Guten tag, my loyal newsletter readers. I am recently back from a three-week trip to Europe. To be specific, mostly France, but also Monaco and Munich. I hope you enjoyed my last four newsletters about Burning Man, which I wrote in advance.
Regarding my European vacation, I have a lot to write about. Plus, I plan to write a summation of my Burning Man trip and I still owe you a part six to my series on the High Sierra Trail. At least I won’t struggle with a topic to write about for a while.
Let me start with my visit to the Neuschwanstein Castle. Perhaps you haven’t heard of it, but you may have seen pictures, jigsaw puzzles, or miniature versions of it before. Below is the Wikipedia picture of it.
If castles are not your cup of tea, but it still seems familiar, perhaps you’re thinking of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. The picture below is version at the original Disneyland in California, which was inspired by Neuschwanstein.
The original, Neuschwanstein Castle is located about a two-hour drive south of Munich, Germany. It’s located in a remote forested area near the Austrian border. There are other nice castles in that area that tours typically combine with Neuschwanstein. If you do make a point of seeing it, be sure to allow all day for the experience.
I won’t get into the whole history of the castle and King Ludwig II of Bavaria, whom it was built for (as just one of four castles). I would just be paraphrasing from Wikipedia (see link above), so you may as well go to the original source.
In my case, my friend Stefen kindly traveled down from Stuttgart to show my wife and I the castle and partake in the Oktoberfest (more on that in a future newsletter). He picked us up at noon with the intention to show us Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau (another of King Ludwig II’s castles) and the lake where King Ludwig II’s dead body was found.
Our first stop was the last stop in Ludwig’s life, Lake Starnberg. It was here at the king’s body was found with that of his doctor’s, just offshore of the lake. To this day, the cause of death is debated and uncertain. It sounds like murder to me. I figure the doctor was probably killed as well in the melee or because dead men don’t talk. For more details on that, see the subtitle “death,” in the Wikipedia entry on King Ludwig.
Next, our plan was to go to King Ludwig’s Linderhof castle. We had tickets for the tours of both Linderhof and Neuschwanstein at very specific times. These tickets are in high demand and were purchased at least a month in advance. Unfortunately, it took longer than expected to get to Lake Starnberg, because it necessitated an unexpected hike. We were put in a position where we could make one tour, but not both. We had little choice but to choose what is probably the most famous castle in Europe, Neuschwanstein.
The Neuschwanstein Castle is located on the top of a mountain, as castles are supposed to be. They nicely keep the surrounding area clear of other building, to ensure unobstructed pictures of the castle.
That is at a cost of a long walk up the mountain to get to the castle. At the base of the hill, there are several Bavarian restaurants and small hotels. To get to the castle, there is a paved road, which horse-drawn carriages (assisted by batteries) use, as well as hiking trails. We were running low on time, so stuck the road.
Part of the beauty of the castle is it is surrounded by trees and mountains. However, that makes it difficult to get a good picture of it. As far as I know, the best opportunity is a bridge about a half mile hike from the castle itself. For purposes of following signage, please note the German word for bridge is brücke. In YouTube videos, there are huge crowds at this bridge and often a line to even get on it. In other videos, it was closed for repairs. However, I’m happy to report that on a rainy September 29, 2022, we could walk right onto the bridge and did not have much difficulty getting a clear picture. There were other tourists doing the same thing, but there was plenty of room for everybody. If you go on a sunny day in summer, do not expect to have the same luck.
As usual, pictures at the castle I took of my wife turned out better than those she took of me. So, as an example of a picture of the castle from a distance, I use the one I took of her below. If you’re there, you will need to zoom in a bit to get the castle to look this big.
I would allow an extra hour to get to and from this bridge to the castle. This does not allow for time to stand in line, which will probably happen if you go in prime tourist season.
As mentioned, our tickets were for a tour in English at a very specific time. Stefen said they don’t offer many tours in English. I think if you had to settle on a tour in German, you would still be okay, as the quality of the tour was pretty poor, which was very scripted and dull.
To begin the tour, we were supposed to meet in a little courtyard behind the castle gate. However, the door leading the courtyard where tours begin was closed with no signage. Personally, I respect signage to not go through doors I’m asked not to, but in this case, there was nothing stopping me. So, I opened it. I figured if they didn’t want anybody to go through, they would have locked it or at least put up a “do not enter” sign in German.
The three of us then nonchalantly walked into the courtyard behind the door where about 40 other tourists were milling about, waiting for their tour time. Then, out of nowhere, a huge guard the size of Drago from Rocky IV came and immediately began barking at us in German. It confirmed every stereotype of the German soldier/prison guard/U-boat commander, from World War II. Fortunately, Stephan is a native German and calmly made the same points I just did about the purpose of locks and signs. The guard seemed to have been outsmarted, so he asked if we had valid tickets. I’m sure he was hoping we didn’t so he would have a reason to throw us out. However, Stephan of course produced three valid tickets, which ended that encounter in a moral victory.
We then waited about 15 minutes in the courtyard, taking pictures. Below is one taken of me. There was a very efficient system of calling out tour times and scanning tickets. It was a marvel of German efficiency. Not a single employee, other than the overbearing guard, was in sight.
At the beginning of the tour, we were sternly warned that photography was not allowed. Thus, you’ll have to forgive me for the omission of any interior pictures. Listening devices were then passed out and we finally met our tour leader. The tour guide spoke in a very soft voice into a microphone and the listening devices amplified what he was saying. I had never seen this before, but later in Germany saw the same method of tour guiding in other castles and museums.
The tour led through several very ornate rooms and hallways. It covered what I estimate to be only about 10% of the castle, but it was, I’m sure, the most important rooms and they met the same kind of expectations I had for beauty based on the exterior. The talk seemed very canned, with no trivia or fun stories. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I prefer tour guides who improvise and make the tour interesting and fun, as well as informative. I’d like to think I would make a good tour guide. You may just find me doing just that in my old age somewhere, to keep busy and share my love of learning.
As usual, the tour ended in an overpriced gift shop and the experience was suddenly over. Tickets come with entry into a museum located near the parking lots, which we already did.
All things considered, I enjoyed my Neuschwanstein day and glad I went. I certainly thank Stephan for arranging everything and being my chauffer and guide for the day. He scores lots of points with me for that, which he may spend on my personalized tour of the Grand Canyon next year.
I recognize that most people probably don’t have a friend in southern Germany to arrange a private tour. The good news is Neuschwanstein is a big tourist attraction and there are lots of tour operators that go there and other nearby castles. My advice, having not taken one of these tours, would be to take that route. I read that it’s possible to take a train/bus combination from Munich to Neuschwanstein, which I’m sure would be less expensive and allow more freedom. If you go that route, be sure to get tickets for the castle tour well in advance. However, personally, I would not stress over figuring out the details of how to do myself and instead go with a professional guide.
Speaking of professional guides, I later did a bike tour of Munich with Mike’s Bike Tours. Our guide, Patrick, did a great job taking a big group to significant and fun spots around Munich. This was a tour by an American in the American way -- fun, amusing, informative, and entertaining. I HIGHLY recommend them, at least for the Munich bike tour. They also offer Neuschwanstein trips by bus. Some of their tours also include a bike ride in the Neuschwanstein area, which I think is worth paying extra for.
That is about all I have to say about the Neuschwanstein castle. I hope that it motivates you to go if you’re ever in Bavaria and you at least learned something if you didn’t.
Until next week, may the odds be ever in your favor.