Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle (German: Schloss Neuschwanstein, pronounced [ˈʃlɔs nɔʏˈʃvaːnʃtaɪn], Southern Bavarian: Schloss Neischwanstoa) is a 19th-century romantic eclecticism palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and in honour of Richard Wagner. Ludwig paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and by means of extensive borrowing, rather than Bavarian public funds.

The castle was intended as a home for the King, until he died in 1886. It was open to the public shortly after his death. Since then more than 61 million people have visited Neuschwanstein Castle. More than 1.3 million people visit annually, with as many as 6,000 per day in the summer.

History Inspiration and design

Neuschwanstein embodies both the contemporaneous architectural fashion known as castle romanticism (German: Burgenromantik), and King Ludwig II's enthusiasm for the operas of Richard Wagner.

In the 19th century, many castles were constructed or reconstructed, often with significant changes to make them more picturesque. Palace-building projects similar to Neuschwanstein had been undertaken earlier in several of the German states and included Hohenschwangau Castle, Lichtenstein Castle, Hohenzollern Castle, and numerous buildings on the River Rhine such as Stolzenfels Castle.[1] The inspiration for the construction of Neuschwanstein came from two journeys in 1867—one in May to the reconstructed Wartburg near Eisenach,[2] another in July to the Château de Pierrefonds, which Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was transforming from a ruined castle into a historistic palace.[3][nb 1]

Neuschwanstein project drawing (Christian Jank 1869)

The King saw both buildings as representatives of a romantic interpretation of the Middle Ages, as well as the musical mythology of his friend Wagner, whose operas Tannhäuser and Lohengrin had made a lasting impression on him.[4]

In February 1868, Ludwig's grandfather King Ludwig I died, freeing the considerable sums that were previously spent on the abdicated King's appanage.[5][nb 2] This allowed Ludwig II to start the architectural project of building a private refuge in the familiar landscape far from the capital Munich, so that he could live out his idea of the Middle Ages.

It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights' castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day [...]; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world. It will also remind you of "Tannhäuser" (Singers' Hall with a view of the castle in the background), "Lohengrin'" (castle courtyard, open corridor, path to the chapel) ...

— Ludwig II, Letter to Richard Wagner, May 1868[6]

The building design was drafted by the stage designer Christian Jank and realised by the architect Eduard Riedel.[7] For technical reasons, the ruined castles could not be integrated into the plan. Initial ideas for the palace drew stylistically on Nuremberg Castle and envisaged a simple building in place of the old Vorderhohenschwangau Castle, but they were rejected and replaced by increasingly extensive drafts, culminating in a bigger palace modelled on the Wartburg.[8] The king insisted on a detailed plan and on personal approval of each and every draft.[9] Ludwig's control went so far that the palace has been regarded as his own creation, rather than that of the architects involved.[10]

Whereas contemporary architecture critics derided Neuschwanstein, one of the last big palace building projects of the nineteenth century, as kitsch, Neuschwanstein and Ludwig II's other buildings are now counted among the major works of European historicism.[11][12] For financial reasons, a project similar to Neuschwanstein – Falkenstein Castle – never left the planning stages.[13]

The palace can be regarded as typical for nineteenth-century architecture. The shapes of Romanesque (simple geometric figures such as cuboids and semicircular arches), Gothic (upward-pointing lines, slim towers, delicate embellishments) and Byzantine architecture and art (the Throne Hall décor) were mingled in an eclectic fashion and supplemented with 19th-century technical achievements. The Patrona Bavariae and Saint George on the court face of the Palas (main building) are depicted in the local Lüftlmalerei style, a fresco technique typical for Allgäu farmers' houses, while the unimplemented drafts for the Knights' House gallery foreshadow elements of Art Nouveau.[14] Characteristic of Neuschwanstein's design are theatre themes: Christian Jank drew on coulisse drafts from his time as a scenic painter.[15]

The basic style was originally planned to be neo-Gothic but the palace was primarily built in Romanesque style in the end. The operatic themes moved gradually from Tannhäuser and Lohengrin to Parsifal.[16]

Neuschwanstein under construction: Bower still missing, Rectangular Tower under construction (photograph c. 1882–85)
Neuschwanstein under construction: upper courtyard (photograph c. 1886)

In 1868, the ruins of the medieval twin castles were completely demolished; the remains of the old keep were blown up.[17] The foundation stone for the palace was laid on 5 September 1869; in 1872 its cellar was completed and in 1876, everything up to the first floor, the gatehouse being finished first. At the end of 1882 it was completed and fully furnished, allowing Ludwig to take provisional lodgings there and observe the ongoing construction work.[16] In 1874, management of the civil works passed from Eduard Riedel to Georg von Dollmann.[18] The topping out ceremony for the Palas was in 1880, and in 1884, the King was able to move in to the new building. In the same year, the direction of the project passed to Julius Hofmann, after Dollmann had fallen from the King's favour.

The palace was erected as a conventional brick construction and later encased in various types of rock. The white limestone used for the fronts came from a nearby quarry.[19]

The sandstone bricks for the portals and bay windows came from Schlaitdorf in Württemberg. Marble from Untersberg near Salzburg was used for the windows, the arch ribs, the columns and the capitals. The Throne Hall was a later addition to the plans and required a steel framework.

The transport of building materials was facilitated by scaffolding and a steam crane that lifted the material to the construction site. Another crane was used at the construction site. The recently founded Dampfkessel-Revisionsverein (Steam Boiler Inspection Association) regularly inspected both boilers.

For about two decades the construction site was the principal employer in the region.[20] In 1880, about 200 craftsmen were occupied at the site,[21] not counting suppliers and other persons indirectly involved in the construction. At times when the King insisted on particularly close deadlines and urgent changes, reportedly up to 300 workers per day were active, sometimes working at night by the light of oil lamps. Statistics from the years 1879/1880 support an immense amount of building materials: 465 tonnes (513 short tons) of Salzburg marble, 1,550 t (1,710 short tons) of sandstone, 400,000 bricks and 2,050 cubic metres (2,680 cu yd) of wood for the scaffolding.

In 1870, a society was founded for insuring the workers, for a low monthly fee, augmented by the King. The heirs of construction casualties (30 cases are mentioned in the statistics) received a small pension.

In 1884, the King was able to move into the (still unfinished) Palas,[22] and in 1885, he invited his mother Marie to Neuschwanstein on the occasion of her 60th birthday.[nb 3] By 1886, the external structure of the Palas (hall) was mostly finished.[22] In the same year, Ludwig had the first, wooden Marienbrücke over the Pöllat Gorge replaced by a steel construction.

Despite its size, Neuschwanstein did not have space for the royal court, but contained only the King's private lodging and servants' rooms. The court buildings served decorative, rather than residential purposes:[23] The palace was intended to serve King Ludwig II as a kind of inhabitable theatrical setting.[22] As a temple of friendship it was also dedicated to the life and work of Richard Wagner, who died in 1883 before he had set foot in the building.[24] In the end, Ludwig II lived in the palace for a total of only 172 days.[25]

Neuschwanstein in 1886

The King's wishes and demands expanded during the construction of Neuschwanstein, and so did the expenses. Drafts and estimated costs were revised repeatedly.[26] Initially a modest study was planned instead of the great throne hall, and projected guest rooms were struck from the drafts to make place for a Moorish Hall, which could not be realised due to lack of resources. Completion was originally projected for 1872, but deferred repeatedly.[26]

Neuschwanstein, the symbolic medieval knight's castle, was not King Ludwig II's only huge construction project. It was followed by the rococo style Lustschloss of Linderhof Palace and the baroque palace of Herrenchiemsee, a monument to the era of absolutism.[5] Linderhof, the smallest of the projects, was finished in 1886, and the other two remain incomplete. All three projects together drained his resources. The King paid for his construction projects by private means and from his civil list income. Contrary to frequent claims, the Bavarian treasury was not directly burdened by his buildings.[22][27] From 1871, Ludwig had an additional secret income in return for a political favour given to Otto von Bismarck.[nb 4]

The construction costs of Neuschwanstein in the King's lifetime amounted to 6.2 million marks (equivalent to 43 million 2017 €),[28] almost twice the initial cost estimate of 3.2 million marks.[27] As his private means were insufficient for his increasingly escalating construction projects, the King continuously opened new lines of credit.[29] In 1876, a court counselor was replaced after pointing out the danger of insolvency.[30] By 1883 he already owed 7 million marks,[31] and in spring 1884 and August 1885 debt conversions of 7.5 million marks and 6.5 million marks, respectively, became necessary.[29]

Even after his debts had reached 14 million marks, King Ludwig II insisted on continuation of his architectural projects; he threatened suicide if his creditors seized his palaces.[30] In early 1886, Ludwig asked his cabinet for a credit of 6 million marks, which was denied. In April, he followed Bismarck's advice to apply for the money to his parliament. In June the Bavarian government decided to depose the King, who was living at Neuschwanstein at the time. On 9 June he was incapacitated, and on 10 June he had the deposition commission arrested in the gatehouse.[32] In expectation of the commission, he alerted the gendarmerie and fire brigades of surrounding places for his protection.[29] A second commission headed by Bernhard von Gudden arrived on the next day, and the King was forced to leave the palace that night. Ludwig was put under the supervision of von Gudden. On 13 June, both died under mysterious circumstances in the shallow shore water of Lake Starnberg near Berg Castle.

Simplified completion
Neuschwanstein front façade and surroundings (photochrom print, c. 1900)
A 1901 postcard of Berg Castle

At the time of King Ludwig's death the palace was far from complete. The external structures of the Gatehouse and the Palas were mostly finished but the Rectangular Tower was still scaffolded. Work on the Bower had not started, but was completed in a simplified form by 1892 without the planned figures of the female saints. The Knights' House was also simplified. In King Ludwig's plans the columns in the Knights' House gallery were held as tree trunks and the capitals as the corresponding crowns. Only the foundations existed for the core piece of the palace complex: a keep of 90 metres (300 ft) height planned in the upper courtyard, resting on a three-nave chapel. This was not realised,[9] and a connection wing between the Gatehouse and the Bower saw the same fate.[33] Plans for a castle garden with terraces and a fountain west of the Palas were also abandoned after the King's death.

The interior of the royal living space in the palace was mostly completed in 1886; the lobbies and corridors were painted in a simpler style by 1888.[34] The Moorish Hall desired by the King (and planned below the Throne Hall) was not realised any more than the so-called Knights' Bath, which, modelled after the Knights' Bath in the Wartburg, was intended to render homage to the knights' cult as a medieval baptism bath. A Bride Chamber in the Bower (after a location in Lohengrin),[15] guest rooms in the first and second floor of the Palas and a great banquet hall were further abandoned projects.[26] In fact, a complete development of Neuschwanstein had never even been planned, and at the time of the King's death there was not a utilisation concept for numerous rooms.[21]

Neuschwanstein was still incomplete when Ludwig II died in 1886. The King never intended to make the palace accessible to the public.[22] No more than six weeks after the King's death, however, the Prince-Regent Luitpold ordered the palace opened to paying visitors. The administrators of King Ludwig's estate managed to balance the construction debts by 1899.[35] From then until World War I, Neuschwanstein was a stable and lucrative source of revenue for the House of Wittelsbach, indeed King Ludwig's castles were probably the single largest income source earned by the Bavarian royal family in the last years prior to 1914. To guarantee a smooth course of visits, some rooms and the court buildings were finished first. Initially the visitors were allowed to move freely in the palace, causing the furniture to wear quickly.

When Bavaria became a republic in 1918, the government socialised the civil list. The resulting dispute with the House of Wittelsbach led to a split in 1923: King Ludwig's palaces including Neuschwanstein fell to the state and are now managed by the Bavarian Palace Department, a division of the Bavarian finance ministry. Nearby Hohenschwangau Castle fell to the Wittelsbacher Ausgleichsfonds, whose revenues go to the House of Wittelsbach.[36] The visitor numbers continued to rise, reaching 200,000 in 1939.[36]

World War II

Due to its secluded location, the palace survived the destruction of two World Wars. Until 1944, it served as a depot for Nazi plunder that was taken from France by the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Institute for the Occupied Territories (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die besetzten Gebiete), a suborganisation of the Nazi Party.[37] The castle was used to catalogue the works of arts. (After World War II 39 photo albums were found in the palace documenting the scale of the art seizures. The albums are now stored in the United States National Archives.[38])

In April 1945, the SS considered blowing up the palace to prevent the building itself and the artwork it contained from falling to the enemy.[39] The plan was not realised by the SS-Gruppenführer who had been assigned the task, however, and at the end of the war the palace was surrendered undamaged to representatives of the Allied forces.[39] Thereafter the Bavarian archives used some of the rooms as a provisional store for salvaged archivalia, as the premises in Munich had been bombed.[40]

^ Pevsner, Honour & Fleming 1992, p. 168 ^ Petzet & Bunz 1995, p. 50 ^ Petzet & Bunz 1995, p. 51 ^ Blunt 1970, p. 197 ^ a b Blunt 1970, p. 110 ^ "Neuschwanstein Castle: Idea and History". Bavarian Palace Department. Retrieved 11 March 2010. ^ Petzet & Bunz 1995, p. 53 ^ Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 10 ^ a b Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 12 ^ Rauch 1991, p. 12 ^ Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 16 ^ Petzet & Bunz 1995, p. 7 ^ Petzet & Bunz 1995, p. 82 ^ Blunt 1970, p. 212 ^ a b Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 9 ^ a b Ammon 2007, p. 107 ^ Blunt 1970, p. 114 ^ Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 11 ^ Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 21 ^ Petzet & Bunz 1995, p. 64 ^ a b Rauch 1991, p. 14 ^ a b c d e Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 19 ^ Cite error: The named reference MPB46 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Petzet & Bunz 1995, p. 67 ^ Merkle 2001, p. 68 ^ a b c Rauch 1991, p. 13 ^ a b Linnenkamp 1986, p. 171 ^ Petzet & Bunz 1995, p. 65 ^ a b c Bitterauf 1910 ^ a b "Ludwig II. (Bayern)" (in German). Who's Who Online. Retrieved 23 September 2012. ^ Blunt 1970, p. 111 ^ Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 23 ^ Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 22 ^ Petzet & Hojer 1991, p. 26 ^ Rauch 1991, p. 16 ^ a b Sykora 2004, p. 32f ^ Farmer 2002, pp. 140f ^ National Archives 2007 ^ a b Linnenkamp 1986, pp. 184f ^ "Neuschwanstein: A fairy tale darling's dark Nazi past". Deutsche Welle. 21 February 2014.

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