“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.”

Upon seeing Germany’s legendary Neuschwanstein Castle, you may find yourself with a bit of déjà vu, whistling these familiar lyrics to Walt Disney’s classic film, Sleeping Beauty. Now you can make your own fairy tale dreams a reality with a whirlwind visit to the castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella’s stunning abodes (and was featured in other classic films like The Great Escape with Steve McQueen and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Dick Van Dyke).

Nestled among the already fairy tale-like Bavarian Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle was first commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria (not, it turns out, a Hollywood movie studio). The reclusive king, nicknamed ‘Mad Ludwig’ by his not-always-so-thrilled-with-him subjects, wanted a castle to represent both his love of mid-nineteenth century castle romanticism (Burgenromantik in German) and... Richard Wagner, the illustrious German opera composer.

While most castles are not usually inspired by noted composers of their day (poor Beethoven and Mozart!), Ludwig II was not the ordinary palace patron. Born in Munich and attaining the royal crown at the mere age 18, Ludwig is oft quoted as saying “I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and others.” His cousin and friend, Empress Elisabeth called him an “eccentric living in a world of dreams.” Indeed, the monarch was more interested in art, music and architecture than he was in ruling his kingdom. But his youth and good looks helped to initially bolster his popularity. Introverted, creative and a constant day-dreamer, Ludwig was also known for being generous with those whom were hospitable to him, chatty with local farmers and labourers and friendly toward those whom some did not embrace (he chastised his beloved Richard Wagner over the composer’s anti-Semitic writings, calling them “odious”).

Ludwig spent all his royal revenues and personal fortune – but no state funds – on his various projects. He was inspired by the artistic endeavours of other nations and wanted to bolster Bavaria’s cultural heritage. He loved castles from the bygone eras of the Middle Ages and sought to single-handedly spark a new craze. Ludwig personally approved every detail of the planning – including architecture, decoration and furnishings. Stage designer Christian Jank (not too surprisingly, known for his scenery for Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin) drafted the initial architectural plans. Many of the rooms in the castle were inspired by Wagner and his characters – in particular, the third and fourth floors. The castle’s Singers Hall contains characters from Wagner’s operas. Paintings throughout the castle reference Wagner’s works. So do mosaics. Even the name ‘Neuschwanstein Castle’ pays homage, as its literal translation is ‘New Swan Castle.’ One of Wagner’s characters was called the Swan Knight.

The 14 rooms finished before Ludwig’s death are stunningly and lavishly decorated. As one of the last castles to be built in Europe, it was originally created with very modern conveniences like central heating, toilets with automatic flushing, hot running water, an electrical bell system, even a telephone (though at the time, there weren’t too many people Ludwig could call!)

Outside the castle, there is a beautiful garden surrounded by a walled courtyard and even an artificial cave. The two story, Byzantine-styled throne room features wall paintings with angels, a mural of St. George slaying a dragon, a glass chandelier and intricate mosaic floor tiling. But alas, no throne! Ludwig died mysteriously before it could be created (enemies who were upset about the monarch’s spending habits were working to overthrow him at the time). Other projects were left unfinished as well, including a watchtower and a chapel.

Today, the castles has paid for itself many times over by attracting millions of tourists to Ludwig’s beloved homeland and securing a permanent, prominent place in Bavaria’s cultural heritage.

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