Tag Archives: Munich Residenz

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!

And for Royal Backyard Barbecues…

Actually, I’m making that up.  My second-favorite crown is this one, from about the same era as the crown in my last post.  This one is more modest–and looks easier to wear.  Perhaps it was made for a young princess.  Or perhaps a well-dressed queen needed a whole wardrobe of crowns, for both formal and casual occasions.


This crown looks to be from the same era as my all-time favorite, but when I took a picture of it I broke my own rule of always taking a picture of the caption. Both of these crowns are in the Munich Residenz Treasury, or Schatzkammer.  I always think I will remember details, but it doesn’t always happen.  For this crown, I’ll just have to say that it’s very old, very beautiful, and it beckons my imagination back into medieval times.  I’m sure those times are much more pleasant to imagine than they ever were to live through, even for royalty.

Like many museums, the Munich Residenz has a lively interactive children’s program where kids can dress up in historic finery.


Maybe museums should also have an interactive adults’ programs, for dreamers like me.  I’d be first in line to try on the silks, satins and jewels of days long gone!

My Favorite Crown

What is the oldest surviving English crown doing in the Treasury of the Munich Residenz, home of the Wittelsbach dynasty for centuries? Apparently even the experts are not exactly sure of the sequence of events. But there it is, one of the most beautiful and evocative objects I’ve ever seen.


Most crowns considered important enough to be preserved are masculine-looking, as we’d expect in an overwhelmingly patriarchal world. Some of them have a unisex look, suitable for a king or queen, as needed. This crown, known as the “Bohemian” crown, is delicately feminine. It’s made of pure gold, of course. It is enameled and studded with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds and pearls. It looks lovingly handmade, as no doubt it was. It is quite tall, as crowns and tiaras go: about 7 inches. What I find unique is the airy, open design–not an easy feat to pull off with the many huge gems it holds. The wearer would automatically assume a regal posture, I would think, just in order to live up to this gorgeous object.

The crown was made around 1370-80. It was recorded in a list of jewels in England in 1399. Curators believe it belonged originally to either King Edward II or Anne of Bohemia. Anne was married to King RIchard II. But along came his dashing cousin, Henry IV, star of the Shakespeare history plays. He deposed Richard. Eventually, in 1402, Henry’s daughter Blanche married Ludwig III, an Elector–more or less an elected king in what is now Germany. The crown was part of her dowry, so it ended up in the Treasury of the Wittelsbachs.

The museum’s own write-up about this crown is at http://www.residenz-muenchen.de/englisch/treasury/pic11.htm

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

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!