The Other Versailles
A note: As I posted yesterday, I’m actually back from my trip. Due to wifi connectivity problems, I’m a little behind in posting my travel diary. Let’s just pretend I’m still there. I know I’m pretending it anyway.
Earlier in the week, I visited Neuschwanstein and documented my trip to the Cinderella castle with a twitter spree. The next day, Jenny went with me to visit another of the infamous Ludwig II castles– Herrenchiemsee (Heron-kim-zee). Thanks to my ongoing difficulty with German pronunciation, I mentally refer to this one as Harrenhal, like it’s on Game of Thrones. Ludwig built this palace on an island with a lovely view of the Alps. It’s a reasonable day trip from Munich, so we packed a picnic lunch and hopped a train to the suburbs.
A short history lesson: in the mid-1800s, Ludwig II took the Bavarian throne and went a little mad over building elaborate castles. I’ll write a lengthier post about him later because he fascinates me, but in the short term, all you need to know is that he relentlessly spent money he didn’t have in the name of creating fanciful castles from his imagination. He built three during his reign, though only one is actually completed. Neuschwanstein(the Cinderella castle) is one of the unfinished, and Herrenchiemsee is the other one. He finished a few rooms in both and they are elaborate enough to leave you wondering exactly how much he was going to bankrupt the Bavarian people in the name of architectural magic.
Herrenchiemsee is his ode to Versailles, the opulent home of the French kings and queens before they were beheaded for totally disregarding the horrible conditions of the people they lead in support of their belief in the divine right of kings. Ludwig seems to have overlooked the part where they ended up with their heads on pikes because he built this whole palace to honor their memory because he so admired what they accomplished over there in pre-Revolutionary France.
It’s not an exact copy, but I did have a weird sense of deja vu throughout the tour. I don’t have any photos of the interior because the palace forbids cameras, but the whole thing played out like an early version of fandom run amok. You know those Star Wars or Star Trek fans who build really elaborate models of the ships or the robots or whatever and spend thousands on replicating the costumes with gadgets that actually light up and all that? This is the kind of thing they might build if they lived in a time before modern pop culture and had the coffers of a king. Ludwig actually replicated full rooms, including the gilded and fabulously gaudy Hall of Mirrors, and there are enough portraits and statues of Louis XIV that one might suspect Ludwig of having a crush. He even called himself “The Moon King” because he saw himself as a sadder and more morose version of the Sun King. I like to imagine Ludwig sighing over fanfiction he wrote about himself and Louis; he might title his story. “The Moon Chases the Sun: An Impossible Love Story in 15 Parts.”
Since I can’t show you pictures of the inside, here are some pictures of the impressive mythological fountains in the courtyard leading up to the palace.
This is the first fountain you see upon entering the grounds.
Pretty basic until you realize the figures surrounding the statue at the top are humans gruesomely morphing into frog people.
As it turns out, this fountain portrays the story of some goddess who came to a village with her children begging for water and the villagers refused her. Then she got pissy and revealed her true form and turned them all into frogs. Seems fair, right? Anyway, I think we can conclude from this that Ludwig had a large chip on his shoulder.
I don’t remember the story with this one. She just looks arty, right?
There were a couple more fountains with very impressive spouts.
Jenny and I noticed a dearth of American tourists at this one and an unusually high population of German day trippers. My boyfriend Rick Steves doesn’t even mention it in his guide. We decided the remote location on an island in a German suburb makes it less appealing to tourists with less time in the country and more attractive to locals looking for a pleasant getaway.
I fear I was becoming blase about castles at this point because after touring a palace resplendent with gold encrusted mirrors and porcelain chandeliers worth more than my employer’s net worth, I told Jenny it was “just okay.”
Tomorrow: Nuns having fun!