FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The Ludwig II trail

Posted in Füssen, Feldafing, Germany, Munich, Prien am Chiemsee by folkestonejack on June 6, 2015

We hadn’t intended to turn our trip into a Ludwig II pilgrimage, but soon found ourselves gripped by his unusual story and spectacular vision. So, with this in mind, I thought I would wrap up our trip report with a quick run through of our self-guided Ludwig II tour for any souls contemplating a similar endeavour.

Our tour could have been pretty expensive if it wasn’t for the 14 day passes from the Bavarian Department for State Palaces. A pass for two adults came to 44 euros, which compares incredibly favourably to the 127 euro bill we would have faced by paying for all our tickets individually. Children under the age of 18 are also included on this ticket at no extra charge.

Nyphenburg Palace
Ludwig was born on 25 August 1845 at Nymphenburg Palace, in the suburbs of Munich. The palace is easily reached by tram (Straßenbahn 17) and can be toured on a self-guided basis. The Queen’s Bedroom, where Ludwig entered the world, is one of the rooms open to visitors. The palace, park and park buildings are all delightful but the star attraction has to be the Marstall Museum’s collection of royal carriages.

Detail from one of Ludwig Ii's carriages in the Marstall Museum

Detail from one of Ludwig II’s carriages in the Marstall Museum

The Marstall Museum gave us our first glimpse into the world of Ludwig II with some of the most extravagant and ornate carriages and sleighs that can ever have existed. If they still have this effect on us today, how much more astonishing they must have seemed to Ludwig’s subjects in their time – especially with Ludwig’s preference for moonlit excursions!

Hohenschwangau
Ludwig’s childhood summer home was a real surprise to me, as I expected something quite plain and found an altogether more elaborate castle. Maximillian II clearly had a strong artistic vision like his son. It is striking that the two palaces are just a short distance from each other. The castle can be visited on a hectic day trip from Munich or taken at a more leisurely pace with a stay in Füssen. I have written posts about our visit to Hohenschwangau and the pleasures of Füssen covering the practicalities in more detail.

Munich Residenz
The Residenz is a marvellous complex to visit, but the apartment that King Ludwig had fitted out for himself between 1867 and 1869 (in the style of Louis XIV) was destroyed during World War II. Thankfully, many of the moveable items of furniture and decoration were spared and can now be seen in three rooms of the museum at Herrenchiemsee.

Ludwig’s other major construction here, the winter garden, has also long gone. The garden was a 70 metre long glass hall constructed on the roof of the palace, abutting Ludwig’s apartment. It was no ordinary conservatory, presenting a fantastical Indian landscape, complete with a Moorish Kiosk, a lake and a large illustionistic backdrop to extend the setting way beyond the space available. It was dismantled in 1897 but we can still get a good idea of its appearance from surviving photographs and a gondola preserved at the museum at Herrenchiemsee.

Roseninsel
The secluded summer house, known as the ‘Casino’, on Roseninsel (Rose Island) was the only finished building from Maximillian II’s Feldafing Palace project. It doesn’t have the wow factor of the palaces, but it is easy to see why Ludwig II enjoyed this retreat. It’s a little off the well-trodden tourist path in Bavaria but worth a diversion if you have a spare day. I have written posts about our visit to the island with some practical tips.

Linderhof
The modestly sized mansion at Linderhof, tucked away in the shadow of the Ammer mountains, was the only palace that Ludwig II lived to see completed. The palace was built and developed in stages between 1869 and 1885, growing out of the forester’s house constructed by his father Maximilian II. It must have presented a fascinating mix of styles in the early stages, blending the simplicity of an alpine house with splendour worthy of Versailles. All of this changed in 1874 when the alpine styled Royal Lodge was moved and the palace assumed the form that we see today.

The Royal Lodge can still be visited for a small additional charge (free to holders of passes from the Bavarian Department for State Palaces) in the grounds, with a small museum about the history of the palace and park (the text of the displays is only in german, but english language translations handouts are available).

Many of the coach tours that run from Munich offer limited time at the park, so we opted to use public transport instead (a train and two buses in each direction) and this worked out pretty smoothly. I covered our visit in the post Royal refuge in the Ammer mountains with some practical tips drawn from our experience.

Neuschwanstein
My personal highlight of the trail came with the visit to Neuschwanstein Castle. It is one of the most visited sights in Germany and there are plenty of downsides to this, but nothing can detract from the wonderful interior that (in my eyes) exceeds anything else that Ludwig II created. Don’t believe the reviewers who say that it is not worth taking the tour!

Planning your trip in advance is a must here as the ticket queues can be horrendous. Various ticket combinations are available, depending on how you plan to arrange your visit and whether you are aiming to see everything in one day or spread out over a couple of days with a longer stay in Füssen. I covered our visit, with some practical tips, in the post Monument to monarchy

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Herrenchiemsee
Ludwig II’s attempt to recreate Versailles on an island in Bavaria is quite extraordinary (a word that gets used alot on any tour of Ludwig’s palaces!) and delivers some of the most spectacular rooms I have ever seen. The tours may be short but every second in this palace counts.

The opulence of Herrenchiemsee New Palace is in stark contrast to the relative simplicity of the King’s chambers in the Augustinian Monastery (Old Palace), which can be visited with a combination ticket. I summed up our astonished impressions in the blog post Versailles-am-see, though words are quite inadequate to describe this place!

The King’s House on Schachen
One sight that eluded us was the King’s House on Schachen, which is located 1,866 metres up in the Wetterstein mountains. It is difficult to reach at the best of times, as it can only be reached on foot and takes 6 to 7 hours to get there and back!

Whilst we were visiting the area many of the footpaths were closed because of the G7 summit, including those up to the King’s House, but this shouldn’t be a factor in anyone else’s visit! Guided tours are given during the summer months (in German only). The highlight is the upper floor, known as the Turkish Hall, which is a splendid vision of eastern delights.

Berg
Berg Castle, where Ludwig was living at the end of his life, is still home to the Wittlesbach family and not open to the public (indeed, Ludwig’s gothic additions have long since been removed). However, you can see the Votivkapelle (memorial chapel) constructed in his memory and the cross in the Starnberger See marking the spot where Ludwig died in mysterious circumstances on 13th June 1886, aged 40.

We didn’t make it to Berg but it is relatively easy to reach by taking the S-Bahn to Starnberg, followed by a 12 minute ferry crossing.

Michaelskirche
Ludwig was laid to rest in the crypt at the Michaelskirche in Munich on 19th June 1886 (though his heart was placed in an urn at the Gnadenkapelle at Altötting alongside those of his forebears). The crypt can be visited for a couple of euros.

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Steam on the Chiemsee Bahn

Posted in Germany, Prien am Chiemsee by folkestonejack on June 1, 2015

The Royal Palace at Herrenchiemsee was opened to the public just six weeks after the death of King Ludwig II on 13 June 1886. Although visitor numbers were low at first they soon shot up to extraordinary numbers and it was this dramatic increase in the number of visitors arriving at Prien am Chiemsee that spurred rapid development of the transport infrastructure in the area.

Steam locomotive no. 1813 departs from Stock in mid-afternoon

Steam locomotive no. 1813 departs from Stock in mid-afternoon

Although there had been a ferry to the islands since the mid-nineteenth century the additional tourist traffic soon necessitated a more frequent ferry services to Herreninsel. However, the absence of a shuttle service between the railway station and the harbour remained a problem for arriving passengers.

Ludwig Fessler was quick to seize the opportunity and reached agreement with George Krauss (founder of the Krauss Locomotive Works in Munich) to construct a 2km single track metre-gauge line between the mainline station (Prien) and the harbour (Stock am Chiemsee).

The line opened on 10th July 1887 and was an immediate success. Services soon had to be increased to meet the demand, despite the relatively expensive fare for the time. Although the train only hauls passenger carriages today, in its early years the consist included two open wagons with coal for the steam ships and the islands. In time the freight traffic disappeared and for a time it seemed as though the entire railway would follow suit.

The last crossing before Prien station

The last crossing before Prien station

Thankfully the threats to the line were staved off and the the railway looks to be thriving. Remarkably, the railway still uses the same steam locomotive and stock today that it did at the beginning of its existence (although the boiler in the locomotive was replaced in 1957). In 1962 the railway purchased a diesel locomotive for use when traffic is lighter.

On the day we visited we were lucky enough to see the steam locomotive in use and took advantage of the good weather to walk the footpath that runs alongside the line to check out the photographic opportunities.

The yard at Stock offers a good opportunity to see the loco run around (the locomotive is bi-directional and was running with the chimney facing towards Prien during our visit). After leaving the harbour station (crossing a busy road) the line runs through a residential area, passing the rear of a tavern, residential care home and flats.

A three foot tall hedge along the line makes photography tricky for a fair chunk of the way but there are a few interesting footpath and road crossings that offer some opportunities. As the line reaches Prien it crosses a couple of roads, passes a pretty pond and then curves round to Prien station.

Mid-afternoon at Stock station

Mid-afternoon at Stock station

If you are relying on catching a mainline train it is worth noting that the timings are quite tight and if the train is more than a couple of minutes late (as it was on the afternoon we visited) you could be left with a dash through the adjacent subway to make your connection!

Overall, it is a thoroughly delightful line. If you combine it with a sailing on the steam ship Ludwig Fessler (now under diesel-hydraulic power) and a visit to the Royal Palace at Herrenchiemsee it makes quite an amazing day out.

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Versailles-am-see

Posted in Germany, Prien am Chiemsee by folkestonejack on June 1, 2015

The first stop on our tour of King Ludwig II’s palaces brought us to the town of Prien am Chiemsee, an hour’s journey by train from Munich. It was here that Ludwig audaciously planned to build a new Versailles in tribute to his idol Louis XIV and the lost age of absolutist rule, having discovered a suitably reclusive spot on a heavily wooded island in the middle of the lake.

Herrenchiemsee Palace

Herrenchiemsee Palace

As a visitor you get a sense of the seclusion that the island of Herreninsel offered as you take a ferry from the harbour and follow this with a twenty minute walk through the woods to reach the palace. The ferry crossing offers only the briefest glimpse of the palace, adding to its dramatic effect, as was entirely intentional.

The island was to be a new kingdom that Ludwig could wander, taking delight in his new palace as it came into view from the myriad of pathways that cross the island or from the grand vista of the canal. It is a pity that Ludwig never got to build his island railway as it would have been fascinating to see how that would have fitted into the scheme.

Once you reach the palace grounds you find that they offer a curious pick and mix, with a copy of the Latona fountain from Versailles and a couple of fountains from the royal palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. All entirely delightful, even if the vision remains incomplete – the final element, a copy of the Apollo fountain from Versailles, was never installed. The fountains spring into life every half hour adding to the marvellous vision of the Palace.

One of many splendid fountains at Herrenchiemsee

One of many splendid fountains at Herrenchiemsee

The interior of the palace is breathtaking from the moment that you enter the state staircase (a replica of the Ambassador’s Staircase from Versailles, recreated from engravings as the original was destroyed in 1752) to the moment that you step out of the last room.

Opulent does not even begin to cover the breathtaking decoration and furnishings in each room (where many of the equivalents at Versailles have long since lost their furnishings these rooms are almost fully furnished, having not suffered from the ravishings of two revolutions). The re-creation of the Hall of Mirrors is particularly impressive, but so are the individual elements such as the chandeliers and delicate flower bouquets made entirely of Meissen porcelain. The guides can’t linger if they are to get the vast number of visitors around the building, but that’s probably just as well as you could spend forever focusing on all the marvellous touches to these rooms!

The tour of the King’s living quarters, which have little to do with Versailles, proved to be the highlight for me. In particular, Ludwig’s bedroom with its blue globe night-light (naturally, on a richly carved and gilded stand) gave a much stronger sense of his personality and you could imagine how beautiful the room must have been with its artificially created moonlight filling the room. Another touch that gave a sense of the man behind the legend came from the ‘magic’ table which could be mechanically lowered and raised, allowing Ludwig to dine without coming into contact with his servants. Such a lonely existence.

On our visit to the palace an art exhibition was taking place in the unfinished rooms, offering a rare opportunity to see just how plain these rooms are. These rooms are empty brick shells, perfect for modern art but a world apart from the rooms we had seen moments earlier. On our visit it was stressed that talk of Herrenchiemsee as an ‘unfinished’ palace are a little wide of the mark for the construction plans of 1878 show no further interiors than the ones we can see finished today – demonstrating just how well the finished rooms created sufficient illusion for the King’s purposes.

The Fama Fountain

The Fama Fountain

The palace also houses the King Ludwig II museum which offers a fascinating glimpse into the King’s long lost residence in Munich (destroyed during the Second World War), his remarkable winter garden (a vast water filled conservatory built atop the Munich Residenz, dismantled in 1897) and a variety of other projects that never got off the drawing board.

One unexpected attraction in the palace was a small exhibition about the bats of the island which proved quite fascinating, including a live infra-red link to the colonies in the attic. The attic is home to the greater mouse eared bat, geoffroy’s bat and the highly endangered lesser horsehoe bat (one of only three remaining colonies in Bavaria). Beyond the palace, fifteen out of twenty-three bat species known in Bavaria occur in Herreninsel. Maybe this explains Ludwig’s penchant for avoiding the daylight and staying up for the night hours!? After all, what’s one more conspiracy theory to add to the many others…

After leaving the palace we sampled the delights of a radler on the terrace before exploring the monastery (worth a visit in its own right for its beautiful interior and the fascinating contrast of the simple apartment that Ludwig II used whilst overseeing his project) and taking a walk out to get a view of the Lakeside Chapel of the Holy Cross. You can easily spend an entire day here.

Practicalities

Prien am Chiemsee is roughly an hour by train from Munich and Salzburg. We opted for the 7.55am train from Munich which arrived at 8.52am. From the railway station it is an easy 20 minute walk to the harbour (our choice) or you can take a trip on the steam railway if it is operating (an 8 minute journey).

Our walk got us to the harbour in perfect time for the 9.25am sailing, arriving at Herreninsel around 9.40am. If there is a queue for tickets at the harbour you can usually buy tickets on board. Tickets for a tour of the palace are purchased at the ticket booths close to the jetty on Herreninsel. At this time of year the early morning English language tours don’t seem to be in such demand – there were just 10-12 people on our tour slot (10.15am).

It’s worth grabbing a copy of the ferry timetables as the return timings are a little erratic, with the gap between crossings ranging from 15 minutes to 50 minutes.

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