Posted by: Nazausgraben | June 8, 2011

AUSFLUG: VISITING KING LUDWIG’S OTHER DIGS


A balmy Summer Sunday…..azure cloudless skies, perfect for an Ausflug!  It was midday when Susi and I passed by the sign indicating that we were officially leaving Pinswang…you know the type….the same sign that says you are officially entering Pinswang, but with a thick red line slashing diagonally… almost brutally… through the name of the village, as if saying ‘you had the chance to stay here and bask in Heaven…..now you have chosen to leave this blessed plot…banishing yourself to the place where dragons be’.
 
Enroute to the main road that would take us into Bavaria, we drove over the high rocky ancient Kniepass, through the tiny village of Pflach where you will find the Alpenblick…a Gasthaus/restaurant serving what many locals believe are the largest, most delicious schnitzels this side of Wien….and into the marketing town of Reutte.
  
Unlike the beautifully preserved historic towns and villages that dot the Ausserfern and nearby Bavaria, Reutte has not fashioned itself primarily as a gemuetlich eye-catching tourist attraction. Rather, Reutte has been and remains the center for local governance and commerce in the Ausserfern, where people go to shop, meet friends at a cafe or have a quick meal before visitng the nearby Ehrenberg Castle suite that overlooks the town.  
 
Passing through the lower and upper marketing district of the town, one is struck by a lack of general aesthetic uniformity. There is a scattering of some of the most beautiful ancient buildings, with uneven lines, hardwood interiors, lovely hand-painted facades and long flower pots at every window overflowing with Spring and Summer blooms of red, white and blue…sugar for the eyes and soul. Some of these noble structures still house shops…others are inns and restaurants. There are also a number of more modern structures of glass and steel…unadorned and distinctly different in style, shape and character. They house bright modern shops, restaurants, cafes and a host of offices. There is the inevitable clash of styles that may be open to criticism. Reutte’s mixture of architecture is said by some to reflect it’s equally diverse approaches to its own changing identity.
 
We slowed down abit as we took a moment to gaze at a work of art adorning the new traffic circle in front of the railroad station.  Perched atop a pillar is something of an unusual dark organic mass, looking to this humble author like an piece of physiology that one would find within a cow.  It’s title and meaning are both unbeknownst to me, and I have taken it to mind to do abit of research to learn more about this work. I shall endeavor to pass on to you, dear reader, whatever I should learn about this…this…
 
Impatient honking from a Skoda astern reminded me that it was time we moved on, and that we did…winding our four-wheeled way along the heavily trafficked main artery that courses through the heart of Reutte (could it be a symbolic bovine heart?), passing the Church of St. Anna and main square where the colorful farmer’s market is held each Thursday…past ancient stone inns where Saints perch precariously in niches overlooking the passing vehicles and pedestrians…past the turnoff toward Reutte’s acclaimed new hospital….past the Jet tankstelle (gas station) where one is invariably greeted by its operator, the gregarious and very friendly Karl Heinz and his trusty loving canine companion of many years….a small white elderly (but still spry) Scottie named Boobie….and ever onward towards Reutte’s northern town limits.
 
Now, as we passed the slashed ‘too-bad-you’re-headed out-of beautiful-Reutte’ sign, we soon found ourselves gaining altitude as we climbed up a mountain pass…eventually finding ourselves on the beautiful stretch of thin winding road built many years ago along the majestic high alpine Lake Plan (Plansee) and headed in the direction toward Oberammergau, Germany. 
 
The Plansee road is serpentine, offering sudden tight corners and a certain plunge into the cold lake awaiting the unwary or foolish who use this stretch to live out formula one fantasies. Even I, with my propensity to treat speed limits between villages as theoretical constructs to be pondered and ultimately rejected….even I treat this twisting challenge with great respect…especially during the Winter months when mountain road asphalt transmogrifies into naught but a slick sheen and traction becomes a thing of the past and much to be desired.
 
Having successfully made our way ’round the lake, we were now ensconced my a magical Bavarian forest…a thick, dark Bayerischewald.  The road on which we drove seemed more a path at this point, cut with great care through this lush expanse. We passed the occasional private home, chapel or inn, but little else. The many trails that lead off from the road suggested that this is a wanderer’s paradise…something that Susi and I soon confirmed.
 
As we came within a few kilometers of Oberammergau, Susi and I noted that there were several cars parked off to the side of the road in a rough hewn gravel Parkplatz (parking lot).  Seeing small signs pointing the way toward our destination, we parked amongst the oversized, underpowered and driven way-too-slowly-on-the highways Dutch campers, a pair of white sportscars, a fleet of stationwagons of every make and size (Autobahn haute couture at the moment here in Europe) and hiked the mile and a half or so along a quiet lovely backwoods trail to our ultimate Ausflug destination…Schloss Linderhof…one of the many homes of the late 19th century King of Bavaria, Ludwig II. 
 
As you might know, Ludwig was something of an eccentric; an ultra-romantic aesthete living in a fantasy world of gods, myths and perpetual transcendence. He ascended to the throne at the age of 18, dividing his time between crowded cosmopolitan Munich, and the much preferred Alpine majesties of southern Bavaria.  
 
Ludwig’s artistic tastes were grandiose, as can be seen in his building of his numerous residences and hunting lodges throughout this area. The most famous of these is Schloss Neuschwanstein, the iconic “Disney” faux-gothic castle located just outside of the nearby magnificently preserved but living medieval marketing town of Fuessen and village of Schwangau. (Note: It is recommended that whilst in this area, one visit both Fuessen and Reutte…as noted, both marketing towns with medieval roots…and then compare the look and ‘feel’ of each. I suspect you will find the contrasts between the two most revealing).
 
Ludwig built Neuschwanstein within hailing distance of Hoeheschwangau, his family residence.  Millions of guests from around the world flock to Neuschwanstein to relish its unique design, both within and without, and the castle and its environs become a sea of glorious babel during the tourist year.  Imbued with art and artifacts, some kitsch, some quite beautiful, one marvels at the size and generous ostentation that characterize Neuschwanstein. Still, so much of Ludwig’s vision and with all its very impressive massive aspect, Ludwig actually spent very little time in Neuschwanstein. It was at no time ever really his home. That was reserved for another place…not far from Neuschwanstein, yet seemingly a world apart. This was the much smaller neo-Baroque Schloss Linderhof.

SCHLOSS LINDERHOF

 
Indeed, as one sees from the photo above, compared to Neuschwanstein,  Schloss Linderhof  is a relatively modest villa sitting midst the Bavarian Alps. With its highly decorated “wedding cake” facade, one has the distinct impression that should a giant hand reach down from the heavens and lift off the entire roof, the faint metallic sound of a precious music box waltz would be heard, wafting from within and being heard from nearby Ettal all the way to the Austrian Lech Valley.
 
Schloss Linderhof is actually smaller than many far older villas and farmer’s homes in the area. The building is square, with rooms arranged about a central stairwell core.  There are rooms so small that they accomodate only a single couch. The formal reception rooms and Ludwig’s bedroom are spatially the largest and equipped with electric lights and central heating; quite a technical feat for that time.
 
What makes Linderhof so special is that both inside and out, every millimeter of empty space is filled with some sort of decorative visual fru-fru. Ludwig’s love for the Versailles Baroque (and his pride at being related to the Bourbon family) dictated that in every direction one would encounter cascading golden plastered swirls, pastorale scenes painted in the style of 18th century French realism, huge mirrors surrounded by porcelain figures by Meissen, furniture colored with the finest elegently warm lapis lazuli imported from Afghanistan, Italian marble table tops, thick curtains made from huge French carpets, handspun wallhangings with miles of tightly woven fine gold threads and finely inlaid woodwork floors. 
 
Interestingly, there is little in the way of original artwork from the 17th and 18th centuries; rather, Ludwig commissioned an army of artisans to design and create everything in neo-style; that is, contemporary versions of decoration, furniture and accoutrement possessing Baroque period attributes.
 
The schloss is surrounded by many hectares of gorgeously manicured parks, elegant fountains and tiered walkways. Opposite the main entrance of the schloss, there is a massive pool adorned with mythical figures clothed in gold.  A formal stone stairway leads up atop a hill providing a sweeping view of the schloss and its environs.
 
To the rear of the schloss, one encounters yet another hill. The climb up its steep path can prove somewhat strenuous, especially in the very warm humid Summer months. However, the path is covered the entire way by a tunnel of tress and bushes that offer shaded respite from the beating sun.
 
Atop the hill, one encounters the entrance to one of Ludwig’s favorite retreats…a massive grotto. Ludwig loved the cool dark stalactite/stalagmite majesty of grottos. Where one did not exist, he just had one built (as can be seen in Neuschwanstein). However, the grotto near Linderhof is truly underground. Ludwig had it modified such that a stage was built in one of the largest chambers. He also had a swan boat built and placed in the small grotto lake.
 

Grotto Operahouse at Schloss Linderhof

It was here that concerts including productions of  works by Richard Wagner were held for Ludwig.  He apparently disliked attending the Opera in Munich where he would be the center of attention. It is said, therefore, that he built the grotto operahouse at Linderhof as a means to enjoy the great romantic works of Wagner and others on his own terms.
 
Yes, I did mention that Ludwig was a fascinating fellow. His life was a mixture of hardship and plenty.  From some accounts, it appears that his family life as a youth was less than pleasant and close personal relationships were few. He was briefly engaged to wed the Princess Sophie, the sister of Sissi, the Kaiserin of Austria-Hungary. However, it seems that Ludwig may have had few regrets subsequent to the dissolution of this relationship prior to the wedding.  Ludwig remained single for the rest of his short life.
 
It is said that he and his physician drowned one afternoon whilst out sailing on a lake. There is speculation that both were murdered. It is not unlikely that Ludwig’s enemies saw to it that his reign ended prematurely. Indeed, as Ludwig had never married and had no direct heirs, it was his uncle who took the throne and, many say, ruled Bavaria thereafter with great wisdom and care for his people.
 
Whether an overly romantic ruler who died as a result of a tragic mishap or a powerful wealthy madman who might have been murdered by those wishing to see another on the throne, Ludwig’s story and legacy provide visitors with an historical drama punctuated by great beauty, nobility, eccentricity, intrigue and unsolved mystery…the stuff of legend that continues to draw so many to this part of the Austrian Ausserfern and nearby Bavaria.  
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