the hill to this entryway and enters the roads beyond.
Once inside we found the castle to be bright, airy, and very ornately decorated. Again, photos were not allowed. The ticket center has a few interior photos at this web address: http://www.hohenschwangau.de/556.0.html
This is the swan fountain mentioned earlier. I had to frame the shot carefully to avoid all the tourists that overran the castle that day.
Once down in the village I got this shot of one of the horse drawn wagons for hire by the tourists. Neuschwanstein is seen in the distant background. The main tower and western face were undergoing reconstruction so any epic photos were out of the question.
Later that afternoon we were up at Neuschwanstein. The path to & from Marienbrucke bridge offers these views of Hohenschwangau, the village of Schwangau and its environs.
Late in the afternoon we were back in the village where I got this nice shot of the Maypole.
The next post, a continuation of this trip, will cover Neuschwanstein Castle. Neuschwanstein is one of the most famous castles in the world, and was the model for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland.