Germany


Abbey at Tegernsee

Abbey at Tegernsee

We had decided to take it easy and pack in a leisurely fashion on our last two days. The weather was predicting clouds and rain, so we had made sure to do all of our “must sees” before that time. Anything left would be a bonus. Thursday (8/8/13) was a cloudy day, but we opted to take an afternoon drive into Tegernsee just to check it out.

Lake Tegernsee

Lake Tegernsee

We had driven past Tegernsee many times on trips to and from other places, but had never stopped. This beautiful village is on the shores of Lake Tegernsee and has an Abbey dating back to 746 (not a typo–there’s no 1 in front of that…) The Abbey and the town derive their name from old high German “tegarin seo”, meaning “large lake.” It was also one of the last stands of the SS during World War II. The SS had retreated here to defend against the American forces advancing from Bad Tölz. The Abbey was later adopted as the summer residence of the Bavarian rulers. The Abbey was closed when we were there, so we didn’t get to explore inside (if the public is even allowed in.)

Instead, we browsed around the stores selling Dirndls and Lederhosen, and just enjoyed the peace and quiet. I think this is the biggest adjustment I will have to get used to back in the states. Here, regardless of how big a crowd there is, the noise isn’t very loud. Down by the Abbey, mom commented on the crowd of people at the restaurant who were somewhat loud. Still there were about 200 of them, outside, and I’d say it was quieter than a room of 30-40 in the States.

Additionally, Tegernsee, like most of this area, has beautiful gardens and the Lake. We found a local Gelato place (Eiscafe Cristallo) for one last Gelato.

Gelataria

Gelataria

This place actually had Red Bull Gelato–no, sorry, we didn’t try it. I don’t like regular Red Bull, so I wouldn’t waste a gelato on Red Bull. I had two flavors I couldn’t identify, but looked good. One ended up being a peanut butter and chocolatey flavor, while the other which I thought was Dark chocolate, was actually dark chocolate with black licorice. I hate black licorice, but it wasn’t too bad, once you got over the “Whoa, that’s not chocolate!” response.

Traditionally dressed family

Traditionally dressed family


Finally, the inevitable–it was time to go home. Now, as I sit here, we have finished the bulk of our packing, and are finishing up our stores of food and the last minutes to prepare us to leave tomorrow. When I get home, I will have one week until school starts, and another whole slew of adventures begin. This summer has definitely been a journey–From school ending, to Russia, to Gettysburg’s 150th, to Europe, and full circle to school again.
Rainy Day in Schliersee

Rainy Day in Schliersee

I deeply appreciate those of you who have come along for the ride. The thing I think I will go home with is the blessing of getting to know the people who lived here, struggled, were creative, overcame obstacles, and brought something beautiful to the world. I may not have met them personally, but their stories have impacted mine. And that, I think, is the true meaning of leaving a legacy. So, as this journey ends, I will continue to hunt down the legacies of the men and women who have shaped the world by the light they left behind, all the while trying to shape my legacy to inspire others the way they have. Til then…

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Boat to Herrenchiemsee

Boat to Herrenchiemsee

We decided to finish up with Ludwig II on Wednesday (8/7/13) by visiting his last castle at Herrenchiemsee. If you type Herrenchiemsee in Google for directions, it will tell you it is impossible to get there. This is because Herrenchiemsee is located on an Island. What you have to do is go to Prien am Chiemsee and catch a boat from there. Thankfully, the GPS will take you right to the pier.

Carriage

Carriage

We arrived, got parking (ours ended up being 3.50 Euros for the time we were there), and headed out to get the boat. The boat ticket was a little over 4 Euros per person and covers the trip to Herrenchiemsee Island, plus two other island stops. The boats tend to run approximately every half hour between 8:30 ish and 7, though the times are not exactly regular–the time tables are posted, though. We managed to time things well, and got there just in time to catch a boat over. We got our tickets for free (Still covered by the castle card we bought at Neuschwanstein) and had about a half an hour to make the 25 minute walk up to the castle. While this wasn’t the steep walk of some of the other castles, we were concerned we might not make it in time for our tour, so we opted to take the horse drawn carriage for 3 Euros each. This was actually an excellent choice, as the carriage drops you off right at the entrance to the castle.

Herrenchiemsee

Herrenchiemsee

Herrenchiemsee was designed by Ludwig to be an exact copy of Versailles. His love of all things French (specifically being an absolute monarch) is more than evident here. Once again, we were in a no camera zone, except for the unfinished parts and the basement. This castle is the last of King Ludwig II’s, and he actually only spent 10 days here, though he stopped by annually to check on the building progress. It stopped being built when the King ran out of money, and consequently was never finished. The rooms that are finished, however, are as breathtaking as one would expect from King Ludwig. One thing that interested me in this castle is that he has two bedrooms.
Bottom of the Table contraption

Bottom of the Table contraption

One is the State Bedroom–an exact copy of King Louis XIV, except King Ludwig’s is a touch bigger (that ever present quest to out-do the other guy.) King Ludwig never actually slept in this bed (no one has, to my knowledge.) Yet the curtains hanging around the bed are stitched with painted thread and took 30 women 9 years to complete. They cost more than the entire island of Herrenchiemsee! Curtains!! That kind of artistry (or extravagance) astounds me. The other bedroom is the one Ludwig actually slept in (for the 10 days he was actually at this palace.) You can tell it’s his bedroom because it’s decorated in his favorite blue instead of the red of the Versailles bedroom. Additionally, it’s interesting that there is nothing Bavarian anywhere in the castle–all of the decorations are either French or mythological. Very interesting.
Funeral mask and picture

Funeral mask and picture

One other feature of the rooms here that is the same as at Linderhof is the “magical” table, supposedly in reference to the German tale, “Little table, set thyself.” This table is made to lower into the floor and return set for meals. It is located just off the porcelain room which contains an amazing collection of porcelain pieces and a porcelain chandelier.

We concluded the tour of the finished rooms and went into the museum. Here you can see Ludwig’s funeral mask and portrait of his death. (I took this before I realized the no picture rule applied here as well. Since I have it, I might as well share 🙂 ) Additionally, you can see the cloaks Ludwig wore on special occasions of state. One of the things that was the most interesting to me was the engagement photo of Ludwig and Sophie, which you can view here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12634458@N04/5812436315/ I love the way photographs speak about a person, and this one says volumes!

Unfinished area

Unfinished area

First, I noticed that Sophie is looking, while demurely, straight at the camera with a touch of a smile. Ludwig, on the other hand, is staring up and to his left, away from her and the camera. Additionally, their hands are interesting. I have been escorted by many men in many different situations with various degrees of attachment, but almost every man does the same thing when you take his arm: he instinctively tucks his elbow to his side, sometimes resting his hand over yours. Ludwig’s arm is stiff and away from his body with his hand clenched and facing up–almost recoiling. Obviously, this is not a comfortable pose for him. Seeing this picture, I think, is a foreshadowing that this marriage is not going to work. Perhaps knowing he breaks off the engagement makes me read into things, but I think there’s more to it than that.

1/3 of Ludwig's "bathtub"

1/3 of Ludwig’s “bathtub”

From the museum, we continued down into the unfinished part of the castle. Having seen so many finished castles, it’s amazing to see one in progress. Herrenchiemsee has chosen to fill the unfinished rooms with modern art (which I don’t have much of an appreciation for, but I suppose others do, and it’s better than 28 rooms of blank bricks.) One can only imagine what these rooms would have looked like had Ludwig had more time and money. There are three rooms (2 1/2) that are finished in the lower level. The first is the servants area where the table was raised and lowered. From there, you walk into an area that is Ludwig’s bathtub. I’d call it a swimming pool as it’s larger than most swimming pools in American back yards. Finally, you end up in Ludwig’s ornate dressing room, concluding the tour of the castle.

Fountains

Fountains

We made it out to the gardens just in time for the fountains to go off. These fountains are incredibly beautiful, so it was neat to see them with all the water gushing. We had opted to walk back down instead of taking the carriage again, so we headed down the peaceful path through the woods to the monastery.

This is the monastery where Ludwig would stay when he came to make his annual check on the progress of his castle. His room here is blue, but that’s about as much of home as he is able to retain.

Ludwig's room

Ludwig’s room

The monks apparently didn’t cater to his desires for grandeur. I wonder how they took to his sleeping schedule as well, or if he altered it for his stay here. Other than a small chapel and Ludwig’s rooms, there wasn’t much else to see at the monastery so we went down to wait for the other boat. and got to see a rainbow!

The boat took us over to Fraueninsel, another island in Chiemsee. This small village of 300 gives a beautiful view of the old palace (monastery), and has its own Benedictine convent. The convent acted as a “reform school for fallen women” until 1995, and is now a convent again.

The Imperial Abbey of Frauenchiemsee

The Imperial Abbey of Frauenchiemsee

It was amazing to stand inside and view the beauty, all the while listening to the nuns singing somewhere above you. Shades of Sound of Music. Finally, we decided it was time to head home. After figuring out which boat would take us back to our car, we headed out. It has been an adventure getting to know King Ludwig II.

House with images of the Passion Play

House with images of the Passion Play

On Tuesday (8/6/13), we headed into Oberammergau. I had asked my mom what Oberammergau was known for, and she said wood carving and painted houses (This not being a year ending in zero.) The thing Oberammergau is best known for is the Passion Play (I’m already planning a grant to be able to come back for that!). The story behind why they do the Passion play every 10 years is a neat one. It all began during the Thirty Years’ War. Overwhelmed by the Swedish army and battling the plague (the registry records over 80 deaths in the small town), the councillors promised God to perform a play depicting the Passion of Christ every 10 years
Wood carver's shop:  The big...

Wood carver’s shop: The big…

(They started with every year, then decided every 10 years would be sufficient.) if God would spare them from the plague. The epidemic stopped, and the villagers kept their vow. They gave their first performance in 1634, then 1640 and every 10 years thereafter, with additional performances to celebrate key anniversaries of the vow made. Initially, it was a small scale production on a wooden stage, but since 1830, it has been on the same stage it is performed on today. Now the play has a cast of over 2,000 and lasts for 7 hours, with a dinner break in the middle. The villagers will perform the play from May to October. Apparently, the village has added other plays to their repertoire for off years, as there were signs advertising the play Moses. Also, visitors can check out the Passion play museum.

We started out at looking at different wood carvers shops. While sculpting is an incredible skill, and one I greatly admired while in Italy, wood carving is another thing entirely. We started for Pilatushaus (most famous),

...And the small

…And the small

but it was closed for lunch, so we set out to enjoy the many other wood carvers in town. In the same way that I love sculpture and architectural detail, I love the precision of woodwork. From the gigantic carvings to the miniscule, each piece is an incredible work of art.

After grabbing our own lunch, we decided to explore The Parish church of Saints Peter and Paul. This beautiful building offers sculptures, not of marble, but of wood painted to look like marble.

Front of the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul

Front of the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul

They are amazingly beautiful. Since we have toured quite a few cathedrals in our time here, it is always interesting for me to note the different features each one has. In this cathedral, I noticed it is substantially lighter in color than a number of the other cathedrals we have seen. Additionally, the pews are carved. I would expect nothing less in a wood carving village, but it was still interesting to observe.

Next, we headed back to Pilatushaus. Pilatushaus (thus named because of the painting of Jesus before Pilate on the house) has been a living workshop since 1784.

Pilatushaus

Pilatushaus

It was almost destroyed in 1981, but by advertising what was going to happen, people rallied to save it. We got to see wood artists at work right on the premises. We also asked the shop owner about house painting. From her explanation, the name of the artists who do the painting is in English “Church painters,” as the men who plied this trade started as church painters. The same technique of fresco work is used on the buildings. Unfortunately, it seems to be a dying art (literally), as currently, there is no one living in Oberammergau who does it. She also explained to us that historic buildings have strict requirements by the government as to how they have to be maintained (much like historic buildings in America), and that it is quite expensive to do.

Initially, I thought the painted houses were not that different from the ones around our area, until we started walking around.

Red Riding Hood House

Red Riding Hood House

The house painting (LĂĽftlmalereien) in Oberammergau is an interesting combination of the religious (all the passion play art) and the fairy tale. We left Pilatushaus and set off to find the Little Red Riding Hood house and the Hansel and Gretel house. I had forgotten that a lot of the fairy tales we grew up with actually started as German tales. We first found the Little Red Riding Hood House. It is right across the street from the Hansel and Gretel House and next door to a house with the fairytale where the donkey carries all the other animals (I forget the name.) The artwork on these houses is incredible! Definitely a joy to see.

Views of Innsbruck

Views of Innsbruck

Oberammergau is definitely a place I want to explore more thoroughly, but today, we wanted to head into Innsbruck. I only know Innsbruck from “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, in which the speaker discusses a sculpture which “Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.” We wanted to have time to look around. Additionally, mom had wanted me to hear what she calls an “Oompa band” with traditional dancing. Schuhplattler is a folk dance in which men periodically leap, slap their thighs and feet, all in a rhythmic pattern. I had searched the internet to see if any would be performing near us. (Our Alpenclub staff had told us they mostly perform on weekends.) In doing so, I stumbled upon the Tyrolean Evening with the Gundolf family. The Gundolf family has been performing internationally since 1967. They perform in Innsbruck from April to October. Since the show didn’t start until 8:30, mom wasn’t sure we wanted to be driving the hour and a half drive back home after the show concluded at 10:00, but we decided to go for it. You can either purchase tickets for the show alone (29 Euro), or for dinner and a show (46 Euro). We chose to splurge and get dinner and the show. You have a choice of whether you want dinner before the show or during it. We chose before, which I am glad of, since you have to sit in the back if you get dinner during the show.

 Schuhplattler dance

Schuhplattler dance

Since we arrived before our dinner time, we chose to explore a bit around the restaurant. If you attend the show, it is actually difficult to find. We thought the GPS had misled us when it told us to turn into BP, but the restaurant is actually located behind the gas station. While the show was amazing, we found the restaurant a bit lacking in organization, though with good food. We had three courses: soup and salad, wienerschnitzel and potatoes, and apple strudel–all very traditional dishes. Though we had bought our tickets at 5:00 for the 8:30 show, we got front row seats (since there were just two of us.)

The Gundolf Family

The Gundolf Family

It was an incredible show, featuring musicians on a variety of instruments including the musical saw, the zither, the harp, and traditional brass. Additionally, we heard traditional folk songs and yodeling, and saw the traditional folk dancing and slap dance. The evening concluded with the family singing popular songs from about 20 different countries. They introduced them as the national anthems, but they were not. While most countries had people who cheered and enthusiastically applauded their songs, the American songs they chose were a bit of Yankee Doodle, blended into “Be Kind to Your Web Footed Friends,” which they sang as Lalalalalalalala instead of with words. Still, it was impressive to be able to sing so many songs in so many languages, and a neat opportunity to see who was in the crowd from which country. We were surprised that Australia had such a large representation.

Finally, the evening was over, and it was time to head home. As mom predicted, the GPS sent us home via the smallest, most curvy path through the mountain, complete with scattered showers and fog, but we made it. Definitely a full day!

Entrance to Dachau:  "Work makes you free"

Entrance to Dachau: “Work makes you free”

We set off this morning (8/5/13) for Dachau. I was really looking forward to this trip, as morbid as that sounds, as I have had an interest in the Holocaust since I was in junior high. Finally, I had the opportunity to be there in person and hopefully grow in my understanding of the experience.

I had been interested to see on the website that the time they recommended for you to stay at the site was “All day.” Being there, I can easily see why they stated this. We opted to take the English tour for 3 Euros each (Parking was also 3 Euros for the day), and let me say, the tour was a worthwhile investment. (Mom and I each gave our tour guide an extra 20 Euro–she was amazing–and a volunteer!)

"May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 because they resister Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.

“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.”

The tour started at 11:00, and since we had gotten there at 10, we explored a bit on our own before time for the tour. At 11:00, we met Franziska who would guide us through the experience. The first thing she shared with us is that the tour would last between 2 and 2 1/2 hours, depending on how fast we walked and how many questions we asked. This may seem like an extensive amount of time to be just walking around, but it was an incredible experience. Franziska took us through the life of a prisoner, from arrival to death. It was truly unforgettable.

Design copied by other camps

Design copied by other camps

First, we walked through the entrance gate where the prisoners would have been taken. The gate sports the traditional Nazi slogan: Work makes you free. Dachau was actually the first concentration camp to be opened (1933). It was intended as a place for political prisoners (Translation: anyone who stood against the Nazi party.) Therefore, when you hear the stories of Dachau, very few of them are Jewish. They are mostly European and Russians political prisoners, including a large number of clergy. The Jews who were there were in transit to another camp. According to the statistics we heard, the youngest prisoner was 7 1/2 (kept alive because he had small hands which were suitable for reaching down to plant crops in small holes) while the oldest was 92 (and incidentally survived Dachau. He was an intelligent man who was utilized as a tutor for SS children.)

Dachau was also a model camp in many ways. First, its structure (rows of barracks with a central roll call area) was copied in all the other concentration camps. Second, this was the camp they showed off for propaganda reasons. The Red Cross even visited 3 times, and made glowing reports about the camp. The only problem is they were shown the SS officers in prisoners’ clothes in the “Living Room” area of the barracks, drinking, laughing, and playing cards, while the real prisoners were away at work.

Dachau beds in the early years

Dachau beds in the early years

Initially, though, before the war broke out, Dachau was not “that bad,” though as early as 1935, there was a jingle people used to say, “Dear God, make me dumb (silent), that I might not to Dachau come.” In 1933, the commandant Hilmar Wäckerle seems to have been a good man. Prisoners worked two days a week in a factory (usually BMW or other car manufacturers who paid the SS for the use of the prisoners, especially once the war preparations started as their labor force had been decimated due to military training.) These factories were largely the reason Dachau was one of the first to “vote brown.” The business generated by the SS and the “free” labor of prisoners must have been a hard offer to resist. Unfortunately, like many people today, they were willing to vote for whichever candidate best lined their pockets instead of considering the principles and character of the person in office. Prisoners might also be hired out to farmers in town. Those who worked on farms often were healthier because they received rations from the farm, but the other prisoners received a piece of bread, butter, and soup for the day, and could buy other items at the canteen. Additionally, medical staff was on hand to deal with any prisoner who had been injured or was infirm. Wäckerle had a little over 50 men to a room, and each bed had dividers between it and the one next to it. They were a meter wide and two meters long. At this time, there was a 99% survival rate in the camps. Since this was a prison and a camp for political prisoners, occasionally, those who had served their terms were released. Those who did not survive were usually the ones interrogated for information or charged with high treason.

Bedding Stage 2.

Bedding Stage 2.

All of that changed when Theodor Eicke took over. Eicke, who would eventually be placed over the entire concentration camp system, was a World War I veteran whom Himmel rescued from a psychiatric ward, where trouble with a local had sent him on the charge of being a “dangerous lunatic.” I’d say they had him pretty well pegged. He instituted a series of changes that gave the SS full range for brutality. Prisoners could be shot for disobeying an order, whether it came from an SS officer or the kitchen staff. He also instituted punishments such as having a prisoner stand on a chair, placing the prisoner’s arms behind his back, tying his wrists to a rope that was suspended above him, and pulling the chair away, thus dislocating the shoulders, or worse. Unfit to work, the men were usually then sent to other camps to be killed. Another punishment was essentially an extreme corporal punishment. The prisoner would lean over a table, while an SS guard (or a family member if one was on hand–chosen as a dual punishment), would beat him 25 times with a whip supposedly made of a dried ox penis. This was designed to humiliate the prisoner even further by implying they weren’t even worth a traditional whip. The prisoner had to count in German as he was being whipped. If he didn’t know German or stumbled on the numbers (or passed out), the count began again.
whipping table and whip

whipping table and whip

Also, guards had prisoners do menial tasks that would steal the less than 5 hours a night they had to sleep (usually 3 or 4). They had to polish the floor until it shined, make their beds so the checked squares were opposite from one bed to the next, forming a continuous pattern, or pull all the brown and yellow leaves off of the trees lining the roll call area in the fall.

Additionally, Dachau accepted more prisoners, and expanded the camp so the living conditions changed. Rations were cut approximately in half. Beyond that, beds were made smaller and with more people in them. (By the end of the war, there were three men to a bed less than a meter wide, sleeping head to foot.)

Bedding final stage

Bedding final stage

Because of these cramped conditions, disease was became rampant, so much so that SS guards refused to work in the barracks for fear of catching the diseases. Rooms and prisoners were disinfected, and conditions improved slightly, but never fully. One tour member asked how many concentration camps there were. Franziska explained that this is a difficult question to answer because, “What defines a concentration camp? A munitions factory (Like in Schindler’s List) utilizing prisoners can be considered a concentration camp–so can a farm with prisoners working it, or the area of land where they’re forced to sleep because the camp wouldn’t invest in barracks. The numbers are tricky.”

I was not aware that Dachau was an entirely male camp until 1944 (aside from the 7-13 female prisoners kept in “The brothel,” for obvious use.) Men were granted visits to the brothel, glasses, or boots in exchange for giving information about another prisoner. Fewer than one percent of the camp ever received such a bonus. Most who did chose the brothel because it was secret and didn’t advertise they had ratted someone out. Another way the Nazis kept resistance down was by constantly rearranging the barracks. Nationalities were mixed and parts of barracks were moved regularly in order to insure that no prisoners spent enough time together to really form bonds. This made the experience even more lonely and difficult.

Roll Call area

Roll Call area

From the barracks, we moved into the area where roll calls were done. One tour member asked Franziska how the Germans felt about this, while another questioned how strange it is that a site of such horror is a tourist attraction. Franziska answered both questions, giving a perspective I had never considered. She talked about the fact that Germany focuses on the Holocaust so much because the rest of the world continues to punish them for it. She explained that as a child in Hamburg, her school took her on trips to concentration camps 8 different times. In one instance, her teacher made the children stand motionless for 2 hours in the roll call area so that they would have a small taste of what the prisoners experienced. Even today, when she drives into another country, her car is not safe for 15 minutes before someone will have scratched a swastika on it because her license plate has the DAH of Dachau. She’s been refused service in restaurants in Italy because they saw her drive up in a car with DAH on it. Like so many cases of racism, each person assumes the other is racist, which is a form of racism in itself. I think this is the biggest “take away” for me. I remember being in high school when the Berlin wall came down. I remember the fear people felt because of what a unified Germany would mean to the world (while, in fact, the unification of Germany made it harder for those in the West because they had to absorb and remedy the problems of the East.) That fear led many to judge the German people unfairly.
Shooting Wall

Shooting Wall

Franziska went on to explain that she has heard former SS leaders give school talks with great remorse for the role they played. They explained how they had been convinced that they were doing the right thing. When you understand that German students started math problems in elementary school that said something like, “If a handicapped person costs the government $30,000 marks a year, how much will the government spend by the time that person is 30?”, it’s easy to see how some of the thought process came to be. In point of fact, there’s a larger Neo-Nazi group in America than in Germany. And many items that have disappeared from Dachau (Shower heads, faucets, etc.) have turned up on Ebay in America, Canada, and Australia. Additionally, the Allied forces were not entirely innocent. Some shot surrendering SS members, even in hospitals as well as family members in the SS area outside the camp. Others used extreme forms of interrogation and forced soldiers to confess to crimes they may not have committed. (These crimes were uncovered in 1991 and had been covered up by General Patton.) I’m sure each side thought they were doing their duty, or avenging others, but it does bring to mind the question of what is justifiable force in dealing with an enemy–a question we still haggle over today.

Special Prisoner Holding cells

Special Prisoner Holding cells

From the roll call area, we went to the shooting wall. This is the place where political prisoners were executed. Interestingly, because Dachau was so close to a town (The SS quarters and their families are just past the prison wall), the officers used to shoot prisoners on Sundays when the church bells were ringing and the noise wouldn’t be noticed. Those accused of high treason, which interestingly enough included SS soldiers who had helped prisoners or tried to let them escape, were executed immediately.

Just beyond the shooting wall is the holding cells for “Special prisoners.” The prisoners thought of this as being a safe house from which no one returned. What I mean by that is the prisoners were given decent food, didn’t have to work, and were kept alive–until new batch of political prisoners came in to “replace” them. The special prisoners included men like the former chancellor of Austria and several prominent clergy members.

Crematorium

Crematorium

Having finished our course in the life of prisoners, we walked over to the crematorium area. While the crematorium was used at Dachau to eliminate bodies of those who had died of disease or starvation, the gas chamber located there was never used. One interesting fact is that the crematorium was located outside of the camp and facing east. This way few of the prisoners and none of the town knew what was going on. Those prisoners who worked in the crematorium were killed every three months to keep news from leaking. Eventually, though, use of the crematorium stopped as well, due to the coal shortage. It is for this reason the U.S. soldiers who liberated the camp found 11,000 dead bodies there and in almost 30 rail cars outside the camp. Quite a staggering number! Because they were unable to identify the bodies of the dead, they cremated the bodies and put the ashes in a mass grave with the monument of a coffin and the sign “Never Again” in five different languages. (I was touched by the fact that
Mass grave of 11,000 unidentified dead

Mass grave of 11,000 unidentified dead

as we walked by it, one of the young men in our group added a stone to those already on top of the monument as a sign of remembrance–he couldn’t have been much over 20. Please note, the monument is just in front of the museum building which used to be the former check in area and showers (real ones). The roof in the picture belongs to this building, not the monument.)

From the area of the crematorium, we walked back over the bridge and stopped beside the electric fence. Here, we heard the stories of why no escape from Dachau ever succeeded by going over the fence. Between the barracks area and the fence is a strip of grass, nicknamed the “Green zone.” Any prisoner who stepped in this area would be shot immediately. They were not shot in the head, which would have been an easy death, but either in the shoulder or the stomach, which were slower and more painful. Past the green zone, there is a ditch about 5 feet down and 6-8 feet across.

Measures to prevent escape

Measures to prevent escape

On the other side of this ditch was first gravel, which would have caused a noise to alert the guards, and then on top of the gravel, coils of barbed wire which were arranged in approximately 1 foot squares, all electrified and going up higher the closer one got to the fence, which was also electrified. Franziska informed us that it is because of this that prisoners who wanted to commit suicide, usually did it as they were returning to the camp by throwing themselves against the fence from the outside.

This referenced a monument she had shown us earlier. After the war, Dachau had been used as a holding place for German prisoners associated with war crimes. Then, it became a place for refugees. While it was still being used for this purpose, a contest was held among survivors to create a monument to be used in Dachau. Sixty-five entries were made. From these, this sculpture of Nandor Glid’s was chosen.

Memorial Sculpture

Memorial Sculpture

Glid himself had not been at Dachau, but instead at a labor camp where he had joined the National Liberation Movement to fight against the Nazis, and was later wounded. He chose the design for his sculpture after talking to numerous others who were at Dachau. One of the most striking images they had communicated was this fact that some, wanting to choose the time and method of their death instead of having the Nazis do it for them, had chosen to throw themselves into the electric fence. The Nazis would leave the bodies there until the rotted, which in winter, could be months, so workers would have to pass by the bodies on their way to work. That image was burned into the memory of anyone at Dachau.
Protestant Memorial

Protestant Memorial

That is why the judge, himself a survivor of Dachau chose this statue. In it, the hands of the victims make the barbs for the barbed wire fence, and the center person (with his head down) forms the swastika with his body.

Just inside the fence by the green zone, Franziska also pointed out 4 different church memorials. To the best of my knowledge, Dachau is the only concentration camp with religious monuments for faiths other than Jewish. At Dachau, there is the Russian Orthodox memorial, a Protestant Memorial, a Catholic Memorial, and a Jewish Memorial. Additionally, there is a monastery just outside the wall.

Portable Altar

Portable Altar

These memorials are due to the fact that a number of the prisoners at Dachau were members of the clergy who took a stand against what Hitler was trying to accomplish. One interesting item I saw in the “Special cells” was a portable altar to be used by the clergy for holding religious services. It makes me proud that almost 3,000 clergy took a stand against the evils of the Nazi party.

Finally, we made one last stop to see how Dachau was laid out at the time, and compare it to it’s use today. Interestingly enough, the former SS area and training facilities are now utilized by the Dachau police. Apparently, they have gone to great lengths to preserve what they can as a remembrance of the crimes committed here. Franziska told us one last story here. She had recently met a survivor in his 90’s. He shared that he used to work in the area of the camp that made honey for the German officers. He explained that he used to pee in the honey as his own form of resistance. So, a number of German officers received “tainted honey” from Dachau. All in all, our tour had been an amazing experience!

Residence Munich

Residence Munich

We then headed to Munich to the Residence Museum and treasury. Driving around Munich was every bit of the insanity predicted, but we finally managed to find both the Residence and the parking garage right beside it. (Max-Joseph Platz is super convenient, but charges 4 Euro for the first hour and 3 Euro an hour for every one after that.) The Residence is an unimpressive façade compared to some of the other places we have visited. However, this was more the seat of government for the Bavarian rulers and the place where the royals stored their treasures. Here, at last, was a castle in which you could take pictures. Unfortunately, the lighting set up around the area makes getting a good shot extremely difficult.

Hall of ancestors

Hall of ancestors

We started out in the hall of ancestors. Once can immediately feel the weight of responsibility a young ruler must have felt as he or she walked past all of those eyes staring down at them. There’s even a portrait of Charlemagne and a gigantic family tree. It was an incredible contrast to see the gold and glitz of Munich right after the brick and concrete of Dachau.

From the hall of ancestors, we went into one of the areas displaying the treasures of the king. Here we were confronted with a number of reliquaries. Reliquaries are one of the most interesting things for me to see.

Skull of John the Baptist

Skull of John the Baptist

As reliquaries were supposed to bring blessing to the one who owned them (and even miracles), the king was expected to have the largest collection. While I know historically a number of reliquaries exist that did not contain anything close to what they are supposed to house, there were a few here that were especially interesting. First, there is the ever popular piece of the cross of Christ. Apparently, a whole forest of these were sold at the time. They also had the typical bones of the martyrs. But the things that most interested me were two fold. The first was a crystal casket containing the skeleton of a small child, supposedly one of the children murdered under Herod’s orders.
Public Chapel

Public Chapel

While I think carrying around bones of any kind is morbid, the skeleton of a child would especially creep me out. The other curiosity is the skull of John the Baptist. What interested me most about this is the way they decorated it and put a crown on it. Still, you’re carrying around someone’s skull!

From this point we took in the Chapel for the public. What interested me here is that the royal family sat in the gallery (the spot from which I took my picture), while the rest of the congregation sat below. I guess they wanted to keep an eye on things. Another odd thing is that the gallery area is in the back. Usually, if royals are seated above the crowd, they are often in a prominent position to allow the congregation to look at them. That is not the case here.

Maximilian I's chapel

Maximilian I’s chapel

Additionally, just off the Gallery is an ornate chapel, which was the private place of worship for the king and queen. Maximilian I had it completed in 1607–interestingly, the same year of the Jamestown colony. It is a beautifully decorated area which definitely inspires worship.

We left the chapel to go through a variety of the rooms of state. Here the royals conducted business of all sorts. What interested me the most is the themes of the room are incredibly religious in nature, from the room showing the law of God is higher than the law of men, to the room demonstrating the virtues a ruler should posses, to rooms that remind mankind of their command to subdue the earth. Unfortunately, many of these rooms were damaged during World War II, so the center paintings in each room no longer exist.

Rathaus-Glockenspiel

Rathaus-Glockenspiel

Finally, we left the splendor of the Residence (Residenz) and headed a few blocks downtown to see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Marienplatz. For once, we timed something exactly right and got there just in time for the 5:00 show. Since it only plays 2 times a day (Three times in the summer), this was a rare treat. This breath-taking 105 year old clock tower tells two stories from the 16th century. The first is of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine. They have figures from each country who joust (the one from Bavaria always wins…). The second story is of the coopers who danced through the streets after the Plague. This is supposed to be a picture of loyalty during difficult times.

With that, we called it a day, paid our 10 Euro parking bill, and headed back home. I must say the Alpine Club treats us like family. They’re always helpful and interested in what we have done for the day. It’s a great place to stay.

The road driving home

The road driving home

The weather forecast was predicting rain for today (8/4/13), so we planned to have a day of rest and catch up. We watched the video cast from my home church, did some laundry, and tried to catch up on a few things, all the while realizing it was a gorgeous day. We tossed around the idea of driving out to Herrenchiemsee–another Ludwig castle–but, with the anticipated drive time (plus the assumption that the drive time would not be accurate) and the hours it closed, decided to stay around town. We headed to Fischbachau, a quaint little town near-by, only to discover our lovely morning was quickly turning overcast with the predicted rain clouds.

We made it to Fischbachau and found the recommended restaurant just as the sprinkles were starting. We opted to go back home where we had left all of our umbrellas and raincoats (and my clothes drying on the clothes rack.) Back at home, we decided to make our own dinner (to use up groceries before we leave.)

We set out later in the evening to explore the town around us (and grab a gelato.) We found an amazing gelato shop called Veneto Eis, which sells gelato for a Euro a scoop. We had thought we would be frequenting there over the next week, but there’s another one around the corner which looks just as good–updates to follow :).

Simple elegance

Simple elegance

Incorporating history

Incorprorating history

Playing on the shutter design

Playing on the shutter design

More elaborate

More elaborate

Advertising your business

Advertising your business

Medieval

Medieval

Multi-colored

Multi-colored

And the ever popular God giving the 10 Commandments

And the ever popular God giving the 10 Commandments

Which one? One thing that is unique about this area is all the painting on the buildings. As we were walking, I contemplated all the variety of styles. I wonder if there is someone who paints these as his/her business. How does that work? Do you just walk in and say, “I want this design in these colors,” or is it like a tattoo parlor where you can bring your own design or use a standard one? Either way, they’re magnificent. I’m including several of the ones we took out and about, so you can be the judge of which design you would choose.

The "sea"  from Schliersee

The “sea” from Schliersee

We also passed a number of interesting people in our trek. Finally, though, we made our way down to the lake (“sea”). This is an amazing area to bring kids, since, in addition to the lake (“sea”), which is clean and shallow enough for children to swim in, it also offers an incredible playground complete with short zipline, water pumps, and a variety of climbing equipment. We opted just to enjoy the beauty of the lake before trying to find our car and head home. Tomorrow, our plan is to head to Dachau, which I am looking forward to seeing, as strange as that sounds. I have wanted to do a Holocaust tour for a long time, but this will be the first concentration camp I will visit–and I actually know people who had relatives there.

Lake along the way

Lake along the way

We left Schwangau this morning (8/3/13) to head to Schliersee where we will remain for the last week of our trip. According to the GPS, both Linderhof and Wieskirche were around 18 kilometers away, so we figured we’d have plenty of time to go by both, swinging through Oberammergau on our way. In reality, this little half hour jaunt to Linderhof took closer to an hour and a half. We suspected something was up when, after about 15 minutes of driving and the first highway turn off, we still had 20.5 kilometers to our next turn–when the starting distance was 18.1 kilometers. I’m not sure where the initial 18.1 km came from unless it was physical distance (the proverbial “As the crow flies”) instead of driving distance.

Approaching the castle (taken from the way back down...)

Approaching the castle (taken from the way back down…)

The road ambled around a glorious lake through the mountains and truly was beautiful, despite being what I now lovingly call a “one lane-two lane road.” The size of numerous roads here are approximately the width of one lane of an American road plus the shoulder (in some instances leave out the shoulder. In the case of parked cars on the street, leave out the road…). Additionally, it was incredibly windy and filled with motorcycles and bicycles. Crazy! But, mom got the scenic drive through the country complete with cows with the Swiss bells jangling.

Front view of Linderhof

Front view of Linderhof

Finally, we arrived at Linderhof. I had worn my wedge slip ons because mom had told me, “You won’t have to do a lot of walking. Linderhof, you just walk right in, though you’ll have stairs inside.” This was another change in the 45 years since my mom has been here. Where she and her friend had just driven up to the front of Linderhof and walked in, you now have to park a good mile away (and pay parking), hike uphill to the ticket booth, and more uphill to the castle. (By “hill,” I mean between a 30 and 60 degree angle).

We finally made it to the ticket booth and used our combination ticket for entrance to the castle, only to find out the next English tour was at 12:10 (It was 11:00 when we arrived.) Sigh. So much for seeing the other two places you can “stop by quickly” on the way to Schliersee.

Fountain

Fountain

So, we looked around the various souvenir shops, ate lunch at a little cafe that served homemade chocolate croissants (Stuffed with chocolate), and headed uphill to the castle. Linderhof is another of Ludwig II’s castles, and the only one that was actually finished. We were a bit early for our tour, so we had time to walk around part of the gardens for a little while. One interesting thing is the gold fountain, which wasn’t producing water when we came, suddenly had this amazing burst of water that went around 70-80 feet high (literally–I looked it up) and shot continuously for about 3 minutes. Apparently, they have to replace the gold leaf every so often because the force of the water is so strong. (I’d like to be wherever that water ends up!)

Linderhof itself was actually a wooden hunting lodge of King Maximilian II, which Ludwig inherited upon becoming king. Ludwig himself hated hunting. (They told us at Hohenshwangau he used to wear black whenever his family was going on hunting parties.) So, he promptly began additions, then five years later decided to tear parts of it down and reconstruct it, modeling it after Versailles, to the tune of almost 8,500,000 marks.

Side view of Linderhof

Side view of Linderhof

When we got inside, we learned that this palace really shows Ludwig’s love of all things French. In addition to portraits and statues of the French kings and their mistresses, Ludwig copies Louis XIV’s style in symbols of rulership and the architecture of Louis XV. Ludwig gave Linderhof its own “Mirror Room.” Also like Versailles, the bedroom is the largest in the palace, though Ludwig’s faces North, opposite of Versailles, showing him to be the “Night king” to oppose Louis XIV’s title as the “Sun King.” Bound by a constitutional monarchy, Ludwig loved to imagine himself the absolute ruler Louis XIV was. In fact, his imagination is everywhere.

Amazing stepped fountain

Amazing stepped fountain

At Linderhof, we received a few more pieces of the puzzle about the young tragic king who wanted history to remember him as an enigma. First, he didn’t just “Stay up late and sleep during the day,” as we heard at Hohenschwangau. He stayed up all night, every night, and slept during the day. He woke up at 6:00 PM to have “breakfast,” get dressed, and begin his day. (Servants would bring his clothes up to his dressing room through a secret door, where he would get dressed.) Then, he would often stroll around his gardens or sit and listen to private concerts under the stars (the love of which he must have inherited from his father.) Additionally, he had a number of inventions in place so he wouldn’t have to see his servants, including the fact that he had a special table that could be lowered to the kitchens and returned with food. Occasionally, he would play act meetings with the French Royalty and have a table set for four sent up. (All fuel for the insanity charge.) He also seems to have had historical costumes he appeared in on occasion as well.

Another fascinating feature is the two peacocks Ludwig would have placed outside when he was in the palace. (You can see their images here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Linderhof-8.jpg )

Start of the walkway to the grotto

Start of the walkway to the grotto

He didn’t like having flags out, as they reminded him of war. (I’m not sure if this is before or after his brother went to war and was traumatized by his experience there.) The Peacock is a symbol of peace, so these were used to indicate the King’s presence at the castle. The castle also contains two tables, which were a gift from the czarina of Russia. Apparently, she had two unmarried daughters and considered Ludwig quite a catch. He, however, seemed to prefer the tables. There were many more beautiful things, and despite the no picture rule, you can check out the different rooms by taking your own palace tour here: http://www.schlosslinderhof.de/englisch/palace/rooms.htm

Venus' Grotto

Venus’ Grotto

Completing the tour of this amazing palace, we headed out to enjoy the great beauty of the grounds. We wanted to check out the Venus Grotto, as it contained the boat modeled after the one used in Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser. The hike from the castle to the grotto–a “quick 10 minute walk” was nothing of the sort. First, the trek up the garden stairs, then the walk through the tunnel of trees, and finally, the hike up the 45 degree hill. We reached the top, only to discover the next tour was at 1:30–another 25 minutes from our arrival. Alas. So, I sat on a bench to catch my breath, while mom hiked back down to the Moorish Kiosk to see the Peacock mosaics.
View from the top--yes, we climbed all that way!

View from the top–yes, we climbed all that way!

The Venus Grotto is another example of Ludwig’s imagination, but also sported the latest technology. In fact, Ludwig utilized the gifts of Sigmund Schuckert and Werner von Siemens to build the world’s first power plant to use electric dynamos operating on the Siemens principle. In fact, Linderhof was equipped with electric lighting fully one year before Thomas A. Edison began his work on the lightbulb. These 24 dynamos were run with electricity from a steam engine housed in a machine building, so they technically had the first power plant 4 years before others who usually get the credit. The king also had lights on the sleigh he used to transport himself on his night time jaunts.

In the grotto, Ludwig could change the color using the equivalent of modern theater gels, though on separate lighting systems. He also had an element where he could heat the water in case he wanted to go swimming, and another switch to turn on a waterfall. I must say, for as dreamy as the King seemed to be, he was a marvel at design.

View from my window

View from my window

Finally, it was time to hike back down to our car, taking in the castle from a number of different views along the way. We eventually made it back, and completed our trip to Schliersee. We are staying at the Alpenclub, which has a wonderfully kind and helpful staff (and not just because they told us we got the best room in the hotel with an amazing view.) It’s a great home to have.

Eschen, Liechtenstein

Eschen, Liechtenstein

We left early this morning (8/2/13), in order to have time to drop down into Liechtenstein and still make it to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein early enough to get a tour. We opted not to go to the capital of Lichtenstein, but rather to just cross over enough to say we’d been there (country 22!) We arrived in Eschen and stopped at a gas station to ask where we could find some souvenirs.

Both gas station attendants recommended the capital. Alas. Mom pressed a bit more to see if there was any place we could get something that said Lichtenstein just to prove we’d been there, and he recommended the Post Office. The Post Office happened to be right across from the church, so we stopped in to pick up a bit of information and a pocket rosary. Then, we headed over to the post office. The gas station attendant was right about it being a good place to stop. While we still didn’t find anything with Liechtenstein obviously displayed on it, the man behind the counter gave mom two Eschen carabiner key chains (normally 2 Francs each) and two Eschen pins (normally 1.50 Francs). But, she had asked him how much and he’d said free—Maybe they don’t get a lot of tourist traffic in Eschen. It’s a shame, as it’s a cute little town.

Gifts from the Eschen Post Office

Gifts from the Eschen Post Office

From Liechtenstein, we headed to Schwangau, found our gorgeous apartment for the evening, then set off for the castles. We procured our tickets, after a 35 minute wait. We chose to get a combination ticket that grants us visits to a number of different castles all over Germany and is good for 2 weeks (though we’ll only be here for one.) This combination ticket costs 40 Euros and covers two adults’ entrances to 62 different locations (including Neuschwanstein.) (“Children” under 18 are free.) Since entrances to most museums and castles are 10 Euros or more, this is an excellent deal. It does not, however, cover Hohenschwangau, which is privately owned by the family (Not like Neuschwanstein, which opened as a museum a mere 7 weeks after the prince’s death, having been sold to the Bavarian Government to pay off his debts—With around 3,000 tourists a day in the summer, I think they’ve more than recovered their money.

Hohenschwangau

Hohenschwangau

Tickets in hand, we began the steep climb up to Hohenschwangau. We had planned to walk to this castle because it was closer and a less challenging climb, then hike back down and take a bus to Neuschwanstein. The hike wasn’t bad—a zigzagging ramp until you hit the stairs. The thing you have to watch with each tour is that you cannot be late. The tickets get scanned without human intervention, so if you are not there to scan your ticket when the number of your tour comes up, you are out of luck—and out of about 11 Euros: No refunds or exchanges. Knowing this, we made sure we were there in plenty of time, so we had ample time to stroll around the garden and fill up our water bottles from the fountains. The well up the mountain supplies the water for the castle—cold and wonderful.

"Water fountain"

“Water fountain”

Once again, we were in a “camera free” zone, and like everyone on our tour, I decided to honor that. Hohenschwangau is King Ludwig’s boyhood home. It was originally built in the 12th century, but had been ruined by Napoleon. Ludwig’s dad Maximilian II rebuilt it in 1830, and it has remained with the Wittelsbach family ever since. Construction took only four years, but this castle is beautiful without being ostentatious. The furniture is all original from the palace and the 1830’s. It even contains a piano where Wagner composed some of his music (He and Ludwig were apparently good friends.) In addition to seeing the reception room with the most amazing guest book of visitors (I’d like to read some of the names in there—Martin Luther is said to have taken refuge here when he was hiding from authorities, but in that case, maybe he wouldn’t have signed the book…), we also see the queen’s quarters, the king’s quarters, and a guest room for Wagner (everyone had their own rooms here.) There were a few things that stood out to me here. First of all, there is a huge painting of a battle scene in one of the rooms. What is unique about this scene is that there is not a trace of blood, despite the brutal weapons and obvious conflict.
Knights at Hohenschwangau

Knights at Hohenschwangau

It is a romanticized view of the world. The king’s quarters, however, were the most interesting to me. First, he had a wall painting with several naked women in it which the tour guide informed me was the Liberation of the Turks. Whatever you call it, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be okay with it if it were my husband. Let me clarify—there are a number of houses we’ve seen with nude paintings, but they are throughout the house. In Hohenschwangau, the other paintings have almost all the people entirely clothed—mom said she saw one other naked person—I saw none…Then, suddenly there’s a painting with 6 naked women, and in the king’s bedroom? It makes me question. You can be the judge by checking out the painting (“secret” doors are right of the table) and other items in the castle at: http://www.google.de/imgres?q=painting+in+Maximilian%27s+bedroom+at+hohenschwangau&start=173&sa=X&biw=1269&bih=512&tbm=isch&tbnid=-PxgMv42OrddTM:&imgrefurl=http://webspace.webring.com/people/kg/germany2u/hohenschwangau.html&docid=xYPeDb9OQx7m3M&itg=1&imgurl=http://webspace.webring.com/people/kg/germany2u/kingsroom.jpg&w=374&h=205&ei=wln9UcvQGoOC4gSxjIC4Cg&zoom=1&iact=hc&vpx=864&vpy=47&dur=3764&hovh=164&hovw=299&tx=199&ty=106&page=9&tbnh=134&tbnw=242&ndsp=20&ved=1t:429,r:91,s:100,i:277 The king also had the night sky painted into the ceilings and little crystals installed that would let light through, so he had the illusion of sleeping under the stars. The other interesting fact is that the wall painting (of the “Turks”) contains two “secret” (entirely visible) doors. The right one leads to the bathroom, while the left one leads to the queen’s bedroom, since they lived on separate floors.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

While in the castle, we also heard a bit about the story of Ludwig’s life. His story is tragic to say the least. His father died suddenly when he was 18, making him the new ruler. He had been engaged to his cousin—an arranged marriage for political reasons, but he broke off the engagement just weeks before the wedding, and never asked anyone else. Interestingly enough, he had his own castle, Neuschwanstein, designed by a theater set designer. Having worked with some pretty amazing set designers, both in high school and college, I can understand why he chose an artist first and then an architect to design his home. Unfortunately, it seems he was more interested in hunting and fishing than politics, so the nobles were upset with him. We also learned there is a great mystery surrounding King Ludwig’s death. Historians have questioned whether his drowning was suicide, murder, or accidental. His death should have allowed his brother the throne, but his brother was declared mentally ill, though it sounds like he had PTSD as a result of the war. Thus, the throne went to another relative.

Neuschwanstein

Nueschwanstein

When we finished our tour, we had a little over an hour to make it to Neuschwanstein. For those unfamiliar with the castle, it is the one the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disney Land/World is modeled after. The castle also has historical significance. During WWII, the Nazis used the castle as one of their secret hiding places for stolen art. After the war, it took authorities a year to sort through all the pieces and determine where they came from. Just the art stored at this castle was enough to fill 49 rail cars! Incredible!

View from Mary's Bridge

View from Mary’s Bridge

To get to Neuschwanstein, we first had to walk back down the hill (this time on a ramp through the woods.) Then, we waited for the bus (Super packed). We got to the top with twenty-five minutes to spare, so we walked up to Mary’s Bridge where you can see the gorge on one side and a lovely view of Neuschwanstein on the other. Finishing that, we walked down the road to the castle. This was a lot farther than we intended, and we had to really hustle up the last steep incline and stairs to get there, so we arrived out of breath, but with two minutes to spare.

Going in, we were immediately greeted with an immense spiral staircase—the kind that are about three feet wide and circle around a center pole. After walking for at least 100 steps, we arrived to be greeted by the tour guide who informed us we had 63 more steps to get to the first floor (we were seeing four!) Alas, our poor legs were dying! Neuschwanstein is definitely not for the weak! We started with the servant’s quarters, then went up (many more stairs) to Ludwig’s rooms. We entered his throne room (sans throne as he died before it could be finished, so they canceled the order.) One neat feature of this room was the two ton chandelier. Made in the form of a crown, this 4,000 plus pound beauty is an amazing sight to see. This castle is obviously a reflection of the dreams of Ludwig, for it has such lavish grandeur it is almost overwhelming.

Imagine climbing this much and more--the whole thing won't fit in the frame!

Imagine climbing this much and more–the whole thing won’t fit in the frame!

Here, we heard more of his story. What we had not heard at Hohenschwangau is that Ludwig had also been declared mentally ill. The declaration was signed by a doctor who was forced to do so without examining Ludwig. Apparently, the nobles didn’t like Ludwig spending so much money or time at Neuschwanstein, so they had an easy way to get him off the throne if they could declare him unfit to rule. The fact that he was a bit eccentric—stayed up all night, slept during the day, was reclusive—coupled with the fact that mental illness ran in the family (a result of too many cousins marrying, in all likelihood), made it easy for the community to believe. An interesting fact we hadn’t heard at Hohenschwangau is that Ludwig went for a walk in the woods with the doctor who had declared him mentally ill two days after he was informed of the decision. Neither man came back. Both bodies were found drowned in the lake. Definitely adds more intrigue to the question of whether his death was murder, suicide, or accidental.

Farewell to the castles

Farewell to the castles

We concluded our tour in an elaborate room designed by Ludwig to host concerts (which it still does on various occasions.) But, the room was only finished three days before Ludwig died, so he never got to enjoy it. One incredible feature in this room is the painting on the back wall by the set designer who designed Neuschwanstein. This glorious outdoor scene makes it obvious why Ludwig chose him. The only complaint I have about the tour was how rushed we were. Thirty minutes really is too short to see such incredible beauty. But, apparently Ludwig’s time here was also rushed. He only spent 172 days here before his death. (I just realized he was my age when he died. Interesting connection.)

Our apartment

Our apartment

So, we climbed back down the million steps (what it felt like) to the kitchens and headed out. We had followed Rick Steve’s suggestions to take the bus up and the horse drawn carriage down. We ended up in a carriage with a family from Israel, a couple from Russia, and a couple with a French husband and a Chinese wife who are living in the United Arab Emirates. It definitely is a global place. Finally, still exhausted from the stairs, we grabbed an incredible dinner at a hotel by the castle (which had the best Caesar salad with turkey (that tasted like grilled chicken) and homemade croutons), and called it a night. Who knows what we’ll find to see tomorrow (provided we can still walk after all those stairs!)

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