Monday, 27 October 2014

Walt Disney, Ludwig II and Neuschwanstein Castle

13 º C

While in Munich, we took a day trip to see Schloss Neuschwanstein (German for New-Swan-Stone Castle) to visit our childhood's memories in concrete form. The "new" part comes from the fact that it was built on top of the old Swanstone castle ruin.

I normally expect what I imagine and what I see in reality would be different. I simply didn't expect the difference could be so vast.

Disney Studio Blue Sky logo
One of the many Disney logo. This one is most associated with the studio 

What I imagined the New Swanstone Castle is, of course, came from the many postcard type photos in travel books. In addition to those traditional sources of tourism images, we were also bombarded with the derived images of Neuschwansteine Castle from Disney logo, and Sleeping Beauty Castle you see in Disney movies and Disneylands. These images burnt into our brains when we were children.

Yes, the Sleeping Castle, and many fairy tale castles in Disney weren't just fantasy. They actually existed in real life from the the so-called fairy tale Neuschwanstein Castle built by the "mad"and reclusive King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland Park, California
Sleeping Beauty Castle that is the icon of Disneyland, and located in the very heart
of Disneyland in California and Hong Kong

There's simply no other buildings that primed me with more preconceived ideas of what it's going to look like in real life than New Swanstone Castle because of the sheer amount of bombardment of its images before my visit to this castle.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
The typical travel or postcard photo of this castle
Source: wikipedia

There're basically 2 aspects that the preconceived images had distorted the real image.

The first is the immense size of Neuswschanstein castle. Nothing from my memory could prepare me for its colossal dimension. Sure, I knew it was going to be bigger than the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. I also have visited a number of real historic castles before. Many of these were actual castles that built to defend invaders.

This Neuschwanstein Castle was actually not built for this purpose in mind, but simply as a realisation of Ludwig's childhood fantasy (now you know why people thought he was mad). So one - or at least me - would imagine a castle built out of childhood fantasy would be smaller than real castles that built to fend off legions of armies.

Mind you, the tall wall I saw wasn't even the rampart, but a building sitting on the rampart. Still, it made me feel small, not close to it.

Shrouded in mist, enhancing its fairy tale quality

As it turned out, it was bigger than any castle I have visited. At least in height. It isn't so much a castle that was inspired by romantic childhood fantasy, but an towering edifice that inspires awe. Perhaps that was the idea. Children always see things bigger than they really are. So in order for an adult to experience the same childhood awe in the the eyes of adults, it has to be scaled up the height of a working fortress.

The second distortion was the actual shape of the building ! It didn't look like what I remembered. This is because we always looked at the aerial or helicopter view of the castle. We couldn't see the castle from afar. The castle only emerged out of the forest when we were pretty much at the foot of the castle. We could only see bits and pieces of it.

Being shrouded in mist also made it looking much more different from the picture perfect blue sky that we see in travel guide books or Disney promotional materials, just like the 2 photos above.

The castle slowly emerged out of the forest like a giant playing peekaboo with us.

It was only at the end of the tour that I was convinced we were inside the New Swanstone Castle when I saw the model of it. This small model, looking like it was viewed from a great distant, is what I was familiar with. I should have come straight here to look at the model, and then went straight home.

Model of Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
This is the angle we're most familiar with, the angle where the above photo was taken.
But we could never able to view from this angle in our tour. We got to see the back of this castle

Model of Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
This is the only side of the castle that we got to see.
We didn't have access to the semi circular section.

What I haven't the slightest preconception about this castle was its very charming Byzantium interior, which was inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Unfortunately, no photography were allowed.

Finally, it isn't just Walt Disney who had been inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle, the Far Far Away Castle in Universal Studios Singapore looks like a chip off the old block of the said castle. I suspect that the King Ludwig II had built the mother of all fairy tale castles that will inspire many.

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