Ludwig II and his cultural legacy of Bavaria

Course #5 / The Flamboyant Bavarian King Ludwig II

135 years after the end of Ludwig’s reign in Bavaria, the region still gets a constant financial boost thanks to its former king. In 2017, Bavaria had 37 million visitors from all around the world. Tourism is one of the cornerstones of the region’s highly developed economy and cultural legacy left by Ludwig is an important part of it.

His eccentricity and spending habits were causing a lot of headache to the ministers of his kingdom at the time, but the current Bavarian politicians should feel truly blessed to have such a generous patron of arts in the past. These gems of the Bavarian architecture brings a huge income year after year. Most of the architectural buildings that were inspired by the French glory and commissioned by Ludwig II – are now ranked between the top tourist destinations of Germany and Central Europe. Similar to his grandfather Ludwig I, he also invested a serious amount of his personal funds into the building of impressive projects around his kingdom. Because of this, towards the end of his life, Bavarian king had huge debts to be paid and several of his ideas were never realized.

Each of Ludwig’s palaces has its own unique feature. Linderhof Palace, located near the Ettal Abbey, is the smallest of the palaces he commissioned, but it might be the most impressive one in terms of its incredibly rich rococo style interior. Several décor elements, such as ivory candelabra and woodcarvings took great expenses and thousands of hours for the craftsmen to complete them. Ludwig wanted to pay a tribute to the French kings and the absolutism – that is why there are so many elements of sun integrated into the interior of Linderhof Palace. It symbolizes the God-like status of a king. However, Ludwig became known as a Moon King, because he loved to spend the lonely nights in the palace, planning new projects that were even more impressive than the previous ones. Occasionally, Ludwig allowed his friends-artists to come to the palace and entertain him with hours-long monologues from the king’s favorite theatre plays.

The Herrenchiemsee Palace that was built in 1878 on the largest island of the Chiemsee Lake is another tribute to the French absolutism and Louis XIV of France. It is a miniature version of the famous Versailles Palace. King himself had multiple tours in the French royal palace and instructed some of his servants to later visit it as well and take the notes of its interior and décor elements. In several rooms in the palace, there are paintings of the Kings and Queens of France, and the fleurs-de-lys symbol of the Bourbon dynasty. However, the palace was never fully finished due to the high costs of construction and Ludwig’s death in 1886. A large part of rooms still stands empty without any interior works. Ironically, the palace that was so strictly guarded against everyone and was a safe haven for Ludwig, soon after his death became a desirable destination for the people all around the world.

Another architectural tribute to his idol was the Neuschwanstein Castle, located in the Bavarian mountains near the Austrian border. This also became his last residence shortly before the loss of power and deposition in 1886. Castle was dedicated to Ludwig’s friend and musical idol – composer Richard Wagner. Bavarian king was obsessed with his music and operas since his youth years and the interior of Neuschwanstein reflects that.

Its interior is decorated with a series of paintings of the German legendary heroes that were featured and interpreted in the operas of Wagner, such as Lohengrin, Tannhauser and Parsifal. Despite the fact that Neuschwanstein was largely intended to be somewhat of a castle of the medieval German knight, it has some similarities with other Ludwig’s palaces. In the Throne Hall, there are paintings of the six different European kings, who were eventually canonized, as well as the paintings of Jesus and his twelve apostles. German painter Wilhelm Hauschild painted most of these legendary characters. Throne Hall once again resembles the God-like status of a king and his divine rights to rule that the Bavarian monarch so strongly admired.

Aside of the palaces, Ludwig was specifically generous towards some of the Wagner’s projects, such as Bayreuth Festspielhaus – an opera house in Bayreuth, and Wahnfried villa, where the composer resided with his family. Wagner knew the strong affection that king had towards his genius and he often took advantage of it by buying various items on credit that were later paid of the Ludwig’s royal purse.

Overall, the time has put everything in its place. Ludwig’s desire to make Bavaria beautiful and culturally rich turned into reality. It is one of the richest regions in Europe and his palaces attract millions of tourists each year. At the end of his life, the total sum of Ludwig’s debts was 14 000 000 marks, but it is more than clear that his cultural legacy has paid all the debts and helped to bring the prosperity to his beloved Bavaria. It never really turned into the France 2.0 as the Swan King initially desired, but the great imagination helped him to add his own, unique touch to the region and serve as an inspiration to the upcoming generations.

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