Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Everything will be all right when we get to Tir Asleen!"- Part II

The Crazy Kingdom

At the end of the Romantic Road are three incredible palaces built by ‘Mad’ King Ludwig II. We visited Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee, all built by Ludwig II, and a few other historical places in the fortnight we were in Bavaria.

I spent the whole visit trying to figure out from the information available whether King Ludwig II really was mad, or whether he was just a very rich, eccentric ponce. You see, at the end of the nineteenth century Germany wasn’t a proper nation yet, and King Ludwig II was the last true king of the House of Wittelsbach, rulers of the independent Kingdom of Bavaria. He was a pretty useless king, effectively siding with the Austrians in a war against Prussia, losing the war, and having his kingdom annexed in the process.

Around the same time that Karl Marx was writing about the power of the emerging working classes, Darwin was theorising about the Origin of Man and stuff like electricity and steam engines were being invented, Ludwig II was prancing about in swan-shaped boats and bemoaning the fact that absolute monarchy- when blokes like himself could do whatever they pleased and spend as much of other people’s money as they liked- was largely a thing of the past.

He did, however, build a cracking palace, and you can see them all at a very affordable price if you buy a Bayerische Verwaltung- which is a special fortnightly ticket that gets you entry to all three, as well a host of other baroque abodes throughout Bavaria. These places are really best seen in Spring or Summer, when the gardens are looking schmicko and it’s all romantic and whatnot. In winter it was f-f-freezing to visit, and some parts were closed, but it was still fun.

Possibly not the best day for photographs of Neuschwanstein. It's snowing kind of heavily.

On a good day the castle looks like this here model. It is the inspiration for the Disney castle they use on their logo, as well as maybe every jumping castle ever made.

Neuschwanstein courtyard

Hohenschwangau castle- where young Ludwig spent his summers

Linderhof palace and grounds


Cupid rides a weird looking dolphin in the fountain at Herrenchiemsee

Nope, that white thing in the middle of this photograph is not an alien spacecraft. Unfortunately, most palace gardens are like this in winter- the white dome is a protective cover for the I'm-almost-certain-it-looks-marvellous statue underneath it

Nymphenburg palace, now in a suburb of Munich, was the "country palace" of the House of Wittelsbach

It is impossible to illustrate the size of this building. A panorama photograph of the whole structure would be about 6 photographs in width.

Lots of swans in the palace lake

One of the huge number of rooms inside the Munich Residenz, the historical centre of the Kingdom of Bavaria

An incredible bejeweled statuette in the treasury of the Munich Residenz. It depicts St George, mounted, with his sword stabbing downwards toward the dragon beneath his horses hooves.

Macabre relics in the Chapel of the Munich Residenz include this ornate boxed skull

The Zugspitze

At 2962m above sea level, the Zugspitze, cradled in the Alps, is Germany's highest mountain. Since we were going that way anyway, Alix and I decided we would pay it a visit. It is a surprisingly easy trip to get there, one bus, a train and a cable car ride and you are at the top in no time.

Surrounded by other awesome mountains, the Zugsptize itself is a semi-circular arrangement of crags, and in the bowl inside of the horseshoe shape is a gentle snowy slope that is like heaven for skiers and sonwboarders. I've never really been particularly interested in snow sports myself, I prefer warmer weather pursuits, but looking at these incredibly deep and wide snow fields made me truly realise for the first time what all the fuss is about- the skiers here were absolutely loving it. The view from the platform up top was pretty spectacular, too.

Adolf Hitler World!

Ok so there isn’t actually an Adolf Hitler World. But I was feeling kind of depressed by all the bad weather, so I thought I'd cheer myself up by going to the memorial site at Dachau concentration camp. It was a reasonably creepy place.

The front gate of Dachau concentration camp. "Arbeit Macht Frei"- "Work makes you free."

Sculpture in the excellent Dachau Memorial site museum

Towards the end of World War II Dachau was massively overcrowded and a Typhus epidemic swept through the camp. The disease was spread by lice, so the SS prison guards posted these signs with the message "One Louse, Your Death". Whether they meant "it only takes one louse to give you Typhus and you might die from it" or "If I find even one louse on you, I'll kill you myself" is rather unclear.

Shortly after that we stayed for several nights in the small alpine village of Berchtesgaden, a very pretty village that attained the dubious honour of being command central of the Third Reich when Hitler decided to build a Southern Headquarters high up in the hilltops overlooking the town. As a megalomaniacal crazy-as-batshit Nazi, he terrorised the locals and sent them to Dachau if they wouldn’t sell their property to him, declared the area off-limits and had the SS patrol the compound, built lots of sweet little places for Himmler and Göring and his other cronies to hang out and party, and built himself a massive bunker with machinegun nests and whatnot inside it.

The Yanks bombed the whole compound to smithereens and then, being Yanks, built an air-force facility and some sweet ski-runs on top of it, went skiing, and watched and waited to fight the Russians. When that never happened, they pulled out and gave the compound back to the Germans, who built an impressive and very creepy museum in its place. Downstairs in the bunker you can still see the brackets for the machinegun nests.

I didn’t take many photos at Dachau or at the museum at Berchtesgaden. Neither place was really that much to look at, and if you want to see photos of piled up corpses and the like there are thousands of history books documenting the Nazi regime that are easy to get your hands on. Alix and I did some other non-Nazi related sightseeing around the area which is far more pleasant visually than either the concentration camp or the museum were.

We rented a really nice studio for a week in Berchtesgaden. We had our own kitchen for the first time in 10 months!

Sunny bedroom with a view of the Alps. Awesome.

Berchtesgaden streetscape


The Königsee- Berchtesgaden's pretty lake

After a few fairly but not completely normal days in Berchtesgaden, I was wandering the road in the cold and the dark one night and it suddenly occurred to me that if ghosts are in fact real, this is the kind of place they would hang out. Evil Nazi ghosts of SS officers who jovially and remorselessly did torturous medical experiments on innocent, helplessly imprisoned humans for sick, sadistic reasons while they were alive and are now tormented by their own wrongdoings and have been driven further into insanity by their inability to rest peacefully in the afterlife. After this chilling and vivid feat of imagination I figured that it was time to get out of Germany and get back on the road to Tir Asleen.

By the way, in the movie Willow, right at the end, the inhabitants of Tir Asleen are all freed from their curse, Willow becomes the new High Aldwin, Burglekutt gets pigeon shit in his face, and Val Kilmer gets together with Joanne Whalley, who has decided to get decked out in a sexy-yet-medieval dress and get her hair coloured and curled.

So, I expect everything is going to be all right when we get to our Tir Asleen, too. Isn't that right, honey?

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