Today is the birthday (1845) of Ludwig II, king of Bavaria from 1864 until his death in 1885. He is sometimes called the Swan King or the Fairy Tale King. He also held the titles of Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, Duke of Franconia, and Duke of Swabia.
He was born in Nymphenburg Palace (today located in suburban Munich), the elder son of Maximilian II of Bavaria (then Bavarian Crown Prince) of the House of Wittelsbach, and his wife Princess Marie of Prussia. His parents intended to name him Otto, but his grandfather, Ludwig I of Bavaria, insisted that his grandson was named after him, since their common birthday, 25 August, is the feast day of Saint Louis IX of France, patron saint of Bavaria. Ludwig was not close to either of his parents. King Maximilian’s advisers had suggested that on his daily walks he might like, at times, to be accompanied by his future successor. The King replied, “But what am I to say to him? After all, my son takes no interest in what other people tell him.” Later, Ludwig would refer to his mother as “my predecessor’s consort”. He was far closer to his grandfather, the deposed and notorious King Ludwig I, who came from a family of eccentrics.
Crown Prince Ludwig had just turned 18 when his father died after a three-day illness, and he ascended the Bavarian throne. Although he was not prepared for high office, his youth and brooding good looks made him popular in Bavaria and elsewhere. He continued the state policies of his father and retained his ministers. His real interests were in art, music, and architecture. One of the first acts of his reign, a few months after his accession, was to summon Richard Wagner to his court. Also in 1864, he laid the foundation stone of a new Court Theatre, now the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz (Gärtnerplatz-Theater).
Ludwig was notably eccentric in ways that made serving as Bavaria’s head of state problematic. He disliked large public functions and avoided formal social events whenever possible, preferring a life of seclusion that he pursued with various creative projects. He last inspected a military parade on 22 August 1875 and last gave a Court banquet on 10 February 1876. He avoided Munich and participating in the government there at all costs, which caused considerable tension with his government ministers, but did not cost him popularity among the citizens of Bavaria. The king enjoyed traveling in the Bavarian countryside and chatting with farmers and laborers he met along the way. He also delighted in rewarding those who were hospitable to him during his travels with lavish gifts. He is still remembered in Bavaria as “Unser Kini” (“our cherished king” in the Bavarian dialect).
Relations with Prussia took center stage from 1866. In the Austro-Prussian War, which began in July, Ludwig supported Austria against Prussia. Austria and Bavaria were defeated; and Bavaria was forced to sign a mutual defense treaty with Prussia which effectively left Bavaria under Prussian control.
When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, Bavaria was required to fight alongside Prussia. After the Prussian victory over France, Bismarck moved to complete the Unification of Germany. In November 1870, Bavaria joined the North German Confederation. In December 1870, Bismarck by certain financial concessions induced Ludwig to write the so-called Kaiserbrief, a letter endorsing the creation of the German Empire. The Empire was established a few days later, and its crown was awarded to Ludwig’s uncle, King Wilhelm I of Prussia.
Ludwig never married, nor had any known mistresses. It is known from his diary (begun in the 1860s), private letters, and other surviving personal documents, that he had strong homosexual desires. He struggled all his life to suppress his sexual desires and remain true to his Roman Catholic faith. While homosexuality had not been punishable in Bavaria since 1813, the Unification of Germany in 1871 under Prussian hegemony changed this. Throughout his reign, Ludwig had a succession of close friendships with men, including his chief equerry and Master of the Horse, Richard Hornig (1843–1911), Hungarian theater actor Josef Kainz, and courtier Alfons Weber (born c.1862).
After 1871, Ludwig largely withdrew from politics, and devoted himself to his personal creative projects, most famously his castles, where he personally approved every detail of the architecture, decoration, and furnishing. Ludwig was intensely interested in the operas of Richard Wagner. This interest began when Ludwig first saw Lohengrin at the age of 15, followed by Tannhäuser ten months later. Wagner’s operas appealed to the king’s sense of Romantic fantasy.
Wagner had a notorious reputation as a political radical and philanderer, and was constantly on the run from creditors. But on 4 May 1864, the 51-year-old Wagner was given an unprecedented 1¾ hour audience with Ludwig in the Royal Palace in Munich; later the composer wrote of his first meeting with Ludwig, “Alas, he is so handsome and wise, soulful and lovely, that I fear that his life must melt away in this vulgar world like a fleeting dream of the gods.” Ludwig was probably the savior of Wagner’s career. Without Ludwig, it is doubtful that Wagner’s later operas would have been composed, much less premiered at the prestigious Munich Royal Court Theatre (now the Bavarian State Opera). Ludwig provided a residence for Wagner in Switzerland and Wagner completed Die Meistersinger there and premiered in Munich in 1868. When Wagner returned to his “Ring Cycle”, Ludwig demanded special previews of the first two works (Das Rheingold and Die Walküre) at Munich in 1869 and 1870.
Ludwig used his personal fortune to fund the construction of a series of elaborate castles. In 1867 he visited Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s work at Pierrefonds, and the Palace of Versailles in France, as well as the Wartburg near Eisenach in Thuringia, which largely influenced the style of his construction. In his letters, Ludwig marveled at how the French had magnificently built up and glorified their culture (architecture, art, and music) and how miserably lacking Bavaria was in comparison. It became his dream to accomplish the same for Bavaria. These projects provided employment for many hundreds of local laborers and artisans and brought a considerable flow of money to the relatively poor regions where his castles were built. Figures for the total costs between 1869 and 1886 for the building and equipping of each castle were published in 1968: Schloß Neuschwanstein 6,180,047 marks; Schloß Linderhof 8,460,937 marks (a large portion being expended on the Venus Grotto); Schloß Herrenchiemsee (from 1873) 16,579,674 marks In order to give an equivalent for the era, the British Pound sterling, being the monetary hegemon of the time, had a fixed exchange rate (based on the gold standard) at £1 = 20.43 Goldmarks.
In 1868, Ludwig commissioned the first drawings for his buildings, starting with Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee, though work on the latter did not commence until 1878. Schloss Neuschwanstein (“New Swan-on-the-Rock castle”) is a dramatic Romanesque fortress with soaring fairy-tale towers. It is situated on an Alpine crag above Ludwig’s childhood home, Castle Hohenschwangau (approximately, “High Swan Region”). Hohenschwangau was a medieval knights’ castle which his parents had purchased. Ludwig reputedly had seen the location and conceived of building a castle there while still a boy. The walls of Neuschwanstein are decorated with frescoes depicting scenes from the legends used in Wagner’s operas, including Tannhäuser, Tristan und Isolde, Lohengrin, Parsifal, and the somewhat less than mystic Die Meistersinger.
In 1878, construction was completed on Ludwig’s Schloss Linderhof, an ornate palace in neo-French Rococo style, with handsome formal gardens. The grounds contained a Venus grotto lit by electricity, where Ludwig was rowed in a boat shaped like a shell. After seeing the Bayreuth performances Ludwig built Hundinghütte (“Hunding’s Hut”, based on the stage set of the first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre) in the forest near Linderhof, complete with an artificial tree and a sword embedded in it. (In Die Walküre, Siegmund pulls the sword from the tree.) Hunding’s Hut was destroyed in 1945 but a replica was constructed at Linderhof in 1990. In 1877, Ludwig had Einsiedlei des Gurnemanz (a small hermitage, as seen in the third act of Parsifal) erected near Hunding’s Hut, with a meadow of spring flowers. In 1878, construction began on Herrenchiemsee, a partial replica of the palace at Versailles, sited on the Herreninsel in the Chiemsee. It was built as Ludwig’s tribute to Louis XIV of France, the magnificent “Sun King.” Only the central portion of the palace was built; all construction halted on Ludwig’s death. What exists of Herrenchiemsee comprises 8,366 square meters (90,050 sq ft), a “copy in miniature” compared with Versailles’ 551,112 sq ft.
The following year, Ludwig finished the construction of the royal apartment in the Residenz Palace in Munich, to which he had added an opulent conservatory or winter garden on the palace roof. It was started in 1867 as quite a small structure, but after extensions in 1868 and 1871, the dimensions reached 69.5mx17.2mx9.5m high. It featured an ornamental lake complete with skiff, a painted panorama of the Himalayas as a backdrop, an Indian fisher-hut of bamboo, a Moorish kiosk, and an exotic tent. The roof was a technically advanced metal and glass construction. The winter garden was closed in June 1886, partly dismantled the following year and demolished in 1897.
Although the king had paid for his pet projects out of his own funds and not the state coffers, that did not necessarily spare Bavaria from financial fallout. By 1885, the king was 14 million marks in debt, had borrowed heavily from his family, and rather than economizing, as his financial ministers advised him, he planned further opulent designs without pause. He demanded that loans be sought from all of Europe’s royalty, and remained aloof from matters of state. Feeling harassed and irritated by his ministers, he considered dismissing the entire cabinet and replacing them with fresh faces. The cabinet decided to act first.
Seeking a cause to depose Ludwig by constitutional means, the rebelling ministers decided on the rationale that he was mentally ill, and unable to rule. They asked Ludwig’s uncle, Prince Luitpold, to step into the royal vacancy once Ludwig was deposed. Luitpold agreed, on condition the conspirators produced reliable proof that the king was in fact helplessly insane. Between January and March 1886, the conspirators assembled the Ärztliches Gutachten or Medical Report, on Ludwig’s fitness to rule. Most of the details in the report were compiled by Count von Holnstein, who was disillusioned with Ludwig and actively sought his downfall. Holnstein used bribery and his high rank to extract a long list of complaints, accounts, and gossip about Ludwig from among the king’s servants. The litany of supposed bizarre behavior included his pathological shyness, his avoidance of state business, his complex and expensive flights of fancy, dining out of doors in cold weather and wearing heavy overcoats in summer, sloppy and childish table manners; dispatching servants on lengthy and expensive voyages to research architectural details in foreign lands; and abusive, violent threats to his servants.
In early June, the report was finalized and signed by a panel of four psychiatrists: Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, chief of the Munich Asylum; Dr. Hubert von Grashey (who was von Gudden’s son-in-law); and their colleagues, a Dr. Hagen and a Dr. Hubrich. The report declared in its final sentences that the king suffered from paranoia, and concluded, “Suffering from such a disorder, freedom of action can no longer be allowed and Your Majesty is declared incapable of ruling, which incapacity will be not only for a year’s duration, but for the length of Your Majesty’s life.” The men had never met the king except von Gudden (once, twelve years earlier), and none had ever examined him. Questions about the lack of medical “diagnosis” make the legality of the deposition controversial. Adding to the controversy are the mysterious circumstances under which he died. King Ludwig and the doctor assigned to him in captivity at Berg Castle on Lake Starnberg were both found dead in the lake in waist-high water, the doctor with unexplained injuries to the head and shoulders, the morning after the day Ludwig was deposed. It was claimed that Ludwig had drowned even though no water was found in his lungs at the autopsy and he was a strong swimmer.
Many hold that Ludwig was murdered by his enemies while attempting to escape from Berg. One account suggests that the king was shot. The King’s personal fisherman, Jakob Lidl (1864–1933), stated, “Three years after the king’s death I was made to swear an oath that I would never say certain things — not to my wife, not on my deathbed, and not to any priest … The state has undertaken to look after my family if anything should happen to me in either peacetime or war.” Lidl kept his oath, at least orally, but left behind notes which were found after his death. According to Lidl, he had hidden behind bushes with his boat, waiting to meet the king, in order to row him out into the lake, where loyalists were waiting to help him escape. “As the king stepped up to his boat and put one foot in it, a shot rang out from the bank, apparently killing him on the spot, for the king fell across the bow of the boat.” However, the autopsy report indicates no scars or wounds found on the body of the dead king; on the other hand, many years later Countess Josephine von Wrba-Kaunitz would show her afternoon tea guests a grey Loden coat with two bullet holes in the back, asserting it was the one Ludwig was wearing.
Today visitors pay tribute to King Ludwig by visiting his grave as well as his castles. Ironically, the very castles which were said to be causing the king’s financial ruin have today become extremely profitable tourist attractions for the Bavarian state. The palaces, given to Bavaria by Ludwig III’s son Crown Prince Rupprecht in 1923,have paid for themselves many times over and attract millions of tourists from all over the world to Germany each year.
Bavarian cuisine is of rural origin, and is one of the main components of what is now thought of as German cooking, with an emphasis on meat, sausage and various Knödel (dumpling) dishes. The Bavarian nobility, especially the Wittelsbach family, developed Bavarian cuisine and refined it, via French cuisine to be presentable to the royal court. The older Bavarian cuisine is closely connected to Czech and Austrian cuisines (especially from Tyrol and Salzburg), mainly through the Wittelsbach and Habsburg families.
Bavarian cream is a mainstay of European desserts. It can be molded by itself or used as a filling for cakes, pies and pastries. It is commonly flavored with vanilla but chocolate and fruit flavors may also be added
1 vanilla bean
1¼ cups heavy cream
1 tbsp powdered gelatin
3 tbsp milk
¼ cup sugar
5 egg yolks
1 ¼ cups whipped cream
Put the split vanilla bean in cream and slowly bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let sit for 1 hour.
Remove the bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the cream and discard the pod. Sprinkle the gelatin on to the milk and set aside.
Whisk the sugar and egg yolks together. Warm the cream mixture back up and slowly whisk into eggs. Place the mixture in a bowl over simmering water and stir until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and add the milk and gelatin mixture.
Place the bowl in an ice bath and stir until at room temperature.
Fold in the whipped cream and mold, or else leave in the bowl if using it for fillings. Place in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 hours or until mixture is set.