Cognitive Dissonance for Lunch

I am currently writing the article about cat-sitting in Cornwall and my attempt to hike the South West Coast Path.

Here’s a little appetizer:

Stay tuna-ed!

Links:

Posted in Food, Travel, UK | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Taarof, the most confusing thing about Iran

The taxi ride through Tehran was short, but there was enough time to yield three surprises.

First, the driver who had stopped for me was female. I had just arrived in Iran, with an image of gender segregation and harshly enforced rules in my mind. It was not like that, at least not in the large cities I visited. Sure, Iran is no Sweden, but it ain’t no Saudi Arabia either.

Second, the driver kept taking on new passengers. Strangers had to sit on each other’s lap on the backseat, merrily mixing men and women. This was in broad daylight on a main avenue in the capital city.

Third, as I reached the intersection where I needed to get out and asked how much it cost, the lady said: “Oh no, that’s okay! It was a privilege to drive you.”

I thanked her from the bottom of my heart, not so much for the saved expenses, but for sparing me the trouble to find the right bills, something which kept confusing me until my last day in Iran.


Later that evening, I met my Iranian friends. I say “friends”, but I hadn’t known them before I came to Iran. They sat next to me on the plane and were quizzing me about my travel plans. As it transpired that I had no plans to speak of (because of the international sanctions, you can’t make bank transfers or Paypal payments to Iran, hence I had booked no hotel), they invited me to stay at their house. They were very friendly and I have good instincts, so I said yes.

But back to that evening. I told them, a bit proud: “You won’t believe what happened today. I took a taxi and the lady was so nice, she didn’t ask for any money!”

My friends burst out in laughter, but only briefly, for when they saw my dumbfounded look, they quickly apologized for laughing.

“The driver was making taarof,” they said, preparing to make me acquainted with the most confusing concept in any human society. Seriously, taarof is even more confusing than romantic relationships.

“She was just being polite”, they explained.

“Yes, I also found her very polite,” I agreed.

“But, ehm,” my friends were struggling, as if about to break a big secret, “she didn’t mean it.”

“How do you know? You weren’t there.” I was offended.

“Because this is how taarof works. It’s a ritualized form of Persian politeness. You were supposed to make the offer to pay by yourself.”

“But I did,” I said proudly, thinking of myself as the ultimate connoisseur of all cultures.

“You need to insist.”

“But I wouldn’t have known how much it cost. That’s why I asked her.”

“You have to keep asking.” It was clear they felt sorry for the taxi driver and her financial loss.

I began to feel bad, too. “But what if she would have repeated that I don’t need to pay?”

“You need to offer money at least three times. And then, maybe you can begin to get a sense if it’s taarof or taarof nakon [apparently meaning no taarof]. But in a taxi or a restaurant, it’s always taarof. I mean, why should they give you something for free?”

Good point. But I still didn’t get it.


The next day, my friends wanted to show me and we took a taxi together. The driver was an elderly gentleman, who looked like the kind of person reading books in his car when he didn’t have passengers. Because they spoke Persian, the conversation was more complex this time, and they translated it for my benefit afterwards.

Friends: “Thank you, we get off here. How much is it?”

Driver: “Oh no, that’s okay. I had to go this direction anyway. It was no problem to take you.”

“You helped us a lot, we couldn’t have walked that far.”

“Don’t worry about it. With the car, it’s just a short drive, anyway.”

“But if we hadn’t been in the car, you could have taken other passengers, maybe going further.”

“Honest to God, I would not wish to have anyone else than you in my car. You have been a blessing for my day.”

“But maybe you want to buy a present for your sweet children?”

“Don’t you have children, too?”

“No.”

There, the driver paused for a second, and one of my friends used the intermission to hand him a 100,000-rial note. That’s a bit more than two dollars.


I’ll make an intermission, too, and tell you the one thing you must avoid when going to Iran: Don’t refer to people as Arabs.

Why?

Because they are not! They are Persians. They speak Persian, not Arabic. The culture is Persian, not Arab. And if you don’t know the difference, just think of the (true) cliché of haggling in an Arab bazaar. Iran is the complete opposite. Taarof is reverse haggling, as you will see now, returning to our taxi cab.


The driver put the bill in his wallet and took out what I thought was the change, handing it back to my friend in the passenger seat.

Without looking at the bills, he pulled out one or two and handed the rest back to the driver.

The driver took one bill and handed the still substantial stack of money back to my friend.

This went back and forth a few more times, accompanied by the driver’s assurances that we had been the kindest people he ever met and my friend’s insistence that he buy some sweets for his children, who must surely be very adorable.

“I will tell my children about the beautiful people I have met today,” the driver finally said, with tears in his eyes, accepting something like a dollar.


I never took a taxi again in Tehran.

My friends kept explaining the rules of the game to me, and I kept failing. I ate fruits that street vendors handed me, I used internet cafés for free, I accepted invitations to tea and cake, and each time I should have politely refused. At least a few times. And in restaurants, at least as much time is spent on praising the meal and the guests, respectively, as on eating.

Taarof applies in all sectors of society, even among friends. (When you are married, you can slowly give up the habit after about five years, but only when nobody else is watching.) When friends invite you to dinner, you are supposed to decline a few times to find out if it’s a serious invitation or just confusing politeness. You must not rush to accept a second serving, dessert or wine. And you don’t ask for directions to the bathroom, but you start by saying “You have a very beautiful house!” I really wonder how dating works in Iran.

As a German, trained in efficiency and directness, I am driven crazy by taarof. Far too late did I realize that people inviting a stranger on the plane into their house for a week might have been taarof, too. Persians find us Westerners a bit, ehm, unrefined.


Taarof also applies in serious situations. When people fall from the roof and break a leg, they call their doctor to ask how his children are doing. The doctor of course knows that this is taarof, so he asks what the problem is. “Oh, nothing really, I don’t want to bother you”, they will say, and this will go back and forth a few times until the bleeding patient will say: “You know, my foot is itching a bit and I was wondering if maybe, one day, when you have time, you could take a look at it?”

I saw a lot of people in Iran who had their legs amputated.


Come to think of it, maybe the one week I spent in Evin prison at the invitation of the Iranian Intelligence Service was taarof, too. I just should have declined a few more times.

Links:

  • I was not joking about the amputations, sadly. The blue-yellow box next to the taxi (photographed in Shiraz) is a donation box for veterans of the 8-year war with Iraq. Similar to my donation box, if I may mention that in a way that Persians would definitely consider as unrefined as crude oil.
  • But for that, you’ll get more stories from Iran.
Posted in Iran, Travel | Tagged | 4 Comments

Kyselka, the Forgotten Spa Town

Zur deutschen Fassung des Berichts.


“Not much will have changed,” I thought and had packed a somewhat older travel guide for the trip to the Czech Republic.

If Karlsbad is too busy for you and you are tired of the same encounters when strolling along the colonnades, we recommend that you escape to Kyselka. This is a smaller spa town, but no less refined.

Count Mattoni, a manufacturer of mineral water, has created an exclusive resort, which has already enjoyed the honor of being visited by the imperial couple, the archduke and foreign regents such as King Otto of Greece, the Shah of Persia and the Emperor of Abyssinia.

Now, I am more a republican than a monarchist, and the time that has passed since the publication of the guide to Austria-Hungary – and the countries like Czechoslovakia that have emerged since then – has proven me right, but that Kyselka town sounds interesting.

And it is only a half-day walk from Karlovy Vary. I walk into the forest behind the synagogue and the Virgin Mary statue until I find the white-red-white marking and follow it, seemingly always uphill. It is one of the most beautiful hiking trails around Karlovy Vary, often on very narrow, barely trodden paths, then on paths carved into the mountain, on which steep slopes on the left drop down to the river Cheb.

Beautiful views, and from time to time, there is a sign telling me that I am on the right path, that there is a bus back from Kyselka, and that I still have 10 km ahead of me. However, the path winds its way around mountains, over hills and around the bends of the river in such a way that the indicated distance does not decrease over several hours.

I am cold, hungry and thirsty, but never mind. Once in Kyselka, I will treat myself to a royal meal by a warm and cozy tiled stove.

After many hours of hiking, I spot the first noble signs of Kyselka through the forest. The closer I get, the more the reputation as the most peaceful of all spa towns of Bohemia is confirmed. I do not hear a single sound, no people, no cars, not even dogs.

Mr. Mattoni, the founder of this exclusive place, seems to be spending the winter elsewhere, because his villa looks a bit deserted.

“Or maybe he’s at the mineral water works,” I am thinking. But there too, nothing sparkles anymore.

To make a long story short: the whole city looks inactive and deserted.

I won’t get anything to eat here, it slowly dawns on me. Only in the grotto above the artificially created waterfall, there is still drinking water, and even a cup next to the pool. The last person to drink from it was probably the King of Montenegro. Or the goblins and gnomes now inhabiting Kyselka instead of the kings and counts. But the water tastes good.

A car stops and a family gets out. Father, mother, child and a plastic bucket with toys. The child walks around a bit. After five minutes, they put everything back into the car and whiz off, deeply disappointed by this depressing place. Yet another family outing that has backfired.

The only other car is a fire engine, but it hasn’t put out any fires in a long time. The tires are as deflated as the local entertainment program.

It’s getting darker. It’s getting colder. And although I have heard that cities that have nothing else to offer are advertised as “air spas”, I will hardly be able to survive on air alone.

The promised bus won’t show up either, because it’s a Saturday.

So I place myself by the road, stick out my thumb and hope that one of the spa guests from the early 20th century delayed their departure long enough to return to Karlovy Vary today. And indeed, soon a car a car will stop. It’s a Czech-Russian couple who live even further back in the Cheb Valley and are taking old bottles to the recycling station in the district town. As befits a city founded by Mr. Mattoni, Italian turns out to be the lowest common linguistic denominator in the cosmopolitan car.

Speaking of language, this was probably the reason why Kyselka never reached the fame of other spa towns. In German, the place is called Giesshübl Sauerbrunn, and that sounds rather unmelodic, even to German ears.

Links:

  • If you are interested in ghost towns, you should come to Humberstone with me!
  • Kyselka near Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) must not be confused with Bílina-Kyselka, although they have unused spa hotels standing around there, too.
  • More discoveries in the Czech Republic.
Posted in Czech Republic, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Remembrance with Kebab: Babi Yar

Deutschsprachigen Lesern empfehle ich das deutschsprachige Original dieses Artikels.


Babi Yar, a name that evokes vague memories of history lessons or TV documentaries. Something happened there. Something bad.

A quick refresher, sparing you the way to Wikipedia: Babi Yar was a ravine near Kiev where, on two days in September 1941, the German occupying forces killed almost all Jews and Roma from the Ukrainian capital. The Holocaust took place not only in concentration camps and gas chambers. About a third of the victims were killed in mass executions. These occurred throughout Eastern Europe, but Babi Yar bears the sad record as the site of the worst massacre.

One expects such a place to be somewhat secluded, like the forest of Paneriai near Vilnius. Or like Buchenwald, keeping a few kilometers distance of decency from Weimar, so that those who are not (yet) being murdered can go about their daily business, undisturbed by screams and shots.

To Babi Yar, on the other hand, you can take the subway. Two stops from the city center. Granted, the subway did not exist in 1941, and Kiev was not as big as it is now. Babi Yar was actually on the outskirts of the city, beyond the cemeteries, but it wasn’t that far away either, out of sight or hearing. The standard excuse “We didn’t know about anything” doesn’t work here. One of the observers was a 12-year-old boy who lived in the immediate neighborhood and took notes in his writing pad. The memories never let go of Anatoli Kuznetsov, and in 1966 he published the autobiographical novel “Babi Yar – A Document in the Form of a Novel”.

So now you get off at the subway station Dorohozhychi and find yourself in a residential area. Traffic roars along the wide streets. Bakers are selling sweets. People are huddling in bus stops, hiding from the rain.

The second expectation was a memorial. With plenty of visitors, tourists, students, school groups. A museum, multilingual and multimedia, which reports and explains everything about the massacre. If there is such a place, there is no sign pointing to it.

Instead, there is a park, a rather large one in fact. I have come here in winter, it rains, snows and freezes. But on sunny days, people probably use this park to go jogging, to picnic, to flirt and to kiss.

The first memorial, the one for the executed children, is quite evocative. A clever idea by the artist not to depict the murder of children too vividly, but to symbolize it by the life-size but dead-looking Punch puppet.

Schnee (4)

Right next to the children’s memorial, a dog school is using the park for its training. The commands “Sitz!” and “Platz!” are echoing as if they were still meant for German police dogs. Dogs always frighten me, so I walk on quickly, down the ever darkening path.

The prairie wagon, I guess, is a clichéd symbol of the Roma who were shot in Babi Yar one week before the Jews. The Nazis were able to carry out this genocide, the Porajmos, quite openly, without anyone else having a bad premonition. “It’s only the gypsies,” people thought, as many people still think today.

Schnee (1)

And then I find, well, not a museum, but at least some information boards along one of the wider paths, conveying the most important facts in Ukrainian and in English. It has started to drizzle, but I know you are waiting for information, so I am braving the cold and the rain.

Thus, I learn not only about the German occupation and the massacre on 29 and 30 September 1941, in which 33,771 people were shot within 36 hours. We know this so exactly because meticulous records were kept. When people say “You Germans are so organized”, I always have to think of this. Sorry that I can’t take it as a compliment. In the years that followed, however, even the Germans became a bit sloppy, and it is unclear whether a total of 65,000, 130,000 or 200,000 people were killed in Babi Yar.

Despite its proximity to the Ukrainian capital, the ravine of Babi Yar was chosen for topographical reasons. Because for the large number of victims, not enough mass graves could have been excavated elsewhere.

Babi Jar/

The photographs taken by the German military photographer Johannes Hähle do not show the actual shootings, but the levelling of the terrain by Soviet prisoners of war. Hähle did not deliver this roll of film to his unit, and therefore we have photographic evidence to make it at least a little bit harder for Holocaust deniers.

And there was one survivor: Dina Pronicheva was an actress and dropped into the pit right before the shots were fired. As the German soldiers walked through the rows of victims at the bottom of the ravine to shoot those still alive, she posed dead. In the night, she was able to climb out of the pit and escape.

And that is why we have an eye-witness account.

dina_pronicheva_trial_big

Walking through the park today, there are only a few spots where you can still see traces of the once deep ravines, giving an idea of how rugged the terrain once looked.

Babi Yar Schlucht

After the massacre, the Wehrmacht blew up the edges of the ravine to bury the piles of corpses. After the World War, rubble from the destroyed houses was disposed of here and in 1961 the dam of a waste dump broke so that the rest of the sandy ravines were flooded by a mudslide. If you put the historical map over the current city map, you begin to get an impression of how much the area has changed.

5220-1160x773-c-default

Not only out of curiosity for more information, but also to get away from the icy cold, I wander through the extensive park to finally find the museum.

Under trees, at hidden corners or along the busy road, I discover small monuments, like this one for the 3 million Ukrainian forced laborers who were deported to Germany,

Babi Yar (5)

or this one for Tatiana Markus, a resistance fighter who carried out acts of sabotage and arranged romantic meetings with German soldiers, only to shoot or stab them. When Tatiana was captured and killed in Babi Yar, she was only 21 years old. (I mention this in order to encourage young people to consider career paths that are a bit out of the mainstream.)

Babi Yar (7)

It seems as if each group of victims had once looked for a free spot to put up their column. Somewhere, there should even be a memorial to the murdered soccer players of Dynamo Kiev, but I can’t find it.

Yet for quite a long time during the Soviet era, there was no monument at all. Instead, the television tower and new residential areas were built in the area.

No monument stands over Babi Yar.

A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone,

the Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote in 1961, not only recalling the Nazi massacres, but also calling on the Soviet Union to remember what was largely kept silent about. Dimitri Shostakovich turned the poem into his 13th symphony.

Remembrance marches were repeatedly organized by civil society, but the official memorial was not inaugurated until 1976. Large, massive, Soviet-style, it stands on a stepped ramp and towers above the moat that is probably a symbol for the former ravine.

Babi Yar (6)

In order to illustrate the size of the monument, two teenagers have kindly agreed to meet there tonight. If you live in one of the apartment blocks nearby, this is probably a regular meeting place. Or they are history students, taking their discussion to the object of their studies.

Babi Yar (3)
Babi Yar (4)

Incidentally, the memorial was dedicated to the “more than 100,000 Soviet citizens of the city of Kiev and the soldiers and officers of the Red Army taken prisoner of war”. The fact that most of the “Soviet citizens” were Jews and were murdered precisely for this reason was not mentioned.

But in 1991 Ukraine became independent and the inscription could be changed. It now reads: “In the years 1941-1943, over 100,000 Kiev city residents and prisoners of war were shot at this place by German fascist invaders.” Oops, the Jews got forgotten again. And, of course, no mention of the Ukrainian collaborators.

Well, the collaboration. A sensitive topic in Ukraine, the mention of which alone will lead to protest notes from Kiev and even more so from Kyiv. But I have to address it, because, somewhat bashfully hidden behind the bushes, I discover a wooden cross for the members of the OUN, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, shot by the Germans in Babi Yar.

Babi Yar OUN

They fought for the independence of Ukraine and thus against the Soviet Union. Like so many ethnic groups in Eastern Europe, they therefore had no objection against Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union, joining the Wehrmacht in battalions and the SS in divisions. Some grudgingly accepted the fact that they were not only fighting against the Red Army, but also committing genocide against Jews and Roma, others found it a good idea anyway, because in their eyes these ethnic groups were “not real Ukrainians”, and yet others were ambivalent, which is why the OUN soon split again and fought against each other and against everybody else. It was quite a mess or a hullabaloo, as they say in Ukrainian.

Most historians classify the OUN as racist, anti-Semitic and/or fascist. And now it becomes especially delicate: In the mass shootings in Babi Yar in September 1941, in which almost the entire Jewish population of Kiev was killed, OUN units took part as well, with about 1200 Ukrainians as accomplices. The OUN members for whom the wooden cross was erected were not shot by the Germans until 1942, when they turned against the German occupation.

As the surviving Ukrainian Jews saw who is being commemorated here, they finally ran out of patience. It was obvious that no one wanted to remember them, but they were mercilessly crushed in the Soviet-Russian-Ukrainian dispute over how to interpret history. And so they too built their own memorial in 1991.

Babi Yar menorah

From here, a path lined with Jewish gravestones leads to a building that from afar gives hope that it is the museum I’ve been looking for. That hope, however, dies quietly in the falling snow with every step taken in its direction. It is the right building, but not yet the right time.

Babi Yar memorial center

Babi Yar, as it presents itself today, leaves the visitor somewhat baffled. At least those who do not already know about the German occupation and extermination policy in Eastern Europe as well as the Soviet remembrance policy will leave this place with many questions. Answering them would be too much for this short article, and perhaps it will give you a better picture of the park in Babi Yar if a few question marks remain. In a few years, when you come to Kiev yourself or send me there again as your correspondent, the memorial will finally be finished. Perhaps.

My walk leads me back to the most moving monument, the one for the children. Passers-by have laid down a pacifier, a children’s glove and a cloth ball. A small gesture, but more thoughtful than always flowers and candles and stones.

Babi Yar Schnuller

Back at the subway station Dorohozhychi, I see a sign at Big Burger, a small fast food place: “Volunteer Center for the period of the events of memory in the Babi Yar”. Well, at least there is a recreation room for volunteers of the memorial work, albeit in a surprising and somewhat unsuitable accommodation. Most curious, I step inside.

Babi Yar volunteer center (2)

The “volunteer center” consists of four metal tables with shaky chairs. A television is bawling much too loud. Next to the counter is a cupboard with a few books in Hebrew. Where kebab shops all over the world usually display photos of Istanbul, there are small black and white photographs. They are the well-known and disturbing photos in connection with the mass shootings.

Babi Yar volunteer center (1)

“Enjoy your food!” the friendly lady says and hands me a kebab dürüm.

When you are at the end of your visit and of your nerves in Babi Yar, you take the subway just one stop further, to Syrets.

mtro station Syrets

This is the name of the former concentration camp, of which there is almost nothing left to see. The whole quarter was built over. Only at the entrance to the park with the children’s train a small monument reminds us: “During the German fascist occupation, tens of thousands of Soviet patriots were murdered behind the bars of Syrets concentration camp.” Nobody stops to read the inscription, except me.

Babi Yar memorial KZ Syrez

It is sad how quickly everything is forgotten. Yet if you walk through Europe with open eyes, you will find former concentration camps, labor camps, ghettos, places of execution, prisoner-of-war camps, killing grounds, memorial plaques and stumbling blocks almost everywhere.

I go back to the subway station with the name that meant nothing to me until yesterday, either, and on the way back I read more about the Babi Yar massacre.

As it was foreseeable that the execution would take many hours, the organizers had kitchen trucks provide hot meals and drinks, including liquor, for 400 men.

And I almost throw up the kebab.

Links:

I am curious to know what you knew about Babi Yar before. Although I mentioned the school lessons at the beginning, I am almost sure that I didn’t learn anything about the “Holocaust by bullets” at that time. But filling in gaps of knowledge is what this blog is all about. If you are interested, I will take a look at my notes from Auschwitz, but this will become a somewhat longer article. And of course I am always grateful for support for this work.

Posted in Germany, History, Holocaust, Photography, Travel, Ukraine, World War II | Tagged , | 13 Comments

What to do with a History Degree?

Ever since I have been studying history, people who think that every means needs to have an end have been asking: “What do you want to do with that?”

My honest answer: I want to know more and to understand better. That’s enough for me. And I really enjoy studying. I don’t aim for any job. Ironically, studying the history of labor has made me rather skeptical of the whole concept of work.

But then, I finally watched “Gone with the Wind”, and as I was reading the opening credits, there was a dream job.

Apparently, Hollywood needs historians, too.

“Gone with the Wind” could have used a proper historian itself, for Mr Kurtz was more of a painter. And he used colors a bit too rosy when painting slavery, methinks.

Anyway, if you are making a movie, I’m available.

Links:

Posted in Films, History, USA | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

In the King’s Footsteps (Day 9) Neuschwanstein Castle

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Berichts.


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Neuschwanstein lies high above the valley, on a rock that is not really suitable for construction. The local authorities should never have approved this. I am sure there were some bribes involved… It takes at least 30 minutes on foot from the valley to the castle.

Of course, you could take the horse-drawn carriage, the one with the electric motor humming secretly.

“Mom, I have a side stitch,” a little girl complains.

“Never mind,” the mother replies heartlessly. She wants to go to the castle as quickly as possible, the child is just bothering her now.

149

At the panoramic viewpoints, the couples are taking couple photos which they can throw once they will separate. Only a few are clever enough to ask for individual photos. These relationships are already on the decline. The most complicated ones are the Latin American women, who have very precise ideas and instructions for their husbands, which they seem to have taken along for this purpose only. Kitsch castles magically attract wannabe princesses.

The person who looks the happiest is an old man with no camera, no mobile phone, nothing. He is simply enjoying the views of Hohenschwangau Castle, the Alpine lake and the mountains. And smiling, from one ear to the other. He looks as if he fulfilled a lifelong dream for himself.

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Behind and above the castle, Marien Bridge spans the Pöllat Gorge.

But even in this Corona-virus summer, you have to queue for the acrophobic view.

I can’t even imagine how it looks like in normal years, with 1.5 million tourists annually. And I also can’t quite understand why people do this to themselves, only to stand on a shaky construction for a minute, when you can explore the hiking trails through the mountains and see the castle from every angle.

151

The castle somehow looks fake, as if made of plaster. The edges still sharp, the walls without dents or marks, never besieged or shot at and as if it was never inhabited. Beautifully planned, but without a soul, like one of those new buildings in Beverly Hills with overly ornate oriels.

Or as the brochure of a Chinese travel agent writes:

Under a blue sky and white clouds, shrouded in mist, milk-colored walls reflect golden light, and gray tips stretch into the firmament – this is Neuschwanstein, the model for Disneyland!

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Tours leave every 5 minutes. The group numbers are displayed on an illuminated panel and announced like in a railway station.

While I am waiting in the courtyard and in the heat for the tour at 1:30 pm, I can still take some photos, but the castle is off limits again. Maybe because it looks pretty untidy. Cable drums and vacuum cleaners are filling up the corridors. Parts of the furniture are covered with plastic tarps. Scaffolding on many walls. It feels like walking through a construction site.

And actually, that’s what it is, because only a small part of Neuschwanstein was completed. Of the more than 200 rooms planned, only 15 have been completed and furnished. The rest is in some intermediate stage like the unfinished buildings you see in Kosovo and where you don’t know if the money ran out or the owners were shot. Just like with King Ludwig ll.

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If you thought that the castle looks a bit exaggerated with all its turrets and bay windows, then let me tell you that this is the slimmed down version.

Originally, it was planned to be even bigger and more bombastic:

And for what purpose?

The unusual aspect of Neuschwanstein Castle is that it was built without any political, statesmanlike or representative goals. It was intended as a completely private retreat. At least that is what Ludwig II claimed, although I wonder what the throne hall was for. Or do you have something like that at home?

Much emphasis was also put on incorporating they latest technical gadgets, i.e. a telephone, a hot-air central heating system, an electric call system for servants, a cable car and a landing platform for flying cabs.

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The few rooms that were finished in Neuschwanstein seem much darker and more gloomy to me than those in Hohenschwangau Castle.

The throne room is modelled, quite modestly, on the Hagia Sophia.

Although Bavaria had already been parliamentarized and was actually ruled by the cabinet and not by the king, Ludwig II saw himself as a king by the grace of God. The walls are lined with pictures of canonized kings. The chandelier has the shape of a Byzantine imperial crown. The floor is decorated with the most elaborate mosaic in Germany, with 1.5 million individual pieces.

The guide calls the room a “refuge from reality,” and one wonders whether the king had ever spent some time in reality at all. Other kings allegedly mingle among the people, disguised and unrecognized, in order to find out what the polls conceal. Ludwig II probably would have panicked at the mere thought of going for such a walk.

155

In the throne room there is a painting showing St. George playing Dungeons & Dragons. In the background, there is a castle, which I naturally identify as Neuschwanstein.

Wrong again.

This is not Neuschwanstein, but Falkenstein, another castle planned by Ludwig II. Why somebody needs more castles when they already have one, and why they are already planning new castles before the existing ones are even finished, it’s beyond me. Maybe the king was really crazy, after all. On the other hand, this real estate mania persists until today. Many people fall victim to it, although private ownership of land that nobody has created is a really strange concept. Whoever believes in this hoax really should be incapacitated.

On Falkenstein, there are only ruins now, often haunted by treasure hunters. On the one hand, there is the legend that Ludwig ll buried a treasure there before his abduction (see chapter 170). On the other hand, it is said that from October 1944 to March 1945, the SS blocked access to the mountain and brought a Nazi treasure from Munich to Germany’s highest castle ruins (at 1267 meters).

Of course, there were Nazi treasures at Neuschwanstein Castle as well, but more about this in chapter 181.

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By the way, this is how Ludwig II wanted Falkenstein Castle to look:

When the architect dared to point out that such a monstrous castle would not fit on the small rock, he was fired.

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At some point, I have to mention all the other castles and castle plans of Ludwig ll. Not only to fight against the unjustified dominance of Neuschwanstein, but because the building mania was decisive for the king’s demise (see chapters 135-138).

Because readers want to continue the tour in the present castle, here is only a very brief overview of the legacy of the Bavarian king, which should not fade into obscurity next to Neuschwanstein:

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On Mount Schachen, Ludwig II had a modest royal house built. From the outside, it looks like a somewhat larger wooden hut, into which the king liked to retreat, especially for his birthdays – a quirk that I can well understand during this birthday hike of mine.

But the interior of the royal cabin does look different from my Walden cabin (chapter 104). The Turkish Hall was modeled after Eyüp Palace near Istanbul.

Building without kitsch was not the king’s strong point.

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Linderhof Palace was rather small by Ludwig’s standards, and it even made it to completion. It is the only palace in which Ludwig II actually lived for a longer period of time.

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Herrenchiemsee Castle on an island in Lake Chiemsee, on the other hand, was to become the Bavarian Versailles. Only bigger, of course. With this castle, it is less obvious, but it was not finished either.

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And then there were the building projects which were buried together with the king and were quite possibly the reason for his early death:

I have already mentioned Falkenstein Castle in chapters 155 and 156.

In addition, Ludwig II was pursuing plans for a Byzantine palace that would blend in wonderfully with the Alpine surroundings,

and a Chinese castle, which was modelled on the Beijing Winter Palace.

Imagine how many Chinese tourists this would attract!

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Speaking of Chinese, Japanese, American and other tourists: I also list the alternative castles to point out to visitors from far away that you don’t necessarily have to go to Neuschwanstein. Again and again, I get asked how to get to Neuschwanstein from Hamburg or Rostock and back in one day. Don’t do that, it would be pure stress! Germany is full of castles and palaces, there is one every 20 km. Just rent a car, drive along a country road and you will see enough castles left and right.

At most other castles, you will not have to queue for tickets. Often, the entrance is even free.

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The more daring among the desperate, who didn’t get any tickets, try to jump into the castle by parachute. If they don’t hit it, at least they are having a wonderful view.

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But now, you want to learn more about Neuschwanstein, so we continue with the tour, which one would probably appreciate more if one were familiar with Wagner’s operas. The musical taste of the author of these lines is too refined for that noise, though.

The bedroom is designed like a gothic cathedral. On the walls and the tiled stove, the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde is unrolled, which Ludwig II took to heart so much that he never married. (An often overlooked factor that speaks for the king’s mental clarity).

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The theme of the living room is the Lohengrin saga. Swans flutter, swim and loom everywhere. Swans on the wallpaper. Swans on the soup tureen. Swans on the carpet. Swans on the paintings. Swan-shaped door handles.

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One leaves the living room through an artificially created dripstone cave, supposedly a homage to the Tannhäuser opera.

From Tannhäuser to the Wartburg, it is only a small logical leap, and since the king was a man of rather short mental leaps, the largest hall in the castle, the Singers’ Hall, is a copy of the Wartburg.

Framed by portraits of Parzival, the king wanted to enjoy private screenings of his favorite films here. Ludwig II is often portrayed as a patron of culture and the arts, but in reality he was just interested in his private pleasure. The people had nothing to gain from hundreds of actors singing, dancing and operating for one man. The National Theater in Munich was also blocked by Ludwig II more than 200 times for private performances.

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And that’s it. A rather short tour, much shorter than this article. I wouldn’t fly in from Shanghai for that. Especially now that my blog is also available in Chinese.

When I take another look at the castle from the outside, I remember how one could describe Neuschwanstein: “The whole thing doesn’t come alive: it is put together, calculated, synthetic, an artifact.” This is what Nietzsche had said about Wagner.

And for this, 39 people lost their lives during construction.

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A visitor who would also like to have more information, asks who financed the whole frippery.

“Ludwig II himself paid all this,” the guide says.

“Well,” I dare to interject, and she becomes a bit more specific.

“He paid for it out of his own appanage,” that is, tax money, “and of course he needed loans, which the House of Wittelsbach all paid back after his death.”

She does not mention the payments by Bismarck (chapters 87 and 137).

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The contemporaries did not take the financing so lightly. Quite the opposite, the construction craze broke the king’s neck, literally.

In the last episode (chapters 137 and 138), I summarized how the Bavarian government planned to get rid of Ludwig II and what shabby tricks they used to do so. We were just on 7 June 1886, when the Council of Ministers commissioned a psychiatric report, which the psychiatrist Gudden conveniently completed on 8 June 1886.

We reenter the story on 9 June 1886. A government commission travels to Neuschwanstein Castle to inform the king that he has been made redundant. However, it does not reach Ludwig ll. Apparently, the royal camp knows what is being played, and the royal staff, local gendarmes and the fire department deny the government commission access to the king and even lock up the government representatives, including the foreign minister, for several hours.

Ludwig II consults with his people, who recommend that he either travel to Munich and speak directly to the people, or flee abroad. The king remains defiant: “Here is my castle, and here are my toys. Here I will stay.” We all know people like this, who prefer to wallow in misfortune rather than take friendly advice.

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On the evening of 11 June 1886, a second government commission travels to Neuschwanstein, this time with a more stringent mandate, which is why it is also called the “catching commission”. It no longer consists of civil servants and ministers, but of doctors and nurses, professional groups notorious for their brutality and mercilessness. The head of this task force is Bernhard von Gudden, who seems to be involved in every mischief.

We do not know exactly what happened at Neuschwanstein Castle and how much violence was necessary, but in the night of 11th to 12th of June 1886, this commando unit abducts Ludwig II to Berg Castle on Lake Starnberg, which you will remember from chapters 2, 3 and 10.

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“I mean, it’s okay that you don’t want me to be no king no more. But why can’t I stay at Neuschwanstein Castle and watch Wagner operas,” Ludwig II and the readers are asking.

The reasons are at least twofold:

Firstly, the king was very possessive of Neuschwanstein Castle. Not only should no one else ever enter, let alone live in it. There was also a rumor that Ludwig II had decreed that Neuschwanstein Castle was to be blown up after his death. Since German leaders like to go a little crazy when their careers come to an end, such an overreaction could not be ruled out.

Second, although the Bavarian government found Neuschwanstein aesthetically and financially dreadful, it already had new plans for the magnificent building.

Until then, castles had been functional buildings that served defensive, accommodation, government or at least representative purposes. An old castle could house a district court or a high school if necessary. Neuschwanstein, however, was not suitable for any of these purposes, because the border to Austria was already defended by the Alps – and anyway: who is afraid of Austria? -, and because nobody lived near the castle. Furthermore, a courthouse or other office building that could not be reached for a few months due to deep snow was impractical.

So what to do with Neuschwanstein? To use it as a movie set was the obvious and good idea until a boring official pointed out that cinematography had not been invented in 1886.

As with the Singers’ Hall (chapter 166), Wartburg Castle served as inspiration for the question of follow-up use. Although only partially accessible to visitors, it had become a popular destination for excursions and travel. A few years earlier, an inn had opened in that castle. Guest rooms accommodated visitors from all over Europe, who were guided through the castle from 6 o’clock in the morning.

It was the birth of castle tourism.

What seems perfectly normal to us now, was like a revolution back then. Common people, even foreigners, could walk through princely and royal chambers. And the princely and royal houses were dependent on entrance fees. They had to sell fridge magnets and other frippery to finance their lifestyle. Tourism was the forerunner of the revolution, one could say.

And the Bavarian government recognized this opportunity.

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The Bavarian government also recognized that a castle with a legend could be marketed even better than a mere castle. And with this, the death sentence was handed down.

On the evening of 13 June 1886, just one day after his abduction, Ludwig II allegedly went for a walk on the shores of Lake Starnberg. Allegedly accompanied by Dr. Gudden.

Why someone should go for a peaceful stroll with the psychiatrist who snatched the throne, his power and his castle from him, is not clear to me. But we don’t have much time to ponder this question, because a shot is fired.

You remember the spot on Lake Starnberg where Ludwig II is said to have drowned (chapter 4). Isn’t it suspicious that there is a clear field of vision and for aiming a rifle right there?

If someone wanted to drown himself, why would he do it in such a widely visible place? Besides, the lake is really shallow at that spot. You can stand in the water. And it was June, so the water was not too cold either.

No, probably Ludwig II was not dead on the spot, but dragged himself to the lake and wanted to swim away – one does not always act rationally in such situations. But soon he ran out of strength.

And Dr. Gudden? Had he knowingly led the king to this place? Or was he himself shocked and suddenly understood that he too was a puppet? There is no time for him and us to think this over, because a second shot is fired. The psychiatrist is dead.

Six weeks later, Neuschwanstein Castle is opened to the public.

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The tragic thing about the story is that the castles for which the king was executed have become a lucrative source of income for the State of Bavaria. In the long run, they have paid off. But their architect had to die first. Only 15 years after his death, the debts were all paid off.

Today, the stones of contention are the most famous image of Bavaria, and even Germany, in the world. Nobody wants to see the Hohenzollern castle, and only a fish is named after Bismarck. Ludwig II would smile smugly about it.

If Wagner had been as talented as Shakespeare, he would have turned this into a royal drama.

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After the pompous castle and the dramatic story, I have a longing for nature. The water in the Alpine Lake is crystal clear. You can see all the way to the bottom. My morning wash-up yesterday (chapter 116) has left no permanent water pollution.

But even at the King-Ludwig-II-memorial-suicide-by-jumping-into-the-lake spot, you have to stand in line. This hara-kiri is especially popular with Japanese tourists.

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Driven by open questions and the fear of not being able to answer them to the full satisfaction of the detail-obsessed readership, I go to the Museum of Bavarian Kings located by the Alpine Lake.

In this museum, there are restrictions as if I was visiting the king himself. I even have to lock up the camera before I can enter the exhibition. What I understood perfectly on the guided tours in the castles annoys me in a much less frequented museum. I like to take pictures of the information panels so that I can read them later in peace. Instead, I have to write everything down, soon running out of patience.

And it’s a pity, because from the gallery on the second floor, you have a beautiful view of the lake and of Hohenschwangau Castle.

The building itself is also interesting, old on the outside, modern on the inside. It won the German Steel Construction Award in 2012.

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In the house museum of the Wittelsbacher is of course proud to point out that this is one of the oldest dynasties in the world, which has been involved in politics since the 11th century.

Through a determined marriage policy they ruled as kings of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greece and Hungary and as emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Wittelsbach women sat on the thrones of France, Austria, Sweden, Bohemia, Naples (not Nepal) and Brazil.

However, they only became kings of Bavaria in 1806 thanks to Napoleon. So, people who are afraid of a Bavarian becoming German chancellor will have to worry once Emmanuel Macron will interfere in German politics just as he does in Lebanon.

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But the museum is not a place of unreflected adulation. About Ludwig II, it says: “The unprepared monarch soon reached the limits of his political decision-making and actionability.”

The exaggerated construction of the castle is depicted in the museum, as are other fantasies of the monarch, such as the flying peacock cart that was to take him across the Alpine Lake to Hohenschwangau Castle.

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Those who are only here for the kitsch castle have long switched off, and so for the remaining history freaks among the readers, I can still learn something about the house of Wittelsbach in the 20th century. But before I do so, I remember that I wanted to check on the veracity of the purported Nero order (chapter 171).

“Is there an archive here?” I ask one of the royal wardens.

“Yes, but it is secret.”

“What?”

“Although the Secret House of Wittelsbach Archives are organizationally a department of the Bavarian Capital Archives, the holdings belong to the Wittelsbach Compensation Fund or are privately owned by members of the royal house.”

He actually says “royal house”. Maybe I had to give up my camera when I entered the museum so as not to disturb the medieval niff.

“According to the special agreement between the House of Wittelsbach and the State of Bavaria from 1923, if you want to look at the files, you need the approval of the head of the Wittelsbach family.”

“And who elected that guy?” I am tempted to ask, but I give up in desperation. No wonder that the death of King Ludwig II has not yet been resolved, if the relatives keep their thumbs on the files. Are there any other countries that were so stupid as to grant their former rulers special rights after the revolution, not only over land and castles, but even over historiography?

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So I cannot verify what is claimed here about the Nazi era: “The members of the Wittelsbach family were opponents of the National Socialists out of deepest conviction, even though they were not active in any resistance group.” To me, that sounds a bit like muddling through. Crown Prince Rupprecht did not give up his hope for reintroducing the monarchy even during National Socialism.

The Nazis, in turn, didn’t like that very much. They feared that Rupprecht would become the identification figure of the resistance. He evaded arrest by fleeing to Florence. His wife Antonia, the children and Prince Albrecht, whom he had somehow forgotten when he fled, were sent to the concentration camps in Sachsenhausen, Dachau and Flossenbürg and to the SS special camp “Alpenhotel Ammerwald”.

But you needn’t worry about the princes and princesses. They had special houses in the concentration camps, where they were doing comparatively well. All members of the family survived, unlike the Eastern Jews, whose expulsion from Bavaria had been suggested by Crown Prince Rupprecht in the 1920s. Because the prince was not such an anti-Nazi, it turns out.

This, however, I don’t learn in the museum. I have to research it on my own with great effort. One example: Rupprecht wrote in 1923 in a memorandum that he had distributed: “Anti-Semitism is stronger than ever at present, for understandable and not unjustified reasons. The minimum demand is the expulsion of the Eastern Jews, which must take place without fail, because these elements have had a poisoning effect.”

Perhaps not by chance, because in 1923, Rupprecht attempted to regain the throne in a coup, ostensibly to forestall the Nazis. That did not work, but in 1946, he was ready again. He suggested to the Americans that only a king could guarantee that National Socialism would not resurface.

Somebody was really hungry for power.

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The concentration camps seem to have left the most lasting impression on Princess Irmingard. As a 19-year-old, she had still tried to escape alone across the Alps to Switzerland, but was arrested by the Gestapo. She turned the experience into writing and painting.

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The Nazis not only had an eye on the royal family, but also on their castles.

Neuschwanstein served as a depot for looted art during World War II. It was perfect for this purpose because there were hundreds of empty rooms, a heating system was installed, and it was located as far away from the front as possible. Moreover, American airmen would never have dropped bombs on a building that they recognized from the Disney movies as Cinderella’s Castle.

It is well known that the Nazis stole art from murdered Jews and other civilians as well as from museums in the occupied countries. Neuschwanstein Castle was the main depot of the Reichsleiter Rosenberg Task Force, housing mostly art stolen from France.

When the Western Allies approached the Alps in May 1945, the SS was to blow up Neuschwanstein to prevent it from falling into foreign hands. (Those who speak out against foreign visitors – see chapter 119 – thus find themselves in an unfortunate tradition.) In the very last days of the war, however, even the very last SS men noticed that the winds were shifting. And so, the appointed SS major general refused to blow up the treasures. The “Monuments Men” of the US Army were able to take possession of the treasures, catalog them, and largely restitute them.

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Never to be found, however, was the gold treasure of the German Reichsbank, which was stored at Neuschwanstein Castle at the end of World War II, but was taken to an unknown location in the last days of war.

That is why they are still digging for it (see chapter 155), although I would not be surprised if there is at least as hefty a curse on it as on Tutankhamun.

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As I step out of the museum, I meet the gentleman from Fulda again, whom I met in the queue in front of the ticket center (chapter 123). In general it is not that crowded with tourists, I notice, because I recognize the same people again and again at the different castles, at the rest areas, on the bus. Probably, 2020 was the best possibility for a relatively relaxed visit in Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.

For the coming years, I recommend the long hike instead.

On the other hand, if we are lucky, the pandemic will last for a few more years.

THE END

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In the King’s Footsteps (Day 8) Hohenschwangau Castle

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.


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Although it’s a local bus, operated by the City of Füssen, bus no. 78 shows the destination only in English: “Hohenschwangau Castles”. This must be the loss of German culture that some people are worried about.

However, there are no international tourists sitting next to me, only drowsy schoolchildren.

At the Powder Tower, a girl gets on the bus: “I forgot my bus pass.”

The driver doesn’t make her pay. He doesn’t reprimand her. Instead, he prints two tickets: “The other one is for the way back home.”

In Hohenschwangau, the bus driver calls out “king – castle – wonderful”, also in English.

I left at 7:30 a.m. to arrive at the ticket center in time before 8 a.m. There are about 15 people in front of me; that could still work. One spot ahead of me, there is a man from Fulda who immediately drove to Bavaria when the newspaper wrote “Neuschwanstein is open again”. He, too, has to remark: “There are no Chinese or Japanese here this year”, although Australians and New Zealanders would be even more harmful to the environment.

Very annoying, especially so early in the morning, is a woman behind me in the queue. She is yelling into her phone, very loudly and importantly, at people who seem to be her subordinates about schedules, room allocation plans, Excel spreadsheets and other unimportant things. Her two daughters don’t have mobile phones, probably put off by the mother’s deterring example.

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When it is my turn to enter, I look back again. Now, there are at least 150 people behind me. The appeal by the Federal Health Minister to holiday in Germany this year is having an effect. Whoever sleeps in or insists on breakfast loses.

Everything is strictly streamlined and very efficient, much like at the Tokyo subway counter. Maybe that’s why the Japanese like coming here so much? If I hurry, I could even enjoy the first guided tour of the day at Hohenschwangau Castle, the ticket saleswoman is offering.

But I don’t want to hurry.

All right, 9:40 then?

Okay.

“And Neuschwanstein at 11:00? You can manage that if you walk briskly.”

Neuschwanstein is situated on a mountain, it is about 40 minutes by foot and I don’t feel like rushing at all.

“So 11:30?”

I have to fight my way to slowness, pleasure and relaxation until I get a ticket for 13:30. Apparently, they usually deal with visitors who still have to go to Munich or Hallstatt in the afternoon.

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Looking at the receipt leads to twofold horror, one financial, one historical.

The two castles cost 30 €, which I would not have been able to afford without the generous donations by readers. So, if you enjoy the upcoming guided tour through the magnificent royal castles, please thank the noble donors.

And secondly, the invoice was not issued by the State of Bavaria, but by the Wittelsbach Compensation Fund. This sounds beautifully antiquated and equitable, but in reality it means that the State of Bavaria or the municipality of Schwangau put in the work, but the money goes to the family of the former kings.

This weird arrangement is a consequence of the rather benign Bavarian revolution of 1918: While elsewhere, kings and emperors were exiled or executed, in Bavaria, people sat together over a beer and haggled over what was to belong to the Free State and what was to belong to the Wittelsbach family.

As was customary in peaceful Bavaria, the negotiations culminated in a compromise in 1923, according to which part of the castles and properties became state property and the other part remained with the Wittelsbach family. This quite obviously arbitrary solution, probably reached by playing cards, was not complicated enough to justify several years of negotiations. Thus, a few more foundations were set up to look after the art treasures, which in turn lent them to museums. Boards of directors and state commissioners were appointed. And they invented words like “Domanialfideikommisspragmatik” and “Pinakoglyptohypothek”, so that no one would ever dare to ask.

For today, it shall suffice to know that Neuschwanstein Castle is state property, but that the Museum of the Bavarian Kings and Hohenschwangau Castle are owned by the Wittelsbach family. Therefore, there is no student discount for the latter. The kings need every euro.

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A small detour leads me to Frauenstein Castle.

Oh, that one is already out of order. A memorial stone in the forest is all that remains.

Good thing I didn’t fall for the scam with the online tickets for apparently no longer existing castles.

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But as I turn around, I see them: the two castles, brutally planted into the landscape.

I always find it very provincial when the child (upper castle) builds in the immediate vicinity of the parents (lower castle). “Well, here I had the property”, says the spoiled son and still brings the laundry to mom for ironing. I have a hard time understanding people who don’t want to explore the world at a young age, who never want to travel to Transylvania, who aren’t lured to Lusaka, drawn to Dar-es-Salaam or tempted by Tibet.

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Only later did he want to leave, when he was fed up with Bavaria. Or rather, when he was fed up with Germany. The foundation of the German Empire in 1871 was perceived by King Ludwig II as a defeat for Bavaria and for himself. He was no longer the supreme, unconditional ruler, but rather contained and constrained and relatively irrelevant in this new empire, which, to make matters worse, was ruled by the loathed (and indeed loathworthy) Hohenzollern clan.

But King Ludwig II did not simply want to go into exile and write like Ovid, the Mann brothers or Anna Seghers. No, he was really upset and defiantly wanted to seek another country where he could become an absolute ruler with unlimited power.

For this purpose, he dispatched Columbuses and set up a commission. Royal officials traveled to and explored the Canary Islands, Cyprus and Crete. The fact that he was only looking for islands says a lot.

The royal commission under Admiral Canaris chose the Canary Islands as the most suitable location, calculated the expenses for the acquisition of the islands, planned the negotiations with Spain and England and drew up a constitution for the “Canary Island Kingdom”.

And then, it all came to nothing.

Fortunately for the Canary Islands, who narrowly managed to escape the fate of a royal colony and have been leading a relaxed life ever since.

On the other hand, now the Canary Islands are stuck with the Bourbons. With all these dynasties, you can’t tell which one is worse. Well, actually, you can: the Hohenzollern.

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This plan for the Canary Islands, which by the way has been hushed up in many reports, exhibitions and films about Ludwig II, seems ludicrous from today’s point of view.

But there have been enough examples of German nobles emigrating to become king elsewhere. The uncle of Ludwig II, Otto, became the first King of Greece in 1832. Today, the Greek parliament convenes in the palace once built for the Bavarian, and the blue and white in the Greek flag are the Bavarian colors.

However, this foreign assignment did not end well. In 1862, after 30 years of reign, there was an uprising or military coup, and King Otto had to go into exile. He moved back to Bavaria, where he decreed that every town should have a Greek restaurant, because he missed souvlaki and gyros.

The Greeks chose a prince from Denmark as his successor, a mistake that no one who has read Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” would have made. But the Greeks always thought a lot of their own dramas and tragedies and ignored all foreign literature.

But I am digressing like Hamlet, I think, and you finally want to go inside the castle.

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Ludwig II is always associated with Neuschwanstein Castle, although he only spent 172 days there. If one wants to get closer to his thinking and feeling, however, one must go to Hohenschwangau Castle and soak up the castle and scenery that shaped the later king during his childhood.

Soaking up the scenery could become difficult, however, because the annoying telephone woman from the queue is also in the tour at 9:40 am, and she is also annoying when she is not on the phone. Now she wants to take pictures of her daughters all the time and is upset that visitors are not allowed to take photos in the castle. I am absolutely fine with that, because it allows me to concentrate on observing, listening and writing.

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On the site of the castle, a robber baron’s castle had long stood, which was repeatedly besieged and destroyed, most recently by Napoleon, who apparently could not even calm down in the relaxing scenery of mountains and lakes. (Strange that everyone is angry about Japanese and Chinese tourists, but nobody blames the French for their destruction.) After that, the castle was forgotten for 30 years, until Crown Prince Maximilian discovered the ruins on a hike, which, as I can confirm as an experienced hiker, happens quite often. The later King Maximilian II, the father of Ludwig II, bought the castle and had it restored as a royal vacation home, which, as I can tell you as an experienced hiker, happens very rarely.

Nor is there any reason to overreact in this property-purchasing manner, because the views and the rustling of the leaves can be enjoyed, as this hike has proven, without owning any of it. In Bavaria, the unadulterated enjoyment of natural beauty even has constitutional status, postulated in the poetic Article 141 paragraph 3 of the State Constitution:

The enjoyment of natural beauty and recreation in the outdoors, in particular the access to forests and mountain meadows, the use of waterways and lakes and the appropriation of wild fruit to the extent customary in the respective region shall be permitted to every person. In this respect, every person shall be obliged to treat nature and the landscape with care. The state and the municipalities shall be entitled and obliged to maintain free access to mountains, lakes, rivers and other beautiful sceneries and to create free access by restricting property rights and to create hiking trails and recreational parks, if need be.

A human right to hiking and to sitting by the lake, ain’t that great?

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Hohenschwangau is held in the spirit of historicizing late romanticism. Fearing that the children would not read any picture books, the royal parents decorated the walls of all rooms with picture stories from medieval legends and family history.

The dining room is the swan knight’s hall. The composer Richard Wagner, whose greatest fan and patron Ludwig II was, often stayed at Hohenschwangau Castle. Wagner got a piano and the guest room with the most beautiful view over the Alpine Lake. Unfortunately, the composer did not look out of the window, but at the kitschy paintings. That’s why we got this heroism crap from him instead of music that captures the landscape like Smetana‘s or Čiurlionis‘.

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Because Ludwig II had money and bad taste, Richard Wagner kept showing up. When dealing with Ludwig II, the question of whether he was a good or a bad king, whether he was crazy or just special, pops up at every turn. This can be discussed back and forth, as I am hoping to show in this series of articles. But one thing is indisputable: The low point in the king’s resume is the promotion of the dubious composer. Without Ludwig II, Wagner would have been broke and we would have been spared hours of pompous singing. Or he would have continued to make hip-hop, for which he had already been in prison.

But even at this darkest spot of the monarch, I must point out the ambivalence that defies any unambiguous assessment of Ludwig II. When Wagner asked for the court orchestra for the first performance of “Parsifal” in Bayreuth in 1881, he expressly excluded the conductor Hermann Levi from this request because he was Jewish. The king reacted honorably and resolutely. He wrote to Wagner that he could have the orchestra, but only with the conductor. He tolerated “no difference between Christians and Jews,” for: “Nothing is more disgusting, more unpleasant than such disputes. After all, all people are basically brothers, regardless of denominational differences.” This must have really rankled Wagner, who was a fierce anti-Semite.

Unfortunately, in the further course of German history, the Wagners prevailed. The moral of the story: No money for anti-Semites! Ludwig II would have saved himself this – and perhaps incapacitation and death – if he had known that you can support my blog from only 2.99 thalers per month and receive instructive articles, guaranteed without fanfare and trombone.

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Another room in the castle is dedicated to the supposed ancestors of the Wittelsbachers and shows crusaders and Normans and battles.

The pictures are very romanticizing. Even in the most violent battle paintings, there is no blood, no open wounds. After all, one was supposed to dine in front of the painting. For Otto, the brother of Ludwig II, this led to a rude awakening when he actually took part in the Franco-Prussian War and was traumatized. The world is not a painting after all.

Incidentally, Ludwig II incapacitated his younger brother in 1878, which is why after the death of Ludwig II, he became King of Bavaria only in title, but the official business was taken over by Prince Regent Luitpold. In the last days of his life, Ludwig II may have regretted his brother’s incapacitation, for anyone who wildly incapacitates within his own family is later in a difficult position to argue against his own incapacitation. Instead of listening to Wagner’s Valkyrie, the young king would have done better to read about Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

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I guess I finally have to tell the story of the incapacitation of King Ludwig II:

If you grow up in a castle like that and don’t go to school with normal children, you become a little strange. (Another reason against private schools.) On top of that, Ludwig II was torn between an absolutist understanding of power, which could not be reconciled with the relatively modern Bavarian constitution (see chapter 86), on the one hand, and rather modern socio-political views, which culminated in reported statements that he was actually a republican and deemed the monarchy a stupid idea, in which he was undoubtedly right, on the other hand, which led to similar confusion as might befall the readers who are getting tangled up in one of my convoluted sentences, although they should appreciate the fact and the information about the fact that I produce far more elaborate linguistic labyrinths in German.

How does one react to such a conflict?

Very simple: You switch off your cell phone and go into hibernation.

Ludwig II became more and more shy of people, hardly ever making an appearance in Munich. Well, nobody likes Munich, but in the king’s case, it was problematic because Munich was the capital of the kingdom and government and parliament were working there.

Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein are more than 100 km away, which made cooperation with the ministries and authorities difficult.

“I should be allowed to work in the home office,” said the king, who had a lifelong fear of typhus, plague, yellow fever and HIV. So the ministers had to travel by coach into the mountains just to have a document signed. (Without the king’s signature a law could not become law.)

From 1870 on, Ludwig II did not even receive his government’s ministers, but carried out all business by mail. He was practically a virtual king that no one ever saw again.

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All the paperwork annoyed Ludwig II, which everyone can understand who has letters from the DMV and the IRS piling up, and he increasingly withdrew into private life and his two hobbies: building castles and listening to operas.

That the former is very expensive is self-evident. But the king also made the enjoyment of music an expensive business. Instead of a record, he ordered the entire theater ensemble to his home or to one of the opera houses, which was then closed to the public. And the king sat all alone in the auditorium, because he had no friends. By the way, this is very frustrating for the artists, because artists – like bloggers – want an audience.

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“Follow the money,” say criminologists when they want to get to the bottom of a case, and that’s the way it is here.

In chapter 87, I had already mentioned that the Bavarian royal family was actually broke, and that Prussia was stepping in with annual payments of at least 300,000 marks.

But now it becomes tricky: These payments were secret. It was black money. Illegal. Corruption.

Because Prussia did not pay to the Kingdom of Bavaria, but set up a secret fund (the “Welfs’ Fund”), out of which a total of 5 million marks was paid via Swiss banks – whom else? – into private accounts of Ludwig II.

We recall that Prussia had bought the approval of the Bavarian king for the foundation of the German Empire that way. In other words, the Bavarian king had sold, or rather flogged the independence of Bavaria because of his mania for building castles. The castles that are now globally regarded as symbols of Bavaria actually put the rope around Bavaria’s neck.

This is a prime example of high treason. Which carries the death penalty.

So King Ludwig II lived under constant fear that Prussia would either stop payments or that the financial entanglements would become public.

In April 1886, the time had come. Bismarck, the German chancellor, had realized that Ludwig II’s financial demands were a bottomless pit. Perhaps he simply no longer needed him after the foundation of the Reich was completed and consolidated. And thus, Bismarck informed the Bavarian government.

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The Bavarian cabinet quickly came to a conclusion: The king must be removed.

But not like in France, with guillotine and blood in the streets. No, it had to happen inconspicuously and surreptitiously.

On 7 June 1886, the cabinet commissioned the psychiatrist Bernhard von Gudden to give an expert opinion on the king’s state of mind. Gudden, who had already declared Otto of Bavaria mentally ill (chapter 134), accepted the commission.

The next day, the report was finished.

Of course, such a quick and efficient procedure is only possible if, contrary to all medical and legal rules, the person concerned is not personally examined, a practice that is still used in Bavaria when dubious million-euro deals have to be covered up.

Before the cabinet published the decision to remove the king from office on 10 June 1886, they asked Prince Luitpold for an assurance that the administration would remain in office unchanged. Prince Luitpold agreed, and in return he became regent, i.e. de facto king. The ministers had dismissed all alternatives, such as the voluntary abdication of Ludwig II.

Essentially, this was a coup d’état.

Who would deliver the news to the king? How would the king react? Why did the king have to die? And, even more mysteriously, why did Doctor Gudden have to die?

We will resolve all this in the next episode. Now, let’s continue our tour of Hohenschwangau Castle.

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In the bedroom, there are pictures of an oriental journey.

In the ballroom, the Wilkina saga is celebrated. Because the kings were not quite sure of their own education, all paintings are labeled. That way, I learn that the flying dragon from the Never-Ending Story is called Sintram.

In the walls, there are 50 cm wide tunnels for the staff, who had to feed wood to the tiled stoves from behind. Why the Wittelsbachers could not do this themselves is unclear, but then, snobbish people still act like that today. Some, for example, cannot pick up a pizza, instead chasing poorly paid couriers through the city and the rain.

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Above, I wrote that you have to know Hohenschwangau Castle to understand the childhood of Ludwig II, but actually it went beyond that. Even as king, he lived in this castle for another 20 years.

Not because he wanted to, but because he had to. Neuschwanstein was a mega project that was not finished from one day to the next. (Well, if the Chinese had come at that time, they would have completed it in a week. And on top of that, they would have put down the revolution.) In a bay window of Hohenschwangau, there is a telescope with which Ludwig II followed the construction progress of his dream castle. He had to wait 17 years. If you got nothing else to do in the meantime, that can easily drive you crazy.

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Due to the corona virus, the group size for guided tours is limited to 10 people, which is quite pleasant. “Usually, we have 45 people in the group,” says the guide, and I can hardly imagine how crowded this would be in some rooms. “As a consequence, you will not see the castle as it was handed over to the public as a museum in 1913. We have had to increase the available space and have therefore removed the bookshelves from the walls, for example”.

Oh great, exactly the most interesting things were banished to the basement. Instead, there are replicas of some fountains and a lot of silverware around.

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Speaking of the tour:

I mentioned in chapter 125 that this castle is privately owned by the Wittelsbach family. That made me fear that the tour would glorify the monarchy and that one would be asked to join the secret society of the Guglmen when leaving. (I removed the chapter on the Guglmen after anonymous threats. But you can gugl them yourself.)

It isn’t like that at all. Quite the opposite.

The young woman points out that Ludwig II was not that popular as a king. “He had to fight two wars, joined the German Reich, wasted money and practically never showed himself to the people.”

Prince Regent Luitpold, on the other hand, the successor, was much more popular: “He ruled for the longest period of peace and was very affable, almost normal. You could meet him in Munich when he took his dog for a walk in his lederhosen.”

It seems that the Bavarian kings, except for Ludwig II, were very fond of walking through the parks of Munich. One episode shows how banal historical events can be: The news of his downfall reached King Ludwig III on 7 November 1918 during an afternoon walk in the park. Two passers-by, who were better informed than the ruler, were kind enough to warn him: “Majesty, you better go home. They are having a revolution.” The king walked back to the residence, where servants and guards had already fled. He packed his wife, his children and a few things into the car and drove into exile to Austria. In the hurry, he had forgotten to pack underwear, which the revolutionary leader and new Prime Minister Kurt Eisner mailed him a few days later.

If everyone cooperates, revolution can be that simple. You don’t have to put on a drama show for ten years like in France.

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The tour lasts only 30 minutes. The schedule is tight because the next group is already on our heels. But thankfully, the guide offers that we can ask her questions afterwards in the garden. “If Ludwig II was not exactly popular during his lifetime,” I ask, “when and why did the transfiguration and nostalgia begin that continue to this day?”

“Only in post-war Germany, really,” is the astonishing answer. “That was also the time when the Sisi films became popular.”

This makes me realize: “It’s almost like reaching desperately for something in the far-away past to cover up the more recent past.”

“Of course,” she says, and it’s a pity that such aspects are not addressed during the guided tours.

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Because I have allowed myself sufficient time between the castles, I can still enjoy the garden of Hohenschwangau Castle. On one side you can see the mountains that mark the border of the kingdom, on the other side the ruled-over land.

The gardener responsible for this splendor tells me that nowadays, there are 280 visitors a day, while usually there are 3000 a day. He seems very relaxed and offers me a royal mandarin.

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On the way back to the valley, I can see for myself how down to earth Prince Regent Luitpold is. Just as I pass a panel with his portrait, he walks up the hill. Without any entourage or adjutant. And he doesn’t even mind that I mention the coincidence and take a photo of him.

(If anyone recognizes the gentleman, who was visiting from Denmark, please tell him about this article.)

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By noon, desperate and crying tourists, who failed to get tickets to Neuschwanstein Castle, are standing in front of the ticket center.

Wife: “Why didn’t you organize tickets?”

Husband: “Because I asked you repeatedly at what time of day I should book. And you said that planning constrains you and that you want to be spontaneous.”

Wife: “But you should have told me that the tickets will be sold out.”

Husband: “That’s why I tried to leave early and not have breakfast for hours.”

Wife: “This is not a vacation. You are turning everything into stress!”

Beginners think that travelling is romantic, but in reality, many relationships begin to fail on the first trip together. (One example. And another one.)

If I had been more business-minded this morning, I would have bought several tickets for the afternoon and could now sell them for twice or thrice the price. In front of the Alhambra in Granada, someone even offered me five times the price of my ticket. But because the readers were waiting for an article about the Alhambra, I had to decline. That was two years ago. I still haven’t gotten to that article. :-(

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I really wanted to tell you about Neuschwanstein Castle today. But as you can see, this article has become so long again that we have to move the fairy tale castle to the next article.

Patience! After all, the king waited quite a while, too.

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Film Review “Capital in the 21st Century”

I am usually an advocate of reading the book before the movie – or indeed of only reading the book and not spoiling it. But I haven’t yet been in the mood to delve into Thomas Piketty’s 570-page book analyzing the historical data on wealth and income, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”. It does sound a bit dry.

So, this time, I jumped at the opportunity to watch the movie instead.

First observation: The film is anything but dry. It’s visually very appealing, much more than one would expect from an economics lecture. It blends historical footage, reenactments, excerpts from Hollywood movies, interviews and beautiful cinematography.

It’s an economic history of the last 230 years, since the French Revolution, always putting it into historical and political context. This provides a good overview and shows, counterintuitively perhaps, that both World Wars actually helped to fight inequality. After World War I, there was so much destruction and nothing to be gained by taxing the working class more that states finally had to tax the aristocracy. Workers and women, who had borne the brunt of the war, managed to attain a stronger role in society.

But it was only after World War II that social mobility became a real possibility. Only then did a middle class come into existence and the combination of growth and the welfare state offered a realistic chance to get ahead through hard work and study.

One reason this worked was that capitalism needed to serve the masses, not the few, because there was the alternative of communism. The competition between two economic and social models kept capitalism on its feet. But that competition came to an abrupt end in 1990.

And ever since, capitalism became unfettered, the rich became richer, they made the rules, they stopped paying taxes on large parts of their income, they were moving their assets around to evade taxation. Inequality has been growing to levels last seen a hundred years ago. In a few decades, we’ve lost all progress. Economically, in many countries, we are experiencing a quasi-feudal system, where inheritance largely determines one’s place in society, where the rich marry and mingle among each other, and the rest of society is toiling to make ends meet.

I found some of the historical lessons in the film too simplistic. For example, the role of reparations after World War I in bringing down the Germany economy is overstated. (Yes, the reparations burden was high, but Germany only paid a fraction of what was due.) And while poverty may have played (and continues to play) a role in the rise of fascism, this is by no means such a simple nexus. (In the US, extreme poverty led to the New Deal.)

But it still works because people want to believe in social mobility, against all facts and odds. Ironically, there is much more social mobility in societies that emphasize equality and have higher taxes (not least because you need good public services, especially education, for social mobility).

One eye-opening scene was the Monopoly Experiment done at UC Irvine. Participants were invited to play Monopoly (largely a game of luck, not of skill or wit), but the toss of a coin (luck again) determined that one of the two players got twice as much capital to start with, collected twice as much upon passing “Go”, and got to roll both dices instead of one. Now, that player knew that his position was only due to luck.

What happened? Not surprisingly, the player with all the privileges won. But what was surprising, and shocking even in some of the videos, was how cocky, mean, arrogant the privileged players became within minutes. They forgot almost immediately that it was merely a coin toss (like an inheritance or having rich parents) which had placed them in the privileged position. They seriously thought that they were better Monopoly players. As the psychologist says: “We translate the experience of being better off than others into thinking that we are better than other people.”

In summary, a movie well worth watching, and well worth thinking about it. But it doesn’t go into the necessary depth, and can thus only serve as a teaser for the book. Or for Mr Piketty’s new book, “Capital and Ideology”, another tome of 1150 pages. Too bad that there is a huge gulf of inequality between everything I want to read and the time I have.

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Make use of autumn!

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.


Usually, my articles are months, years or even decades behind actual events. But today, there are a few photos from yesterday’s hike in Amberg-Sulzbach County in Germany to remind you: Take advantage of autumn while the sun is still warm and the leaves are still colorful!

Don’t worry about the early morning fog. Like many problems, it will simply go away by ignoring it.

The ruins of Hohenburg Castle are located in a US military training area, making it impossible to visit, unless you want to be accidentally shot or shipped to Guantanamo.

So let’s head in the other direction, while the sun is gaining strength.

Oh, the famous pilgrimage route of St. James passes by here as well.

The pilgrims have to be self-sufficient, collecting fruits and berries,

because the pubs along the route have long since closed. You can read more about this sad development in chapters 68 and 69 of my walk along King Ludwig Trail.

And swoosh, after about 30 kilometers, I am back home. It was almost too short.

Now, if you live on the southern hemisphere, you are in bad luck, of course, because you are having spring instead of autumn. Sorry!

If you live on the northern hemisphere, though, go out as much as you still can! There will still be enough time to work in winter. Or next year. Honestly, the gross national product is not that important.

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In the King’s Footsteps (Day 7) Füssen

Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.


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The night was dry and without wind, thanks to the cabin. This time it was only chilly, not freezing cold.

Nevertheless, I could not fall asleep until after midnight. Probably because I had not walked enough yesterday. Less than 10 km, that’s really nothing. I could sleepwalk that.

If only I could sleep. It’s nice that there are benches in the hut, but 25 cm are so narrow that I’m afraid to fall each time I turn. The blanket is not big enough to keep me warm me from above and underneath at the same time. As you know, I don’t have a sleeping bag. Each time I turn in order to distribute the pain evenly all over my body, my whole skeleton wants to break apart.

At times I have thoughtlessly used the term “homeless” for my existence, but I have no idea how real homeless people can endure this every night. It’s only getting colder from now on. And the country is not exactly dotted with cabins. Then, there is the social stigma. It’s really absurd: When I say that I am on a hike and that I will sleep outside if necessary, people invite me into their houses (chapters 14 and 15, chapter 33, chapters 46 and 52, chapter 58) and listen to my stories. If someone is poor and sleeps outside out of necessity, no one invites him or her in, and people look the other way.

At 3:30 a.m. the limbs and bones are hurting unbearably, even when I lie still. Months later, I will still feel the permanent damage, and thus, this very 45th birthday night marks the zenith of my life. From now on, I am on the downhill slope, at least physically. If I won’t discover the Holy Grail, then the decay is unstoppable.

Sleep is no longer an option. So I pack my things and set off into the darkness instead of sitting around, freezing pointlessly. The full moon is shining, as far as the clouds give way, and Wies Church is not far. Walking is good for the joints.

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A full moon is completely sufficient as a lantern, by the way. For all I care, there was no need to invent electricity.

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And what a sight it is: As the first person on this day, all alone, I see the most famous church of Bavaria under the full moon.

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It is said to be “the most light-rich of all German baroque churches of the 17th/18th century”, a “miracle of light and space”. Yet it is not even illuminated properly. This honor is only given to the cash machine opposite. A few windy lanterns stand around the church and confuse the sundial attached to the southern wall.

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There is a fox again, this time completely in black. It flits off in the direction of Wies Church, unsettled by a walker outside the regular visiting hours.

I turn the corner, and it sits there, as if teasing me.

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Oh. So maybe the fox from the day before yesterday (chapter 78) was also a large cat.

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It is 4:30 a.m. The church does not open until 8 o’clock. How something can become a UNESCO world heritage site with such lousy opening hours is beyond me. I am not going to stick around in the cold that long. The restaurant, which tempts me with currywurst on the menu, will hardly open sooner.

So I move on.

Because that’s how cool I am. Walking 100 km and then not making a big fuss about a UNESCO world heritage site. Anyway, we have seen enough churches on this hike. And if you want to see Wies Church from the inside, here is a photo from Wikipedia and the link to the virtual tour.

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But now, I feel more like continuing the walk in the full moon, into the rising sun. I have the whole road to myself, and soon the birds are singing from all directions.

Looking back, one can glimpse the sun rising behind the church.

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After about two hours of bad sleep and without any food since yesterday’s Hans-in-Luck chocolate, I shouldn’t really be able to walk at all, but from Schober onward, the view to the Alps opens up. The finish line is near!

It was the right decision to pause the walk for the rainy yesterday.

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Below Unterreithen, the sun finally wins against the clouds. I lie down on a bench by the wayside to catch up on sleep. Passing dogs nudge me curiously. A group of cyclists stops to admire the view and to take pictures. When I sit up, their leader apologizes for having woken me up. Another one compassionately inquires if I don’t feel cold. But the sun is a warming relief.

And the cyclists are right to admire the view, especially here. For the first time, I catch sight of the final destination of the hike.

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Can you see it?

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I could hike another 20 km and tell you about meadows and cows and clouds and stuff, but I notice that the readers are drawn to the fairytale castle. Besides, the trail would lead through some swamps and bogs, and ever since chapter 6, I am terribly afraid of snakes. So, once I reach Trauchgau, I stick out my thumb next to the road leading directly to Füssen.

Instead of a car, bus no. 72 stops, which is not as free as my previous rides, but because it stopped just for me, I afford myself the luxury. It’s worth the trip, because the bus driver gives me a panoramic tour around Lake Forggen, with stunning views. He goes through small and picturesque villages where no one gets on the bus, because in this beautiful weather everyone is on the bike.

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It is like landscape cinema. Idyllic!

Later, I will read in the local newspaper that yesterday, a man stabbed his ex-wife to death on one of these buses. They call it a “relationship drama” because the tabloids do not know how to spell femicide. Or because it is easier to focus on the perpetrator’s origin than to mention that men are by far the most dangerous group in our country. Almost half of all women murdered in Germany die at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.

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The closer we get to Füssen, the more I see that inner-German tourism is booming. On the cycle paths, cyclists get in each other’s way. The campgrounds are fully occupied. Spontaneous travellers are driving around frustrated because they don’t find a place to recharge their vehicle.

A month ago, I was in Lisbon, on the way back from my Corona virus exile, and there I was sometimes the only person around, even in the most well-known places of the city.

Hence, I thought there would be very little going on in provincial Bavaria.

What an error. Füssen is full of people. The streets are full, the buses are full, the cafés are full, the ice cream parlors are full. This is bad news for me, because I didn’t book anything, neither accommodation nor castle. How could I? After all, I didn’t know how fast or slow I would progress. In Füssen, none of the Couchsurfing hosts whom I contacted did reply, strangely enough.

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Therefore, I have to use the Alpine Lake for washing and shaving myself, probably violating some exaggerated laws.

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Ahhh, after the bath I feel fresh and attractive again. Cold water in the morning is more important than a bed at night.

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Looking handsome again, I dare to enter the tourist information office.

“Do you still have tickets for the castles?”

“We’re out of tickets, and everything is sold out online.”

“Oh no! I walked more than 100 km to get here.”

That softens the lady a bit: “If you get up early, you can try to get a ticket tomorrow. Take bus no. 73 or 78 to Hohenschwangau, and there you go to the ticket center.” She marks everything on a map while patiently explaining what she probably explains a hundred times a day in English, German, Spanish and French. “They open at 8 a.m., and if there are any tickets left, that’s where you get them. For Hohenschwangau Castle there are usually still some available.”

Poor Hohenschwangau Castle, always taking a back seat to Neuschwanstein Castle. At least you and me will get to know that one.

“And since you are a good hiker,” the Fräulein adds cheerfully, “you can also just walk around the castles if you won’t get any tickets. That’s much more beautiful anyway.”

She then arranges a room for me in a hostel for 40 € per night, plus 2.20 € tourism tax. For that small tax, one can use all busses and even the train for free, which is a pretty good deal. I think it’s also a good way to deal with illegal AirBnB apartments, at least if tourists know that they will be deprived of free bus rides there. If you think you are modern and use the internet instead of walking into the tourist office, you might miss out on that information.

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If this hike was too short for you, you need not despair: The tourist information office has all kinds of suggestions for those who want to take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk a few hundred more kilometers.

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Only 966 km to Mount Triglav in Slovenia, that sounds tempting. At my current pace, I would get there in two months.

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In the very centrally located Bavaria City Hostel, I am trying to bridge the time I need to fill in the registration form by asking about the number of visitors this summer.

“It’s really bad. Everything is packed,” says the woman, as if she doesn’t make a living from it. “Only the chinks are staying away this year.”

If it wasn’t for my facemask, she would stare into my open mouth, breathless because of this racist choice of words. Why does someone like that work in tourism?

And it is not the only time I hear something like this. A teacher friend of mine was in Berlin a month ago and was happy that “this year, there were no Japs”.

Later, in August, on the anniversary of the nuclear bombs being dropped, a friend will say about Neuschwanstein: “Very pretty place indeed, apart from the vast number of Japanese.”

Is the open racism against Asians due in part to the Corona virus? Or do people look for another target because racism against blacks is no longer socially accepted?

When I confront them about it, they say that they don’t mean it that way and that there are really many tourists from Asia. So what? If a castle is overrun, it doesn’t matter whether the visitors come from Tokyo or from Toronto. Maybe the castles simply sell too many tickets? And why are foreign tourists in Germany a nuisance, but Germans can besiege the beaches around the Mediterranean? The complaints about “too many tourists” usually come from people who are touristing themselves at the same place.

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In Füssen too, people make the mistake of their life and get married. As a metaphor for their future, this couple has chosen some ruins as the location for their farewell-to-freedom party.

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The groom looks stealthily and enviously to me, lying in the meadow, my backpack as a pillow, my shoes removed, and a cigar in my mouth. And for a moment, he dreams of a life in which nobody tells him not to smoke. Of a life in which no one prohibits him from lying in the meadow because it allegedly gives you tuberculosis. Of a life in which no one bullies him because he does not want to work or buy a house. Of a life in which his phone won’t ring and he won’t be reproachfully asked why he hasn’t come home yet. Of a life in which surprises, imponderables and adventures are something positive. In short: of a real life.

Well, too late, young man. Soon you’ll be pushing the baby carriage through the small town, bent and broken.

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The small town itself might get bouts of depression, too. Because although it is quite charming, visitors from Asia and all over the world only come here because of the two royal castles in the neighboring town of Schwangau. In fact, Füssen itself seems well worth a visit as well.

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But first, I have to catch up on pizza and sleep.

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Tomorrow we will finally get to the castles, I promise!

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