“Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons; it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
If you had the chance to live out one of your most beloved fairy tales, no matter how small the way, would you? The chance to fulfill a childhood fantasy, inspired by such tales, can overwhelm even the most logical “grown up” heart, driving it to take action. As for me, I do not think I will ever grow out of my love for fairy tales and fantasy. Any opportunity for me to daydream, to play, and to explore this magical world I will seize with zeal. The chance to see Germany’s famed “fairy tale” castle, Neuschwanstein is no exception. Though I was warned against it due to its overly tourist-y atmosphere, I could not be deterred. Once the chance to physically place myself into one of these scenes of magic and mystery presents itself, I will pursue it at any cost.
I am still comprehending the fact that I actually visited Neuschwanstein Castle, a place that had held a top tier on my bucket list for so long. The castle lived up to almost every expectation I held of it: each room had a different theme, many inspired by Wagner operas (which were favorites of King Ludwig II), adding to the sense of grandeur and majesty. The castle boasted a grotto with a waterfall and “rainbow machine,” which almost looked like something constructed for Disney World. However, that air of kitschy that often pervades Disney World was absent, since Neuschwanstein was constructed for personal, rather than public, pleasure. This castle was someone’s vision to reclaim the magic and mystery of the old world, to live without ever having to disenchant themselves.
While my traveling companion was not as impressed as I was, I believe this was due to the fact that he could not detach himself from the cynical, political view that taints the castle’s reputation. I find this rather disheartening, that so many people are quick to condemn anyone who simply loves fairy tales. Yes, perhaps Ludwig II did take it to the extreme by building a fairy tale castle with a grotto, a hall of singers, and a bed carved to look like a Gothic cathedral, but if any one who loved fairy tales and stories had the means, they probably would too. All I can say is this: what is wrong with wanting to live in a way that fully immerses you in the magic that so many have forgotten?
Though the tour of the castle was short, this is due to the fact that King Ludwig II died before it could be finished. Without the visionary behind it, construction of the castle soon ceased. However, I find it very fortunate that the castle was converted into a place for the public to visit and admire, since it does possess an air of magic. I found myself holding my breath at every new turn within the castle, as if anticipating some sprite or prince to step out from their hiding places to lead the tour themselves.
We concluded our adventure with a long hike around the Alpsee. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. As you can see from the photos above, the water was like glass, only adding to the mystical nature of the entire area. The walking trails were beautiful and tranquil, with our only contact being those odd stone figures pictured above. The hike itself has inspired me to further explore the Alps, as I have never truly been amongst mountains, so I can only hope that I will be able to visit similar beautiful countryside in the near future.
All in all, being able to see Neuschwanstein Castle with my own eyes was an amazing and soul-satisfying experience. I get all giddy when I think of how many bucket list locales I am ticking off my list, as if I am doing that little girl who read too many fairy tales proud. This place was the perfect way to conclude my trip to Germany and my first voyage to continental Europe. After a grueling semester, it was wonderful to get the chance to restore myself in a place I felt so at home in. As this puts the cap on the “half way point” in my career at St Andrews, I can only hope these final two years provide even more opportunities to explore, to play, and to revel in the magic of our world a little more.
Originally written 7 July 2014