Castles & Coasters

The bright Bavarian sunshine beckoned us to explore more of the countryside on August 4th, 5th & 6th.

We had so much fun riding the free chairlifts to the top of the mountain the day before we decided to see what other sites and activities the Oberstaufen Plus Card were offering.  Just a couple of miles east of Oberstaufen was an activity center that included the Huendle Alpine Coaster! Ooh! That certainly sounded like a whole lot of fun. We decided we definitely wanted to give that a try. Plus, there was a castle we wanted to visit further east near the town of Fussen.

map oberstaufen to Fussen

We started following the road in an easterly direction, and the first place we encountered was the Huendle Activity Park. This park offered all kinds of fun activities families could participate in together, including adventure hiking trails, a summer toboggan run called an alpine coaster, a small petting zoo, a miniature golf course, and a children’s playground (which included electric cars and bungee trampolines). There were plenty of restaurants where you could get a bite to eat and something to drink. There were terraces where you could sit and relax while you soaked in the gorgeous scenery while watching the kids having a ton of fun.

 

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The feature that intrigued us the most was the alpine coaster! Our card allowed us to ride it for free, once every hour.  So the first thing we did was ride it straight away! It is about 1/2 mile long, and the toboggans glide through 16 curves and 2 jumps. There are two handbrakes on each side of the coaster you can employ to determine how fast (or slow) you want to go.  It was so much fun! 

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We had to wait for a whole hour until we could ride the alpine coaster a second time, so to pass the time, we walked up the hill to visit the small animals and pet the cute rabbits and goats.

 

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Next, we played a round of miniature golf and watched other kids go racing by on the coaster. The required hour’s wait was over, so we rode one more time. It was great fun to spend time in this activity park.  

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the resort doing laundry since we had been traveling for a week straight and had run out of clean clothes to wear.  We also relaxed and rested because the following day, we had another big adventure planned.

Morning arrived and as before the weather was stupendous; sunny & bright & the air was so fresh!  We could hear the local cow wandering the hillside near our apartment upon waking. The clinking and ringing of their bells as they graze is never-ending. It was kind of charming at first, but as the days wore on, we were getting just a bit tired of the constant dinging of the bells, especially early in the morning!

After breakfast, we packed a picnic lunch and then started driving east about 30 miles toward the town of Fussen to visit another major attraction – the famous Neuschwanstein Castle.

When we arrived, Errin dropped me off at the ticket office to get a place in the long line while she found a place to park the car.  They only offer guided tours, and you have to choose a specific time slot when your designated tour will be. I wanted one of the last remaining opportunities that were still available for that day later in the afternoon. Before heading up the mountain to the castle, we had some spare time to wander around the village a bit.

We wandered in an easterly direction as far as we could until we found the shoreline of Alpsee Lake and its strikingly beautiful crystal clear water.

 

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Several visitors were even swimming and boating. It surprised me how remarkably warm the water was. I guess I expected more icy water.IMG_0328

After that refreshing break on the shore, we started wandering back the way we had come. The big and beautiful building nearest the edge of the lake served for many years as a Grand Hotel  called “Alpenrose.” For several years, it lay dormant until the historic building was eventually converted into the Museum of the Bavarian Kings.

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We didn’t have enough time to tour the museum, unfortunately. We continued walking around the village, however, enjoying its unique and colorful architectural features. 

 

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Besides the castle high up the mountain that we bought tour tickets for, there is a second smaller castle sitting directly above the village that you can also tour. It’s called Hohenschwangau Castle (left) and dates from the 12th century when it was home to the Knights of Schwangau.

Over the centuries, the castle was severely damaged. King Maximilian II bought the ruinous castle in 1832 and rebuilt and expanded it as a summer residence. His son, King Ludwig II, spent most of his childhood in it.

After the death of his father, Ludwig redesigned the royal rooms in a new Gothic style. The Royal apartments, gardens, and the kitchen of the castle have been preserved. We didn’t have enough time to tour that either. We noticed it was time for us to catch a trolley or a coach bus to take us up the mountain to the much bigger castle nestled high on a mountain crag that we specifically came to see – Neuschwanstein Castle.

Back in the Middle Ages, there were actually three castles here which overlooked the villages below. One was called Schwanstein Castle but fell to ruin, and as mentioned,  Ludwig’s father bought the ruinous castle and replaced it with what is now known as Hohenschwangau Castle.

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The other two castles, Vorderhohenschwangau and Hinterhohenschwangau, sat higher up on a rugged hill crag overlooking not only Schwanstein Castle,  but also two nearby lakes (Alpsee and Schwansee), and the village. The two castles consisted of a hall, a keep, and a fortified tower house. Later, in the nineteenth century, only ruins remained of the twin medieval castles, but they served as a great lookout place known as Sylphenturm. It was on this spot that Ludwig built the new castle, Neuschwanstein.

Thank goodness for the trolleys and buses!  It would have been quite a hike where the new castle stands! We disembarked from the bus at the top of the hill. We still had to walk for quite a while following a winding path before we actually got to the castle site.IMG_0365 The walk to the castle afforded some beautiful views of both the castle and the surrounding countryside splayed out below us in the valleys.

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IMG_0379We came to a turn-off path, which leads to “Marienbrucke” (Mary’s Bridge).  This was a wooden bridge above the waterfalls that Ludwig rebuilt using iron. The line to go on the deck of the bridge was quite long, and it seemed like it took forever to actually get a turn standing on the bridge. I really wanted to get on the deck of the bridge, however, so I waited and finally got my chance.  The girls opted to remain on the sidelines. I can’t say that I blame them. It was tedious.

We did have a little entertainment; however, while we waited because a musician who played a fascinating guitar-like instrument with a hand crank called a ‘hurdy-gurdy’ played a few tunes for us. He let some kids turn the crank too.IMG_0376

There were also interpretive signs to read, which provided all the construction details about the magnificent bridge ahead.

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Boy! What a view from so high up!

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The bridge I was standing on as seen from the castle beyond. (below)

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It took us a while to get to the castle sight, but it was quite impressive as we drew nearer and could see it up close and personal. 

 

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We entered the front gate and waited in the inner courtyard for our appointed slot. Guided tours were conducted in various languages. Each guided tour was given in a specific language and only has about 20 people in each group.

Der junge König Ludwig II - [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsNeuschwanstein Castle was built by King Ludwig II (left).  According to the castles’ website, “His castles are a living stone testimony of a misanthropic dreamer and idealist. It is a 19th-century Romanesque Revival Palace. The palace was built as a retreat and in honor of Richard Wagner, a German composer. The castle was intended to be his home. He died suddenly in 1886. It was open to the public shortly after his death. Since then, more than 61 million people have visited it. More than 1 1/2 million people visit each year, with as many as 6,000 per day in the summer.”

Since Neuschwanstein welcomes so many visitors each year, it qualifies as one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe. We could undoubtedly attest to the fact!  There were thousands of people from all over the world that afternoon alone during our designated time slot. I could only imagine how many people they run through there daily. I was amazed at how many people there were just during the afternoon hours while we were there. To be quite frank, however, I didn’t enjoy that aspect of it.  I felt sort of hustled about like cattle. In all fairness, however, how would one deal with so many people at one time, I wonder?

At least the tour groups were small in size, and therefore, when we toured the castle, there weren’t too many people in a room while trying to see everything it held. Still, most of the castles I am used to visiting are not so crowded and overrun with people. This place was a zoo!

The various sections of the castle were beautifully decorated with exquisitely hand-painted murals from the opera themes of Richard Wagner particularly, the opera  Lohengrin. The design of the rooms and the painted murals pay homage to the legends of Lohengrin, the Swan Knight. One room is a theatre permanently featuring the set of one of the plays.

Many of the interior rooms remain undecorated, however. There were only 14 rooms that were actually finished before Ludwig’s untimely death. He wanted to live out his life in a place where his idea of the Middle Ages surrounded him.  His palace was intended to serve him in a kind of inhabitable theatrical setting. It took him 19 years to build it, and then he finally got to move in.

However, in the end, Ludwig lived in the palace for a total of only 172 days. He slept only 11 nights in the place.  Despite the castle’s immense size and the vast array of rooms within the castle, the only rooms that were actually finished were for Ludwig and his personal servants. He didn’t finish any of the rooms that his court would conventionally live in, as was the usual practice with Kings at the time. He didn’t have guests; he was a bit of a hermit. The king also never intended to make the palace accessible to the public. 

It was kind of strange walking through and looking at the castle interior. One could quickly and easily tell that it had not been lived in. It was too perfect, more like an elaborate movie set or a castle at Disneyland. Although it was beautiful, it felt shallow and fake – too “new.”

He built it using his own fortune, but he also incurred a huge debt as well, so less than six weeks after his death, the palace was opened to paying visitors. His estate managed to pay the debt off with the income derived from the paying public.  From then until World War I, Neuschwanstein was a very stable and lucrative source of revenue and evidently, was probably the single largest income source earned by the Bavarian royal family. I imagine that with the constant line of visitors, it still is an essential source of income!

According to Wikipedia: “It was designed as the romantic ideal of a knight’s castle. Unlike “real” castles, whose building stock is the result of centuries of building activity, Neuschwanstein was planned from the inception as an intentionally asymmetric building and erected in consecutive stages. Typical attributes of a castle were included, but real fortifications – the most crucial feature of a medieval aristocratic castle – were dispensed with.”

Unfortunately, they do not allow photography once you’re inside, so I don’t have photos to share with you. However, I found some images and descriptions online at the Library of Congress of rooms that I can share with you, which can provide a glimpse into what the interiors look like. 

Again, according to Wikipedia and what the tour guide relayed to us, “The suite of rooms within the Palace consists of the Throne Room, Ludwig’s bedroom, and the Singers’ Hall.

Singer's Hall - Library of Congress

The largest room of the palace is the Hall of the Singers. Like the Throne Hall, it served as a walkable monument in which the culture of knights and courtly love of the Middle Ages is represented. As a temple of friendship, it was also dedicated to the life and work of Richard Wagner, who died in 1883 before he had a chance to set foot in the building. The first performance in this hall took place much later in 1933. It was a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of Richard Wagner’s death.

Throne Room - Library of CongressThe Throne Hall occupies the third and fourth floors. On three sides it is surrounded by colorful arcades, with an apse at one end that was intended to hold Ludwig’s throne (which was never built). The throne dais is surrounded by paintings of Jesus, the Twelve Apostles, and six canonized kings.”

Below are other rooms I found pictures of at the Library of Congress; the Drawing Room, Study, Dining room, Bedroom, a corridor, and the Grotto.

 

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The most interesting and intriguing information about this castle for me was the fact that because of its secluded location, the palace had survived the destruction of two World Wars. Also, during the Second World War, it served as a storage locker for a hoard of Nazi plunder that was taken from France and cataloged by the Nazis. The Nazis considered blowing up the palace to prevent the castle, and the artwork it contained, from falling into the hands of the enemy, the Allied Forces. Luckily, the plan was never carried out. At the end of the war, the palace was surrendered intact to the Allied forces, and 39 photo albums were found in the palace documenting the scale of the art seizure. Miraculously, the precious pieces of artwork and statuary found their way to their homes once again.  

When the tour was over and we needed to leave, we were directed to walk down a long underground cobbled tunnel, which leads to the exit door on the hillside far below the castle. As we walked down that large winding cobblestone tunnel, I couldn’t help but imagine the Allied forces coming into this very tunnel from below and discovering the underground storage rooms filled to the brim with paintings, statuary, altarpieces, etc. that the Nazi’s had stashed there. It must have been quite a sight to behold.

We walked back down the hill through the woods to the village below following the winding pathway to the parking lot and climbed back in our car to drive back to the resort. About 5 miles before we made it back to our resort, there was one more place to check out, however – another alpine coaster that we had driven past when we were headed to the castle earlier in the day and had vowed to return to. It is called the Alpsee Bergwelt!

The Alpsee Coaster is Germany’s longest year-round toboggan run and is about 1 3/4 miles long.  This one was 3 times longer than the first coaster we had tried the day before. Oooh! This was going to be even more fun! We eagerly climbed on the chairlift and started making our ascent to the top.

 

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The views from the chairlift were outstanding, and we were afforded views of the coaster track we would be coming down on our way back! 

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IMG_0581At the top, we climbed off of the chairlift and made our way over to the activity center. Along the way, Grace couldn’t help but notice a horse grazing happily on the sweet green grass.

The queue for the alpine coaster was quite long and wound around the perimeter of the activity center filled with playground equipment for kids.

While we waited in line, we were entertained by the kids jumping on trampolines and various pieces of playground equipment. There was also a restaurant to get something to eat and drink. 

As the line slowly made its progress to the alpine coaster hut, Errin made friends with a darling little girl named Greta that was also waiting with her parents to ride the coaster.  She kept us entertained for quite a while with her funny antics and games. Luckily, her mother interpreted what she kept saying to us in German because we couldn’t understand a word she was speaking to us. She was trying to get us to do something, in particular, to play a specific game with her, but we hadn’t a clue until her mother told us what she wanted us to do. It was the equivalent of peek-a-boo with a bump of the noses!

 

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It seemed like an eternity to progress to the front of the line, but finally, we had arrived. Greta eagerly climbed into the toboggan sled with her dad ahead of us and cheerfully waved farewell to us.

 

Next, it was Grace’s turn! She was extremely excited to be on her way, zipping down the hillside at breakneck speed!IMG_0600

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IMG_0602Riding down that track was definitely a thrill and a half, and it turned out to definitely be worth the wait. Unfortunately, by the time we got back down to the bottom, we weren’t able to go back up for another turn because it was too late in the day. We were definitely hooked on alpine coasters and wanted to continue to ride them over and over again.

We did find yet another alpine coaster elsewhere, however, that we could also ride. But that’s another story about another day of our adventures… a jaunt over to Oberammergau. Stay tuned for more fun and colorful German architecture!

This concludes the adventures we had over the course of three days in early August. I still have lots of adventures to share with you. I am writing this blog post in early November. I returned home to Oregon earlier this week after spending a total of 3 1/2 months in Scotland, Germany, France, The Netherlands and I even made it over to Northern Ireland for a quick peek as well.

As I organize all of my photos and trigger my memories in the process, I will continue to write additional blog posts about each day’s adventures with you. There are so many, I might be at it for quite some time, so relax, kick back and read them as they unfurl over the course of the next few months. Until next time… Happy Trails!

 

Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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