Poor King Ludwig II. Some children are just not meant to reign.
In 1863, when America was smack-dab in the middle of our Civil War, an 18-year-old boy found himself weighed down with the crown of Bavaria. Given a choice, Ludwig would have spent his days in the theater, surrounded by artists and musicians of every stripe. He wanted what was lovely—and certainly didn’t want to bother with court intrigue. He was handsome and creative and his people loved him.
Perhaps that’s why he got away with spending so much money on the four castles he built—at least at first. He ran through the royal treasury like the Valkyries raging through Wagner’s opera and found himself in debt by the millions. But that didn’t stop Ludwig: He made even more plans for even more castles, and avoided those nasty cabinet ministers who wanted to pull him back to the realities of a country that had been through its own war. They resented his spendthrift ways, and labeled him “mad”—the first step in taking away his crown.
But Ludwig had a new toy: In 1886, he moved into his dream home. Ridiculously ornate, this cake-topper castle was inspired by all things over-the-top. Versailles. Wagner. The fantasies of a lonely young boy forced to be king.
And only six weeks after he moved in, his uncle Liutpold sent a force to abduct him, which included a psychiatrist, Dr. Gudden, who declared him insane, and therefore unfit to rule.
The next morning, both Dr. Gudden and Ludwig, himself, were found dead in a lake near the sanitarium where he’d been taken. Every Bavarian has a theory as to what really happened that day, but Ludwig’s body is sealed in a crypt in Munich, and we will never know the real truth.
Within days of death, the state had taken over the castle and opened it for tours. This massive, glorious, gaudy castle was a home for six weeks, and six weeks only. Neither Ludwig nor anyone else has had a chance to be its ghost.
If you want to see Neuschwanstein, you don’t have to go to Bavaria: Just head to your nearest Disney theme park to see Cinderella’s Castle, which was modeled on Ludwig’s dream.