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The Original Fairy Tale Castle – Neuschwanstein and Walt Disney

Long before Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella delighted generations of children, the young Walt Disney was inspired by Bavaria's fairytale castle.

This year on October 16th Walt Disney Studios celebrates its 100th birthday. Generations of children and their parents will forever associate the studio with its iconic Cinderella Castle. What many of them don’t know is that this was inspired by an original fairytale castle, built by a fairy tale king in southern Germany.

Neuschwanstein Castle, perched high above an Alpine gorge in Bavaria, is one of the wonders of the modern world. Born from the imagination of “mad” King Ludwig II, it is a unique place where fantasy, romance, architecture and engineering come together.  

Situated near the village of Hohenschwangau in Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle is often referred to as the “Fairytale Castle.” It is an impossibly picturesque vision, arising swan-like from a mountinous ledge overlooking the serene Alpsee lake. The entire scene looks like something from a Disney movie … and the first person to think that was Walt Disney himself. As a young man, he was fascinated by Germany, its beautiful castles, romantic old villages, and fairy tales. He toured the country more than once seeking inspiration, and shipped hundreds of books on German folklore back to the USA, many of them purchased in Munich’s famous Hugendubel bookstore (which is still with us today).

King Ludwig II, the enigmatic ruler of Bavaria in the 19th century, was the visionary behind the Neuschwanstein Castle. King Ludwig spent much of his childhood in Hohenschwangau Castle, itself a 19th century recreation of a medieval ideal. But he wanted more. With a passion for the arts, the music of Richard Wagner, and dreams of romantic escape, Ludwig II was determined to build a castle that would transport him into a world of his own creation. On a lofty perch above Hohenschwangau, he would build Neuschwanstein.

In the next century, another visionary drew inspiration from Neuschwanstein Castle when creating the iconic castles that grace many of his animated films. The Bavarian castle is very clearly in the blueprint for the design of both the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland and Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World. The fairytale essence and romantic aesthetics of Neuschwanstein influenced the visual language of these iconic movie castles, creating a link between the dreamscapes of Bavaria and the magic of Hollywood.

As visitors take a day trip to Füssen in the Bavarian Alps to explore Neuschwanstein, they are transported to a realm where fantasy and reality converge, much like the enchanting worlds brought to life by Disney. The synergy between Neuschwanstein Castle and Disney’s creations is a testament to the enduring power of storytelling and the universal appeal of castles as symbols of magic and wonder.

Ludwig II’s great Bavarian fantasy castle is one of the crown jewels of Germany, and continues to inspire generations of dreamers and creatives, thanks in part to its connection with the imaginative genius of Walt Disney. Both Neuschwanstein and Disney castles stand as beacons of enchantment and escape. And Neuschwanstein Castle itself will forever hold a special status as the original fairy tale castle.