Thus far the weather on our trip has been nearly perfect. It’s been hotter than blazes and more humid than I prefer, but it has been sunny and pretty. Today begins what looks like the end of our good weather luck - rain is forecast for nearly our entire stay in Switzerland and possibly for London as well. Ah well. I once had a friend tell me about a pastry shop I needed to go visit when I was traveling to Boston. “It will have a long line, but soldier on,” she said. “It’s worth it.” This has essentially become my travel motto: soldier on. Bad weather be damned, we are going to see what we want to see!
Today we went out to Herrenchimsee, one of the castles of “Mad” King Ludwig II. Ludwig is a king that reminds me of Louis XVI of France or Nicholas II of Russia - men with great talents and passions who never should have been rulers of countries. Ludwig himself was a great patron of the arts and a man with a great fascination for invention and modern technology. He was also very probably gay in a time when it really just wasn’t allowed (at least not in public). His death is a mystery, but his legacy is one of extremely lavish spending. His most famous architectural project, Neuschwanstein is probably his best known project, but his most expensive project was Herrenchimsee, located on an island in the middle of the Chimsee lake in the south eastern corner of Germany. Like Neuschwanstein, it is unfinished. What is finished is both fascinating and, frankly, a little disgusting - at least when you consider the amount of taxation it took to make such projects possible.
Herrenchimsee is Ludwig’s love letter to Louis XIV of France. Louis XIV, known as “The Sun King”, was the idol of many royals who longed for days of absolute power. Louis XIV reigned for ages (seventy two years) and built the palace that monarchs all around the world tried to copy - Versailles. As a result, the most finished sections of Herrenchimsee are museum replicas of the most famous rooms in Versailles, such as the bedchamber of the king and the hall of mirrors. These rooms were only ever intended as museum pieces. The state room bed was never slept in, for example.
The castle also includes some funny modern updates that reminded me a bit of when I visited the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island. Ludwig was king in the late 1800s when technology was advanced enough to allow luxuries that didn’t exist in Louis’ day - indoor heating, for example. My favorite update was a clever trap door for a table, so that the dinner table could be decorated and loaded with food and then lifted back upstairs using a pulley system. One of the great flaws of Versailles was that the kitchens were so far away from the dining rooms that it would take more than twenty minutes of walking to get food to the table. This should have solved the problem in Herrenchimsee, but since the palace was never finished, this ended up being a bit useless since they had to haul food over to the palace from the old palace on the island. Whelp.
My other favorite piece was an orb at the end of Ludwig’s bed that looked like the Palantir from The Lord of the Rings. Three candles could be lit inside of it so that the room was cast in a beautiful blue light. Perhaps Ludwig was afraid of the dark?
Ludwig only stayed in the castle for ten days before his mysterious death - to this day no one knows exactly how he died, only that he was found dead with his physician. It could have been suicide, murder, or an accident. Most studies I’ve read assume it was suicide, and it does seem to add up that way. Like the dynasty he idolized, I think that Ludwig realized that lavish spending not only thoroughly pisses off the people you rule, but also leaves you feeling empty and lonely. Furthermore, being a closeted gay king must have been incredibly difficult and lonely. I’m sure his life was anything but the fairy tale he tried to create in his castles.