Tag Archives: King Ludwig II

Ludwig at Linderhof

"King Ludwig II of Bavaria," Ferdinand Piloty, 1865, Public Domain

“King Ludwig II of Bavaria,” Ferdinand Piloty, 1865, Public Domain

“Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria was found dead in Lake Starnberg on June 13, 1886. He was 40 years old. The cause of death is still mysterious, but his death was convenient for a lot of people in Bavaria, where he had pretty much given up on the day-to-day business of governing. Government of Bavaria ground to a halt while Ludwig spent all his money (mostly his own personal fortune) on increasingly theatrical castles and palaces. He had been declared insane the previous day and was in some kind of royal “protective” custody.

After a couple of misses, I was finally able to visit Linderhof Palace, King Ludwig II’s favorite home, at a time when the grotto was open.  I was anxious to see it, especially after watching Luchino Visconti’s very fine film Ludwig, about the life and mysterious death of the notorious Bavarian king.


Ludwig built Linderhof as his own personal getaway.  In fact, it was the ultimate bachelor pad.  But he enjoyed the place in solitary splendor; he rarely if ever had visitors.  He built a special music room for his favorite composer, Richard Wagner, but Wagner never saw it. The grounds are breathtaking, and because the palace is quite small, each room looks out onto a beautiful manicured view with pristine mountains in the background.

Linderhof Palace

Linderhof Palace

In Visconti’s 1972 film Ludwig, the king is played by Visconti’s real-life romantic partner and muse, Helmut Berger.


The film shows Ludwig lounging around in his grand surroundings with hand-picked servants and a handsome young actor. Filming took place in the palace, so watching it is like having a tour personally conducted by the very strange and romantic Ludwig himself. His bedroom (intentionally) recalls the bedroom of King Louis XIV of France. This is a one-man palace; there are no guest rooms.  The help stayed in outbuildings, invisible to the king until they were needed.

It is hard to say how accurate the life story is.  But it is certain that Ludwig was an eccentric and  dreamy romantic.  His people loved him, but he was not much of a king when it was time to hang the ermine in the closet and get some work done.

One of Ludwig’s very few friends was his cousin, the Austrian Empress Elisabeth, nicknamed Sisi. She was famously married to the Emperor when she was only 15, and spent the rest of her life wanting out.  She is played by Romy Schneider (who also played Sisi in the very silly but entertaining semi-fictional series of Sissi movies).

The grotto was built up the hill behind the castle.  The entrance looks like a fort a very ambitious child might build.


But the grotto itself is as jaw-droppingly weird and beautiful as it was in Ludwig’s day.  He had Wagner’s operas performed inside for his own personal pleasure.  The water was heated, so that he could swim in it if he tired of being rowed around in his gilded shell boat.  And the lighting could change colors depending on his mood, or the mood of the opera scene.

Ludwig's Grotto

Ludwig’s Grotto

The grotto is still festooned with the floral swags that Visconti’s movie crew put up.  The film has a fantastic scene where an Austrian actor is taken into the grotto to meet Ludwig, who wants him to recite dramatic speeches 24/7.  Helmut Berger, as Ludwig, floats out of the gloom in his shell boat, wearing a dark overcoat and a black Homburg–with an enormous diamond brooch pinned to the side. He fixes the actor with an imperious, piercing stare. The actor tries hard to be Ludwig’s New Best Friend, but the friendship ends badly and Ludwig is alone again.

Nearby Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles are justly famous, but they are overrun with tourists.  Armed with a Bavarian Castles Pass, I actually went to Linderhof twice during my last trip.  One day it was rainy, the next it was sunny.  I can’t say I had the place to myself, but there was time and space enough to ponder the mysterious life of Ludwig.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

A Beautiful Jail is Still a Jail: Rupert Mayer in Ettal

Father Rupert Mayer was a war hero and an outspoken opponent of the Nazi regime.  My last post described how visitors flock to his bronze bust in St. Michael’s Church in Munich to honor his memory.


After imprisoning him in Landsberg Prison (where Hitler himself had once spent a few months before he came to power), the Nazis sent Father Mayer to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  However, they were reluctant to actually kill such a well-loved figure.  So in 1939 they sent him to remote Ettal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery on the border with Austria.  He spent the rest of the war under house arrest, forbidden to preach or speak in public.

Another Nazi opponent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spent the winter of 1940-1941 at the Abbey.  He worked on his book Ethics while there.  I can imagine conversations between the two brave men of conscience during long winter nights.

The little village of Ettal is close to the Austrian border, with spectacular mountains and lakes all around.  The area is so beautiful that King Ludwig II chose it for his favorite home palace, Linderhof, just a stone’s throw away. The village is pretty, surrounded by biking  and hiking paths. There’s a tempting bakery and a couple of cozy old hotels, one of them run by the monks.


The monastery has a turbulent history of its own, having been secularized at times. But for most of the time since the 1300s, monks have welcomed visitors, brewed a world-renowned beer, distilled herbal liqueurs, and made cheese. Since the 1700s, they have run a well-regarded college preparatory school with free tuition. In summer, people bike over from nearby towns like Oberammergau and Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  They picnic in the grounds and tour the distillery and cheese-making facility.

The Baroque church is spectacular, with a dome painted to imitate the heavens.  


Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not under arrest during his time in Ettal; he was able to carry his message of resistance out into the world after he left.  Shortly before the war’s end, he paid with his life.

I’ve been to Ettal twice, both short stops in winter, within a year or two of a terrible scandal.   Both times were in December; probably the students were on holiday break.  In 2010, abuse of students by a few monks during the 1960s through early 1980s was exposed and presumably dealt with.   The village was friendly, but the church and monastery felt secretive and closed-off.  Although the church doors were open and candles were lit, no one was around.  I was glad to take a quick look and leave. I’m sure summer would be much more pleasant and informative.

Reportedly some of the Ettal community members were actively involved in plots against Hitler during the war. The buildings are huge and sprawling. I can well imagine plots and secret meetings in the honeycomb of hallways, classrooms, monks’ cells, and dormitories. Ironically, the place where the Nazis confined Rupert Mayer was probably one of the safest havens for those who tried to plot the downfall of the regime.

Father Rupert Mayer was a man of action. I’m sure the worst part of his long confinement was being unable even to preach from the pulpit of the beautiful Baroque church. He was so dangerous to the Nazi regime that he had to be silenced, even in the remote backwater of Ettal.

Pulpit detail, Mattana photo, public domain

Pulpit detail, Mattana photo, public domain

Join me next time for more explorations into some of the byways of European art and history.

Trying on Royalty for Size

The best art and history museums everywhere have entertaining programs for children–after all, children are the future. I’m always happy when I see kids having a good time at a museum. For instance, the Residenz in Munich gives kids a chance to dress up as royalty from days long past.


The Residenz was the ancestral home of the royal Wittelsbach family for generations. “Mad” King Ludwig was born somewhere in its warren of grand bedrooms, salons, music rooms and chapels. Having slogged my way through the corridors twice on two separate trips, I can understand why he went “mad” enough to escape to his personal castles at Neuschwanstein and Linderhof. Away from Munich, he could at least live on a more human scale.

The palace is so huge and confusing that the audio tour considerately offers an escape hatch: a sign about halfway through informing the visitor that the shorter tour is complete, and the full tour is optional. The first time, I didn’t think my tired feet could take any more polished marble corridors. The second time, I made it all the way through and found it worthwhile. Still, although it’s a nice place to visit, I wouldn’t want to live there.

I doubt that Ludwig enjoyed dressing up as much as the kids visiting his home these days. I’m glad to see kids at the very entrance of the Residenz having a good time imagining life in days long past. I hope they all develop a taste for history.

This post is an experiment. I’ll soon be traveling, and I wanted to try posting using nothing but my trusty phone. If you are reading this, the experiment worked!

Lunch with Ludwig II

In his dining room at Linderhof Palace, King Ludwig II did not want servants bothering him.  Maybe he wanted to avoid the inefficiencies of dining at his childhood home, Hohenschwangau Castle, a few miles away from Linderhof.  In Hohenschwangau, the kitchen was in a separate building.  When the family  sat down to eat, someone had to stand next to the window.  This servant would wave at another servant stationed at the kitchen window when it was time to bring in the next course.  Then the food had to be carried up a couple of flights of stairs in insulated containers.

Hohenschwangau Castle

Hohenschwangau Castle

When he built his own personal dream home at Linderhof, Ludwig did away with all that nonsense.  He designed a dining table that disappeared through the floor into the kitchen directly below.  I had seen this table, but I couldn’t imagine how it actually worked until I watched Luchino Visconti’s film Ludwig, made in 1972.  There is a scene where Ludwig leans back from finishing one course, and a couple of servants down below crank the table down to restock it.  Sliding panels automatically fill in the space, relieving my worry that poor Ludwig would accidentally fall into his kitchen. It’s a sad scene. The liveried servants down below are making coarse jokes about their employer and guzzling his leftover wine.

No doubt it was always hard to find good help.  Ludwig was probably not the most considerate employer, either. Today, it is possible to peer in through the ground-level kitchen window and see the mechanism that lifts and lowers the table.

The dining room is French Rococo, like the rest of the very small palace. That translates into a lot of carved gilded woodwork, framed mirrors and exquisite porcelain.

With tourists traipsing through the place, the windows are covered with heavy shades to protect the interior.  But Ludwig would have looked out at a very pretty French-styled garden complete with fleur-de-lis flower beds.


Ludwig’s disappearing table is not large. Today, there is only one throne-like chair.  Ludwig almost always ate all alone.  In fact, there were no guest quarters in the small palace because there were no guests. But according to the guides, Ludwig often had the table set for at least one other person, sometimes two or three.  He liked to chat with some of his imaginary friends, whose portraits appear in the room:  Marie Antoinette, Madame de Pompadour, and Louis IV.

When the Bavarian government finally got fed up with Ludwig’s spending and failure to sit in boring Cabinet meetings, much was made of his unusual habits.  Was having imaginary friends evidence of insanity? Personally, I don’t think so.  I think Ludwig was a man who wanted to create the illusion of being with his favorite people in a perfect world.  For about 22 years of his life, from 1864 to 1886, he had the means to do just that.

Join me next time for more insight into some of the quirky byways in the art and history of Europe!

Ludwig’s Local Starbucks at Linderhof

After the Siege of Vienna by the Ottomans was broken in 1683, the conquering army of Austrians found sacks of Turkish coffee left behind.  Immediately coffee became a popular drink, and coffeehouses sprang up.  Of course, Ludwig was not a sociable man, and he had no use for internet access.  So instead of heading to his local watering hole, he savored his morning coffee in his very own Moorish Kiosk on the grounds of Linderhof Palace.

Moroccan House at Linderhof

Moroccan House at Linderhof

The structure was built for the International Exhibition in Vienna in Paris in 1867.  Ludwig wanted to buy it, but a railroad mogul beat him to the punch.  He had to wait until a little later, when the railroad went bankrupt. The interior is otherworldly, lit mostly by sunlight streaming through stained glass.

Moroccan House Interior

Moroccan House Interior

The most distinctive feature is the Peacock Throne.  Unfortunately, tourists are only allowed to peer into the doorway, so it’s hard to say whether the throne was built for comfort.

Ludwig was always dressed impeccably for any occasion.  History does not record what he wore for his jaunts to his favorite morning coffee spot, but I can use my imagination.

Join me next time for further exploration into quirky corners in the art and history of Europe!