NEH Day 2: The Fairy Tale Castle

Our second day in Munich started with a trip the the Haus Der Kunst. On the way to the museum we stumbled across the perpetual wave that Munich's surfers have been riding for years. It's bizarre to find in the middle city, but pretty cool. The Haus der Kunst was a museum built by Hitler to hold art he considered truly German. The famous "degenerate art" exhibition, the one where Hitler displayed all art that he considered symptomatic of the degenerate nature of inferior races and ideologies, was housed not far from here. Perhaps unsurprisingly most of the items Hitler considered real art have faded from history, while the degenerate art continues to be taught. (Check out Kandinsky to see the type of art Hitler hated.) In what I am discovering is typical German fashion, the Haus der Kunst continues as a museum but now it houses the type of art that Hitler despised.  It seems the Germans find as many ways as possible to demonstrate the utter defeat of the Nazis. They don't deny their past or hide it. Instead, they find ways to subvert the ideology and demonstrate their rejection of it.

After a morning in the Haus der Kunst we split up to check out items in line with our personal research. Nicole, a fellow Humanities professor, and I set off for Neuschwanstein Castle. It's approximately a two-hour train ride from Munich to a town called Fussen. The train ride alone was worth it. Winding through the Bavarian country-side, we had continual vistas of the approaching Alps. Beyond the scenery, proving that I could navigate the German train system was a bit of a personal victory. It shouldn't be. The train system is super easy and I am a middle-aged man with advanced degrees. But I'll take my victories where I can find them.

The Castle itself is a bit of an oddity. It was built in the 19th-century, with an exterior that has earned it the moniker, the Fairytale Castle. (You may find the academic types in your life using a word like simulacrum to describe places like Neuschwanstein. The idea is it is an image of a preferred past, that never really existed. Its kind of like how places like Celebration, Florida invoke an image of the 1950s, but its image of the 50s is based on a romantic vision of a history that never really existed. Simulacrum is a good word and a good theoretical principle. Plus using it makes you sound smart. Speaking of Disney, Walt based Sleeping Beauty's castle on Neuschwanstein.) The castle's builder, King Ludwig II was a relatively unimportant king with relatively little power. Pulled in multiple directions by his stronger neighbors, he spent his time indulging his fantasies including this castle. It was never finished, but what remains is breath-taking.

After exiting the train and guessing at which bus would get us closer to the castle, Nicole and I found the right spot. Which is to say we found ourselves at the bottom of the mountain looking for another bus to take us about half way up. We never found it. But we did find a lovely horse-drawn carriage which we shared with a group of Asian tourists. We didn't speak the same language, but we were equally interested in the architectural peculiarity sitting at the top of the hill and equally uninterested in the more arduous option of hiking up the mountain. We didn't have time to go in the castle. (It was about a two-hour wait for tickets.) But the interior is not the reason to see Neuschwanstein. We did hike around a bit and find Mary's Bridge with views of the castle that are unmatched. If you ever go, take the time to hike to the bridge. It's worth it. You can also check out the pictures below.

Final note: Neuschwanstein reminds me that little in Germany (or perhaps nothing) escapes the shadow of the Nazi past. Neuschwanstein was used to hide many of the art works the Nazis stole from Jewish families. Over 20,000 stolen works of art were hidden here.

Daily Stats

  • Places
    • Neuschwanstein
    • Haus der Kunst
    • Munich Surfers
  • Steps Taken-15,601
  • Trains Taken- 4
  • Horse Draw Carriage Rides- 1