Neuschwanstein’s construction started in 1869 and would last for many years. Ludwig II of Bavaria, the fairy tale king, had given orders to build the castle as a retreat for himself, but he died in 1886, only two years after he had begun using the then still unfinished castle. One reason for the long building time was that Ludwig had paid all expenses out of his own pocket as he intended Neuschwanstein to become a very personal recluse, reminiscent of the composer Richard Wagner and his works, who he greatly admired. However, after the costs had initially been estimated with some 3.2 million mark, they had quickly risen beyond 5 million and Ludwig had been forced to borrow more and more funds. Up to 300 workers could be seen daily at the construction site, sometimes even working at night to meet the king’s expectations. His growing debts led to his degradation by the Bavarian government and when a government commission arrived at Neuschwanstein to inform Ludwig, he sent them back to Munich without hearing them. Two days later, Ludwig died under somewhat suspicious circumstances, reportedly by drowning in a Bavarian lake, the Starnberger See. Shortly after his death, the castle was opened to the public in order to pay off the debt by means of the admission fees.
Those admission fees, of course, have risen considerably over the years and today stand at € 12, kids and youths get in for free. If you travel on your own, please note tickets are not sold at the castle itself but in a ticket center in Hohenschwangau, the village at the foot of Neuschwanstein. This village is also the place to park your car. Admission gets you access to a guided tour, which are available in English by a live guide and in several other languages by taped audio guide. Tours are about thirty minutes and are the only possibility to see the interior of the castle. Try to avoid the months of June, July and August when Neuschwanstein sees several thousand visitors a day.
On the tour, visitors will see the gatehouse and the castle’s courtyard with its amazing view onto the Alps, but will also be treated to a glimpse of the interior, where only 15 of the originally planned 200 rooms were ultimately finished. Those rooms however serve to demonstrate how Ludwig intended his retreat to be both luxurious and state-of-the-art. For example, the castle had automatically flushing toilets, which was a very new innovation in the time Neuschwanstein was constructed. In the impressive Throne Hall, as well as in the king’s private area, Ludwig’s fascination for Richard Wagner’s operas is reflected. The Hall of the Singers, for example, is decorated with themes from Lohengrin and Parzival.
Neuschwanstein is today run by a special department of the Bavarian state government. Back in the Third Reich, it had temporarily served as a depot for artwork the Nazis had taken from the occupied areas of France and when the Nazi defeat in the war drew near, there were plans to fully destroy the castle in order to prevent this wealth to fall to the enemies. However, the castle survived the war without a scratch and was ultimately given back to Bavaria by the Allied Forces.