I’m learning a lot on this trip – you know, why it’s called backpacking, that peach schnapps are all right… and now that rain boots are a must-have for a trip to Europe.
This isn’t my first trip to Europe. Or second, or third, or fourth. I’d venture to guess it’s well into the double digits, actually. But, it’s taken me this long to realize that rain boots are a must have when traveling to Europe. Why, you ask? Because it will rain at least once, and it will be miserable.
Oh, and no, your really cute TOMS do not count as appropriate rain shoes.
If you couldn’t guess yet, it rained a lot today. And I was wearing really cute TOMS because we weren’t expecting rain and therefore none of us had rain boots. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t decided to go on a (really stinkin’ awesome) tour two hours outside of Munich that required a thirty minute hike. But other than the freezing rain and my TOMS that were once off-white but are now brown, the tour was amazing. (The picture is what they used to look like. Weren't they cute? http://www.tomsshoes.com)
We visited one of King Ludwig II’s (or, in German: König Ludwig) dream castles, Neuschwanstein (again, in German: Schloss Neuschwanstein), which is nestled high in the mountains above a tiny little town. I’d be surprised if you feel like that’s a familiar name, but if you do, it’s because it’s the castle that Disney based the castle in their company logo on, as well as many of the castles in their movies. I won’t give you a full history of König Ludwig’s lifetime and reign, but I’ll cover some basic facts for you: many often say that Ludwig was slightly mentally incompetent/insane. In his childhood, he withdrew from his parents and the proper grooming to become a king of Bavaria, and when he was suddenly shoved into the position prematurely at eighteen, he was entirely unprepared to take control of the kingdom for many reasons. Instead of trying to rise to the occasion, he brought composer/playwright Richard Wagner to Bavaria, gave him a home, and asked him to bring Ludwig’s childhood fantasies to life.
As Wagner brought these fantasies to life, Ludwig ordered the building of three castles to house these fantasies, attempted to get married, lost a war, and began what can only be deemed as a controversial relationship with Wagner. All of this eventually led him to ruin – Bavaria lost it’s military independence to Prussia, he never married his betrothed (that's a picture of statuettes of them to the left) and never fathered an heir, he fell into immense debt (yet was planning a fourth castle when he died), and his courtiers became suspicious of Ludwig and Wagner and demanded that the playwright leave Bavaria or they would. Ludwig was eventually deemed mentally insane due to intense substance abuse (morphine and cocaine at the same time), was asked to abdicate the throne, but was probably assassinated before he was ever able to appear before the parliament and make his case against mental insanity. I say ‘probably’ because the day after he was served the papers declaring his incompetency to rule, he and his psychiatrist were found “drowned” in a lake near Munich, but the autopsy showed no signs of water in their lungs.
Because of his death, Schloss Neuschwanstein was never completed, but from what was completed, his childlike mentality seems clear. Other than his throne room, which is decorated to look like a Byzantine church with lots of vivid colors and scenes depicting the Apostles, every room has a different legend as a theme – his bedroom shows the story of Tristan and Isolde and another passageway was constructed to appear like a cave so he could play out a scene from one of Wagner’s plays. A huge hallway is decorated with stained glass, carvings of mythical creatures (I’m talking unicorns here) and baby animals, and other frolicking things adorn the walls. It’s beautiful, and interesting, and adorable, but it looks like it was decorated to be a play palace for the children of a royal family, not the castle of a grown ruler.
Maybe he wasn’t totally mentally incompetent; maybe he was just “eccentric and gentle” as my sometimes-too-kind-for-her-own-good mother said. Either way, he’s still considered one of the favorite past rulers by people in Germany because his immense building projects boosted the economy not only then but to this day. He seems cool; I would have liked to have met him.