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Neuschwanstein Castle and medieval romance – why did 19th century Germans dream of the middle ages?

Neuschwanstein Castle and medieval castle romance

Germany’s Romantic Road stretches from Füssen in the Bavarian Alps to Würzburg in the northern Bavarian wine-producing region of Franconia, and runs through some of the most beautiful towns and regions of medieval Germany. Just outside Füssen is the old royal village of Hohenschwangau, whose castle is a longtime residence of Bavarian Kings.

Towering above Hohenschwangau old town and and the nearby Alpsee lake, is one of the most astonishing sights not only of Bavaria but all of Germany: Neuschwanstein Castle. The world-famous fairy-tale castle perched on a mountain ledge close to the spectacular Pöllat Gorge appears like a romantic vision of a bygone age. But what looks like a Disney medieval castle was actually built in the late 19th century, and was inspired more by the operas of Richard Wagner and his reimagination of old German romances such as Parsifal and Lohengrin than by any actual castle from the Middle Ages.

Neuschwanstein is the most dramatic example of a 19th century German fascination with the Middle Ages. The 19th century was a time of turmoil and transformation in Bavarian and German history, and witnessed the birth of modern Germany. Often in times of great change, people look to the past for a sense of comfort and continuity. King Ludwig’s shimmering castle among the clouds was built in a Bavaria newly incorporated into a modern Germany of factories, cities, iron and steel. Neuschwanstein was an escape from a grey and frightening modern world for a King Ludwig II who dreamed, like many of his fellow Germans, of more settled and simple times in the past.

And of course, there is nothing wrong with a little dreaming. Visit Neuschwanstein today, the gateway to the Romantic Road, and follow the dream.