We spent our Honeymoon driving through Switzerland and Germany in July of 1999. On Monday, July 26, after leaving Munich (München), we drove south to the small Bavarian town of Oberammergau (town map). The town of about 5,000 people is in a valley next to a small meandering river called the Ammer. I had once visited this town back in 1989 with a friend of mine, so I was a little familiar with it. After driving into the town, we checked into the Hotel Böld on König Ludwig Straße (King Ludwig street). We had a great room with a balcony overlooking the Ammer River and the Bavarian countryside.
If you look at the picture at left you can see Debbie waving from the balcony outside of our room on the 3rd floor. We had a pleasent room decorated in local designs. We had a balcony that overlooked the Ammer River. Again, you can see the German custom of growing flowers everywhere. In the left of the photo you see a banner with a circle of gold stars. That's the flag of the European Union (established in 1993) of which Germany is a member. At night, when we we were having dinner in the hotel's restaurant outside on the patio, we heard cow bells. As we ate, we watched local farmers walking their cows (a number of them) along the street in front of us. The cars all politely pull over and let them pass. It's a sight you don't see in Bayonne.
Oberammergau is famous for the frescoes painted on the walls of the houses. Some have Bavarian pictures, but most have religious themes. Franz Seraph Zwinck (1748-1792), the "inventor" of the Italian-influenced fresco technique known as "Lüftlmalerei" (house wall painting), lived and worked here in the 18th century. Zwinck decorated a great many beautiful facades in Oberammergau and its area. The most prominent of them would be the "Forsthaus" (Forest House), the "Mußldomahaus" and the "Pilatushaus" (Pontius Pilate House). Also there are two very nice houses located at the entrance of Oberammergau, the "Hänsel und Gretelhaus" (pictured on left - I didn't take this picture - I meant to everytime I drove past it, but somehow forgot ).
Everything you see on the walls on the building in the photo (on right) from pictures to the draped curtains to the fancy framing around the windows is painted on. This scene has a Bavarian theme to it. There is a band on the left side of the building (closeup at left) with a man and women dancing. The drum has the Bavarian colors on it. In the center of the building there is a bunch of guys sitting around a table having a drink. You can see the blue and white checkered Bavarian flag in the center (pictured left). On the right is a women roasting a chicken (or some bird) on a spit next to a dog and donkey. On top, between the upper windows appears to be plaques on the walls, but they are painted on also. The only things real are the windows. The paintings are not easy to do. Watercolors are painted onto the fresh plaster. You have to work fast before the plaster dries. However, it gives the town a very distinct character.
This store (at right) is painted with scenes from Christ's crucifixion (there is that tourist from Bayonne leaning on the lamp post). This is not surprising when you consider that the Passion Play is held in Oberammergau every ten years. In 1633, in the middle of the Thirty Years War, after months of suffering and death from the plague, the surviving Oberammergauers swore an oath that they would perform the "Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ" every ten years. On Pentecost Sunday in 1634, they fulfilled their pledge for the first time on a stage they erected in the cemetery above the fresh graves of the plague victims. In the year 2000, the town of Oberammergau had performed the play for the 40th time. Passion Plays were very popular in cities throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. However, they were banned in many cities in the 16th century. Oberammergau was the only place were the tradition lived on. Local people play the rolls. In the months leading up to a play, many of the villagers start growing their beards in preparation for the play. The hundreds of actors, children as well as adults, receive no pay for their time and devotion to the exhausting performances (seven hours a day, five days a week from May until October). They recently built a new 4,800 seat theater in the town with the world's largest open-air stage. Despite this, tickets for the performances are very hard to get.
Here are some more street scenes from around Oberammergau. It was a lot different staying here then in the last number of cities we were in. The pace is a lot slower and the town in a lot quieter. The picture on the left is Dorf Platz. The Lang Sel. Erben building has cactuses on the balcony. In the background you can see Kofel Mountain (4,400 ft.).
Strolling around Oberammergau's maze of cobbled streets is pleasant. The Catholic parish church, built in 1749, has an interesting dome (pictured at left). We strolled through the churchyard looking at some of the graves.
They have a lot of great shops here. The Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store was very busy. We bought a number of ornaments, wooden hand-carved nutcrackers and our own Christmas carousel (photo right). The candles cause the wheel at the top of the carousel to spin, turning the figures (like the Three Wise Men and shepards with their sheep) on the four levels below. I bought one in the same store back in 1989 for my mother and now Debbie and I had one for our house.
We also visited a wood carvers store. Oberammergau is famous for it's wood carvers. They have a number of them in Oberammergau (a town advertisement says they have 120 wood carvers). The roots of Oberammergau's wood carvings go back to the Middle Ages. A manuscript dated to the year 1111 first mentioned monks who brought "…the Ammergau art of carving small household goods out of wood..." to the area of Berchtesgaden.
We bought a nativity manager, all hand carved. The owner, Edgar Schwer, was doing his wood carving in the store while we were looking around.
After our two day stay in Oberammergau, we left. We drove through Austria, stopping in Innsbruck before arriving at our next stop, Lindau im Bodensee.
On July 27 and 28, we visited the royal castles in Bavaria near Oberammergau. One is a castle and the other is a small palace. As European castles go, they are quite modern, both being built in the latter part of the 19th century. They were both built for King Ludwig II of Bavaria (a.k.a. Mad King Ludwig).
The first one we visited was Neuschwanstein Castle (pictured left) in the town of Hohenschwangau. This was a longer drive from Oberammergau. We had to drive though Austria to get there. The scenery in the Alps was very impressive. We eventually made it to the city of Füssen and from there to Hohenschwangau.
This is King Ludwig's magnificent and most famous castle, built in the neo-late romanesque style. With its turrets and mock-medievalism, its interior styles ranging from Byzantine through Romanesque to Gothic. It's a real fairy-tale fantasy come true. The castle was the inspiration for Walt Disney's Cinderella's Castle in Disneyland. The castle is built up in the mountains (which made construction very difficult). You have to hike up the road to the castle which will take about a half-hour or take one of the horse drawn wagons. They give tours through the castle.
In 1866, Bavaria became subjugated by Prussia. So, King Ludwig II was no longer a sovereign ruler and became a king in name only. To compensate for this, he began planning his own kingdom, in the form of castles and palaces, where he could be a real king if only in his imagination (which he had plenty of).
Schloß Neuschwanstein is Germany's most-visited and most-photographed building ("Schloß" or "Schloss" is the German word for castle). It is well known throughout the world from magazine ads to TV commercials. On any given day, they get around 12,000 visitors and around 1.3 million per year. Tours are given in German, English and French.
They started construction of Neuschwanstein castle in 1869. The castle was never fully completed but King Ludwig II moved in in 1884. It was very difficult to build especially when you consider the mountain terrain it is situated in. Ludwig wanted the castle to be a monument to Richard Wagner and his operas, "in the true style of the old German knights." Ludwig II didn't live here very long, only 172 days. The Bavarian Government declared him insane and he was arrested in the bedroom of his castle (after bankrupting the government building the castle, he wanted to build more - no one wonder he was declared insane).
The tour takes you through the many rooms in the castle (you actually go into 15 of the rooms). Ludwig meant the castle to be a retreat place for him. A place he could lose himself in Medieval legends. The tour starts in the servants rooms and move into the Lower Hall. The Lower Hall is decorated with scenes from Wagner's opera, "Ring des Nibelungen". From there you enter the Throne Room, which resembles a Byzantine church. Ludwig wanted it based on "St. Sophia in Constantinople" (Hagia Sophia in Istanbul). The actual throne was never built. The balcony has incredible views of the lake among the Alps.
You next go into the king's private rooms. The first is the Dining Room. Ludwig liked to eat alone. He didn't even like the servants being around. The food was sent up through a small elevator from the kitchen, three floors below. Next is Ludwig's bedroom (picture at right). This is the only Gothic room in the place. His bed is incredible. It took 14 men around four years to carve the bed and other decorations in the room. Ludwig sure knew how to sleep in style.
You pass through some other rooms before you come to the Grotto. This very unusual room is designed to look like a cave. He even had a small waterfall installed. On the fourth floor, there is the largest room in the castle, the Singers' Hall. This hall was built so Ludwig could listen to Wagner's operas (though he never actually got to do this.) The legend of the Holy Grail is predominate in the artwork in the Singer's Hall. The story of the Grail King Parsival, the father of Lohengrin, begins in the Tribune Passage from the Upper Hall and is the theme of the Singers' Hall itself. This legend revolves around the Holy Grail – the vessel which was used at the Last Supper and in which the blood of the crucified Jesus Christ was collected. The Grail, an object of veneration, was allegedly kept in Montsalvat Castle. After many adventures and wanderings Parsival became Grail King and was thus entrusted with the task of protecting it. On the left is a picture of a wall painting of Parsival in the Singers' Hall. This theme is throughout the hall. From there you go down spiral staircases to the Kitchen on the ground floor. It is preserved exactly as it was in Ludwig's days. This is the end of the tour inside the castle, though you can still walk around the grounds outside of the castle.
There are a number of trails through the mountains around the castle. There is a path that takes you around the castle. A steel bridge, called the Marienbrücke (Marie's Bridge), takes you over Pollät Gorge. The picture of us here was taken from the bridge. My advice, don't look down, the gorge is 295 feet below the bridge. After crossing the bridge, the path takes you up into the mountains. There is a great view of the castle from the top, though Debbie and I didn't hike up it (it would take a couple of hours for the roundtrip walk). We did hike back down to the bottom, where we went to lunch. Hohenschwangau has a number of great places to eat. Just be careful to read the menu and know exactly what you are ordering.
King Ludwig II
Prince Ludwig (Louis) was born on August 25, 1845 in Nymphenburg Castle in Munich (München) as a member of the Wittelsbach dynasty. Ludwig, and his brother Otto, had a strict upbringing. They barely knew their parents, Crown Prince Maximilian II of Bavaria and Marie of Prussia. His grandfather was King Ludwig I of Bavaria who was forced to abdicate in 1848 (when Ludwig was two), after a scandal involving an affair with an actress.
On March 10, 1864, after the death of his father, Ludwig, "The Swan King", became King of Bavaria at the age of 18. Two years later, the Kingdom of Prussia, under Otto von Bismarck, conquered Austria and Bavaria in the "Austro-Prussian War" of 1866. From then on, Bavarian's foreign policy was dictated by Prussia and the Bavarian king became only a "vassal" of the Prussian Emperor (who was also his uncle).
After this, Ludwig lost all interest in politics and became increasingly eccentric. He built three castles, Linderhof, Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee (all at incredible cost to the Bavarian government). He lived a life of fantasy and seclusion, immersing himself in theater and music, especially the operas of Richard Wagner.
In 1886, the Bavarian government declared Ludwig insane and he was arrested and imprisoned in Berg Castle near Mu nich. Three days later, on June 3, he drowned in Lake Starnberg near the castle at the age of 41 under mysterious circumstances. He is buried in the royal tomb in St. Michael's Church in Munich.
Today, Ludwig is a beloved national hero of Bavaria. You can find his picture on everything from flags to beer steins.
The next day, we visited Schloß Linderhof. It was a lot closer to Oberammergau then Neuschwanstein. This was Ludwig's favorite castle and the only person that ever got invited there was Richard Wagner. As it turned out Wagner never took up the offer to go to Linderhof.
The castle was built for King Ludwig. It was built deep in the forest in one of the valleys of the Ammergau Alps. The Bavarian royalty reserved this area as a private hunting ground. King Maximilian II (Ludwig's father) had a small wooden hunting lodge here. After Ludwig II became king, he decided to have his own modest villa built here (as if there was anything modest about Ludwig).
Construction started in 1869 and wasn't finished until 1879. It was the only one of Ludwig's three castles that was completed. It's style is a mixture of Renaissance and baroque. It was built inside to resemble a small Versailles Palace (Ludwig admired King Louis XIV of France). There is even a small Hall of Mirrors with a one-ton crystal chandelier.
There is a 20-minute tour of the palace. It is full of artwork and painted ceilings. The Dining Room is very unique. The "magic" table can be lowered into the kitchen below and completely set, then raised back into the Dinning Room. This way Ludwig would never have to see his servants. His bedroom looks like a palace throne room (pictured on left - this is not my picture - you are not allowed to take photos inside). The blue-canopied bed is 8.5 feet long and a little over eight feet wide. The walls are done in gold guild and there is a gigantic crystal chandelier. Around the bed is a large gold railing (who knows what Ludwig wanted it for). I could see myself waking up here every morning.
The grounds around Linderhof have terraced gardens with many fountains. There are English, French and Italian gardens. In the center of the pool in front of Linderhof there is a large guided statue with fountain that shoots water high into the sky. This is next to the 1.5 million square foot English Garden.
On the grounds near the castle, there is a man-made underground Grotto, built especially for Ludwig as a personal theater. The idea was that he could float in a golden shell-shaped boat while listening to Wagner's operas. Unfortunately, it had terrible acoustics so there were never any performances held there. Still, Ludwig liked to be rowed out into the middle of the grotto. The lighting would be switched to all red so Ludwig could imagine he was in the mountain cave of Venus. It's all quite impressive.