Tag Archives: Linderhof

A Lion for Luck

The Munich Residenz, home of the Wittelsbach dukes and kings, is guarded by bronze lions.  Locals and tourists alike stop to touch one or more of them for luck. (There are a total of four). Actually, tourists make a big production of touching the lions, pausing to take pictures.  Locals just casually brush the lions with their fingers as they pass, often without even looking at them.


Why are these particular lions considered lucky?  One story goes that the tradition started when a young student protested the behavior of King Ludwig I and got away with it. Ludwig I was the grandfather of “Mad King Ludwig II,” builder of the fairy-tale castles Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee.  Starting in the 1830s, Ludwig I’s subjects grew restive, like other people in Europe at the time.  They demanded reforms.  Ludwig I was not an astute politician–in the past, kings did not need to be.

However, Ludwig I was a great womanizer.  That would not have been so bad, but one of his mistresses was the beautiful dancer and actress Lola Montez, who was not exactly discreet.  She used her influence with the king to press for liberal reforms, then pressed for severe repression when rebellions started getting out of hand. Lola Montez was only her stage name; she was born Eliza Gilbert in Ireland.  In defiance of popular opinion, the married Ludwig I went everywhere with her in public, made her a countess, and gave her an independent income.  This situation went on for a little more than a year.

Lola Montez, public domain

Lola Montez, public domain

The story goes that a young student was so incensed by the king’s flagrant behavior that he wrote a complaint and nailed it to the main door of the Residenz.  (Did he get the idea from Martin Luther?)  When the offending document was found, the king demanded that “the writers” be found. Apparently the king believed the dastardly deed required more than one offender, and he put out the word to arrest all the usual suspects.  The student promptly wrote another document claiming sole responsibility–and signing his name.  He nailed that one to the door, too. When he was hauled before the king, Ludwig I had to admire the student’s nerve and style.  So the student was let go.  On his way out of the Residenz, he gave one of the guarding lions a pat, and ever since, people have touched one or the other of the lions for luck.

King Ludwig I of Bavaria, public domain

King Ludwig I of Bavaria, public domain

It’s an amusing story, but Ludwig I’s own luck as a king ran out.  In late 1847, there were widespread student rebellions.  Lola Montez persuaded the king to close the university. Soon he was forced to not only reopen the university, but to abdicate in favor of his son Maximilian II.  Lola Montez fled Bavaria.  She eventually ended up in America, where she had a successful career as actress, erotic dancer, and lecturer.   Ludwig I may have had the last laugh, though. He lived on for another 20 years, pursuing his interests in women and the arts, free of the bothersome business of governing.

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

Linderhof: “Mad” King Ludwig’s Real Home

Last fall 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.

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!