The hill that would hold up Neuschwanstein Castle, seen around 1860. The ruins of two medieval-era castles, Vorderhohenschwangau and Hinterhohenschwangau are visible among the trees. Shortly after Ludwig II came to power in 1864, he made plans to build a new, grand castle in this location, replacing the smaller. older ruins.
A hundred twenty-five years ago, Bavaria’s “Maerchenkoenig” (or “Fairy-tale King”) Ludwig II died under very mysterious circumstances at the age of 40, his body found floating in Lake Starnberg, south of Munich. Today, Ludwig remains famous for the castles he built and attempted to build, most notably Neuschwanstein Castle, perched high in the Alpine foothills. The king was a romantic, a friend and suporter of composer Richard Wagner, and he hired theatrical set designers rather than architects to design his castles. More absorbed in his personal world than state affairs, Ludwig spent most of his time on his own projects — emptying his personal coffers — and left his ministers frustrated by his inattention. When his cabinet accused him of insanity, he was placed in custody after a brief showdown at Neuschwanstein Castle, and was taken to a castle next to Lake Starnberg. The following day, while out for a walk, Ludwig disappeared, his lifeless body discovered hours later. The death was declared a suicide, but many have rejected that ruling, and the demise of this popular king remains a mystery to this day.