"I shall eternally remain a riddle to myself and others ...!"

He created the very centerpiece of the Chiemgau: Herrenchiemsee Castle. Every year, about 400,000 devotees of the Bavarian king flock to Prien, Gstadt, Bernau, Übersee, Chieming, and Seebruck to ferry over to the island Herreninsel, where Ludwig II (1845-1886) never spent more than ten days. A crazy guy? Or just a very peculiar man? We went in search of clues and came across lots of oddities from the (sur)real reign of Ludwig II. Here is an itemized list of his royal antics.

Alphorn Heritage meets frippery: The Swiss sound the Alphorn to commemorate the Bavarian king on the Rütli. Legend has it that he once went there at night to take a dip in the moonlit lake in the company of actor Joseph Kainz, who was slated to play the lead in Schiller’s drama "Wilhelm Tell" at the Munich Court Theater. For Kainz’s and his own inspiration, the king took him on a pilgrimage to original locations, listened to the actor as he recited Schiller, and for good measure, had locals sound their Alphorns and hunting horns in the background.

Bathtub A regular bathtub holds about 200 liters (53 gallons), depending on the filling level and how much foam you want to indulge in. King Ludwig II had an entirely different idea of what constitutes an appropriate bathtub. Not only did he splurge on his buildings’ architecture, but he was also quite ambitious about interior decoration. His marble bathtub in Herrenchiemsee Palace held 300 times the regular amount, a whopping 60,000 liters (almost 16,000 gallons). That is what we call a spa experience.

Chiemsee A castle on an island in the middle of Bavaria’s largest lake ‒ it doesn’t get fancier than that. In 1873, the King purchased the entire island Herreninsel for 350,000 guilders with the intention of creating a second Versailles on it. In the end, not even the stripped-down version was ever completed. Not even a king’s resources are infinite. It is said that he invested 17 million marks in the building. A large part of the castle is still bare brickwork. The fully finished sections, however, are a marvel of interior design, featuring nothing but the finest decor, first and foremost the famous Hall of Mirrors. The king ended up spending only ten days in the castle ‒ but those few days, he spent in splendor: Every evening, the staff lit approximately 2,200 candles in the Hall of Mirrors just for him. As we said: It doesn’t get fancier than that.

Depressed Ludwig’s mental state is an issue on which Ludwig fans and royal historians differ widely. Was he depressed? Even the most ardent Ludwig devotees assume as much. Or was he an out-of-control lunatic? The long-held stereotype of “Crazy King Ludwig” is being called into question by more and more people (see U for ‘unsound mind’).

Engagement Isn’t it any young girl’s dream to marry a king? It goes without saying that Ludwig was pursued by countless young women ‒ often at the behest of their ambitious mothers. However, the monarch had no interest in romantic pursuits with young ladies, let alone in marriage. At first. But since a king needs a queen, he finally let himself be persuaded, and in 1867, His Majesty’s betrothal to Sophie, sister of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth, was announced. Even as their engagement pictures were selling like hotcakes, Ludwig changed his mind and called off the wedding, having postponed it a couple of times already.

Fancy The king’s fanciful imagination was the saving grace of his tormented personality. He found solace in his imagination, rather than a woman’s arms (he even dumped his fiancée, see E for “engagement”). His reveries gave him comfort when the office of king became overbearing, which it often did. Sometimes, however, he found it difficult to separate fantasy from reality.



Generous to the point of lavishness Ludwig II was passionate about giving. And he was passionate about building. Money was not an issue to him. So was it just excessive spending habits or rather a pathological delusion that drove him to pursue unrealistic reveries? (see U for ‘unsound mind’).

Haunted Ludwig loved the mountains where, as he is said to have quoted Schiller, there “is freedom!” It goes on: “The world is perfect wherever man cannot carry his own agony.”


Inexplicable death Ludwig’s death has remained a highly contentious cold case to this day. We still don’t know how the king died. Was it suicide? Murder? An accidental drowning in Lake Starnberg? The legend lives on (see U for ‘unsound mind’).

Junior A royal in diapers. Ludwig was two years old when he became Crown Prince following his grandfather’s abdication in 1848. Like his son, Ludwig I was always good for a scandal. He had to resign after his affair with dancer Lola Montez caused an uproar among the citizenry. Today, you can admire her pretty face in a nice picture frame in the “Gallery of Beauties” in Nymphenburg Palace. Ludwig II ascended to the throne in 1868.

Linderhof Finally, a project he actually brought to completion. Linderhof Castle near Ettal is one of the most artistically accomplished ensembles of the 19th century and the only one of Ludwig’s residences that was actually finished (see C for Chiemsee and N for Neuschwanstein). The building’s variety is unparalleled: It features a Moroccan house and a Moorish kiosk in the park, an English and a French Baroque garden, and a Baroque façade, while the inside is teeming with Rococo and Neo-Rococo. The king liked to retreat to the Hundinghütte in the park, a Germanic cabin whose interior was a scene straight out of Wagner’s Valkyrie. A perfect place to read Norse sagas and escape from royal reality. To enhance the period setting, Ludwig surrounded himself with servants in Germanic dress.

Music One would think that the world has Richard Wagner to thank for the gift of his unforgettable operas. But the credit is actually due to the king, who emptied his coffers completely for his friend from Saxony, investing every penny he did not spend on his building craze in the artist. However, the king was not considered to be a musical mind himself. While he did learn to play the piano, he showed little aptitude for it. He himself admitted that his teacher was glad when the lessons came to an end. Ludwig’s true love was literature, so he cared more about Wagner’s librettos than the strings and winds in the orchestra pit.


Neuschwanstein Castle, the world-famous fairy-tale palace, was opened to the public after Ludwig’s death to prove his insanity for even attempting to build a place like this. But instead of shaking their heads in disapproval, the public took the place by storm from day one ‒ 80.000 people visited the castle in the remaining months of 1886 alone. Today, the site counts about 1.3 million visitors every year.

Otto Everyone calls him Ludwig, but actually, as any decent aristocrat, he has a much longer name: Otto Friedrich Wilhelm von Wittelsbach, King of Bavaria. Perhaps they also chose his governess for her long parade of first names, for the educator who schooled the king until the age of seven was called Miss Maria Katharina Theresia Sybilla Meilhaus. She was succeeded by Count La Rosée, who, of course, also needed some extra space to fit his name on his ID card: Major General Count Theodor Basselet de la Rosée.

Postcards Ludwig II was a popular postcard motif even during his lifetime, so the postcard industry has been making some serious money off of him over the years. These early postcards featured authentic life events at court as well as fictional scenes. One actual motif was chamber singer Josefine Scheffzky in distress at sea, or rather in distress at pond, behind a very detached-looking king. The weird scene was set in the imposing Winter Garden (see W for Winter Garden) atop the Munich Residenz, which was dismantled after Ludwig’s death.

queer Hold on to your socks: Ludwig II was gay! But wait, it’s not that spectacular after all; history is full of kings who preferred guys. So does that make the fancy ermine fur on the king’s robe a queer fashion statement?

Rose Island and Richard Wagner Noteworthy encounters took place on Rose Island in Lake Starnberg. This is where Ludwig II met with Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm as well as his much-revered opera composer Richard Wagner and shared ideas with his soulmate cousin Sisi, the Empress Elisabeth. Rose Island is where the two misfits escaped their dreaded courtly duties.

Showtime Today, a musical dedicated to Ludwig draws masses of tourists to Schwangau. In 1865, the venue put on a performance for an audience of one: Richard Wagner, who stayed with Ludwig from November 11 to 18. Following a gigantic fireworks display over Lake Alpsee, Wagner’s Lohengrin was re-enacted on the water. A huge artificial swan pulled a barge from which Lohengrin belted his arias. Electric lights were used to illuminate the Swan Knight while an orchestra created the soundscape. A Bayreuth-level festival held in Schwangau.

“Table, deck yourself” Ludwig II preferred to enjoy his meals alone. So during his ten-day stay in Herrenchiemsee and during his time at Linderhof, he treated himself to a very special catering service, a veritable Wishing Table. A mechanical lifting device lowered a gigantic floor plate carrying his dining table down one level where the table was set with fancy foods and then sent back upstairs to the reclusive diner.

Unsound mind Ludwig II liked to build impressive castles, which undeniably put a huge strain on the Bavarian treasury. At some point, his ministers had enough and began to revolt. They felt the easiest way to rid themselves of the king was to declare him mentally unfit, given that his brother Otto had already been certified as insane by psychiatrist Prof. Dr. Bernhard von Gudden. The ministers commissioned that same doctor for Ludwig II and obtained the desired diagnosis. The psychiatrist found the king to be suffering from incurable paranoia and mental weakness. He came to this diagnosis remotely, never actually having examined Ludwig in person, which is still a controversial practice today. That was good enough for the Bavarian government. They legally incapacitated the king the very next day. A few days later, both Ludwig II and his psychiatrist were found dead in Lake Starnberg, drowned under mysterious circumstances (see I as in ‘inexplicable death’).

Visionary To describe Neuschwanstein as a fairy-tale castle does not even begin to cover it. What Ludwig built was a high-tech palace, the very prototype of a zero-energy house. For the king was a tech aficionado who avidly followed the “Polytechnical News” section of the newspaper Leipziger Illustrierte Zeitung and traveled to the Paris World Exhibition. Neuschwanstein featured steam-powered cranes, a telephone system, hot-air central heating, an automatic toilet flushing system, and hot and cold running water. And he used a battery-powered bell to summon his flock of servants.

Winter garden If your home features a winter garden, don’t bother to look up pictures of Ludwig’s. They’re just going to make yours look inadequate. Ludwig made a grand statement with his glass and iron structure that measured 70x17 meters (30 x 56 feet). The spectacular structure atop the Munich Residence stood nine meters tall (30 feet). It contained a jungle of palm trees and flowers before a painted Himalayan landscape as well as a pond (the same one on which chamber singer Josefine Scheffzky went overboard her rowboat, allegedly on purpose and for theatrical effect). Since her distress did not stir the king much, a servant had to come to the woman’s rescue. The incident became a popular postcard motif (see P for ‘postcard’).

X-plosive ideas  He wanted to blow them up. Allegedly, Ludwig II toyed with the idea of having his castles blown up after his death. He wanted to keep the buildings from what he considered to be an uncultured public, which is why he never opened them to visitors during his lifetime. He could have studied the technology required for such a demolition project during his college days in 1862 at Munich University. Well, he actually studied French and philosophy, but they did offer more pertinent disciplines such as physics, chemistry, and war sciences.

Youth Ludwig was anything but a cool teenager. Never a ruffian or an athlete, he was a dreamer who loved the opera. He read Richard Wagner’s prose at the tender age of twelve. At 16, he saw Wagner’s Tannhäuser and from that moment on, he was hopelessly beholden to the Romantic artist. But Ludwig did not have an easy youth because his father raised him and his brother with iron principles. For instance, he never let the brothers eat their fill at mealtime.