If Schloss Neuschwanstein seems too good to be true, that’s no surprise. The most theatrical of all “Mad” King Ludwig II’s castles has its origins in his desire to rebuild an existing ruin in the style of the German Middle Ages. Ludwig was inspired by the recently restored Wartburg in Thuringia; his architects, Eduard Riedel and Georg Dollmann – who would go on to design Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee – worked from drawings by theatre designer Christian Jank. Work began in 1869, the castle was “topped out” in 1880 and the king was able to move into the (still unfinished) Pallas, or castle keep, in 1884. Ludwig chopped and changed the plans as he went along, incorporating a huge throne room that required modern steel-framed construction methods to make it viable.
The exterior of Neuschwanstein, in a sort of exaggerated Romanesque, is theatrical enough, but the real flights of fancy begin inside, where the decorative schemes are inspired by Wagner’s operas Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. The Byzantine-style Thronsaal (Throne Room), inspired by the church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, was intended to represent the Grail Hall from Parsifal and was completed in the year of Ludwig’s death, 1886. Ludwig’s bedroom is in a heightened Gothic style, with the king’s four-poster bed more closely resembling some fifteenth-century church altar than a place in which to sleep. The highlight – and peak of the king’s Wagnerian obsession – however, is the Sängersaal, or Singers’ Hall, which occupies the entire fourth floor and was inspired by the famous hall at the Wartburg that was the scene of the Singers’ Contest from Tannhäuser.
If you’ve not seen it on your way from the bus, it’s worth strolling uphill to the Marienbrücke after the tour finishes for the dramatic views down into the Pöllat gorge and across to the castle.