Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Should we visit Neuschwanstein?"

Neuschwanstein was never on our travel list.  Despite it being Germany's biggest tourist attraction - the only thing in Germany many people ever see, I'd guess - it never really piqued our interest.  Maybe just because we aren't all that into castles.  Maybe because seeing pictures and snow-globes of it all over the rest of Germany drained off any curiosity we might have had.

However, we still did wonder...why is Neuschwanstein Germany's greatest attraction?  Why does every guidebook have positive things to say about it, even the ones that would honestly warn you if something was overrated?  Seriously, what's the deal?  Maybe it really is that impressive. So, after we booked our hotel and knew we'd be staying within a reasonable distance of Neuschwanstein, we started asking around.

"Should we visit Neuschwanstein?"

We asked expats from all over and Germans.  I expected a variety of answers, but I didn't get it.  One person said it was overrated.  Everyone else was in agreement: yes, we should go. (In the case of Germans, we, as foreigners, should go.)  We should go to say we had, to check it off our list.  (Which it wasn't on, or we'd have had no need to ask.) We should go because the area is beautiful. Some said we should go to stand on the Marienbrücke and get the famous picture of the castle that everyone gets.  I was tempted to ask, "If I forget my camera, should I no longer go?  Does it lose all its value then?"  What I wanted was for people to tell me why it's great and I should see it, but no one really did.

Well....people MUST know something we don't or they wouldn't tell us we should go.  We decided to compromise and go to look at it, but not bother to pay big Euro to get tickets and get herded through.  I had a sneaky feeling my dislike of crowds and photography prohibitions (none allowed inside the castle) would be irritating enough to cancel out the coolness of the interior, especially since no one actually said the interior was cool.

The siting of the castle was unexpectedly obvious.  I thought it would be a bit more hidden, but it was right out on the edge above the plain.  We parked in a big lot at the bottom of the hill and started to walk up past the ticket booth, a few tourist shops, and the castle Hohenschwangau.  There were so many people everywhere.  Waiting at the bus stop were at least 5 buses worth of people.  It was hot, hot, hot - in the upper 30s centigrade (almost 100F).  We were disappointed to realize the way up to the castle was not a forest path but a paved road.  A little ways up, though, we discovered a smaller, steeper path and took that instead.

So hot.  So, so hot.  My husband thought he wouldn't need water, and I had taken a bottle which was clearly not enough, particularly after a salty German lunch.  Hot, hot, hot, hot on that steep trail - I started to feel like I might pass out.  Thankfully, it didn't take that long to reach an area with a big wooden map, full of huge groups of people from all over the world.   Turned out, we were already right next to the Marienbrücke!  So, we went there to get that photo.

We fought our way onto the bridge past a busker and through massive crowds of hot, sweaty people.  Yup, there it was.  The view was pretty nice, but....we'd seen it hundreds of times before in other people's pictures.  And, not to be a jerk ass hipster about it, but I actually thought the view we'd gotten of the castle from the Tegelbergbahn was better.  And the beautiful area that was supposed to make the castle worth it - we'd seen all that from the Tegelberg too.  Maybe we ruined it by going there first?

We fought our way through more crowds from the bridge to the castle.  My husband was very uncharacteristically cranky at this point from the heat and dehydration and people, people, people, people everywhere.  The castle turned out to be about 50% buried in scaffolding.  We had to walk under the scaffolding to get around it, under the scaffolding with so, so many hot, hot, sweaty, overwhelmed, stroller-pushing, tour-group-following people.  So many.  Everything was hot.  We got to the end and stopped to look at the view and couldn't touch the wall; it was too hot. We walked into the courtyard, which you don't need a ticket for.  Guess what?  This castle is pretty boring from the outside. We found a souvenir shop and got beverages, which were probably the best thing we ever drank.

Then we got the hell out.

From the bridge we'd seen people standing in the stream below, and we wanted to do that!  We'd seen a sign from the path between the bridge and castle that said "Pöllatschlucht" and pointed to a trail heading right down into the gorge.  That sounded good.  Just leaving the main trail meant we were suddenly much freer from the crowds.  There were fewer and fewer people the further we went down.

We got to the bottom and there was the stream.  It was full of cairns!  The water was so cold, it cooled the entire gorge like a natural form of air conditioning.  I took off my boots - I'd have been in Tevas, but I found a huge crack in them when I went to pack them - and stuck my feet in the water.  It was so cold it almost hurt.  PERFECT.   Thank you stream, for rescuing the entire afternoon. 
Neuschwanstein & Poellatschlucht Aug 12

We followed the stream out of the gorge, and there was a path leading back to the parking lot, so thankfully no need to go back the way we came.

Admittedly, maybe we should have gone inside - afterward I looked up pictures and the throne room at least looks pretty awesome. But I'd read so many people talking about the giant tour groups going through and that you can only see 5 rooms and the herding aspect and the no photos, and setting aside a lot of time to deal with that felt like too much of a pain for something we weren't that crazy about in the first place.  And, I bet it's a lot nicer on weekdays and on days that aren't 30 degrees. Maybe I'm too easily distracted by crowds. Hey, I'm rural. Or maybe I've gotten to that point I wrote about way back in an early blog post, when I worried that I'd overload on pretty things and start taking them from granted.

I think people were right to give us the advice they did, but in retrospect I now know the correct answer to my question, and I probably should have known before I even went.  If you have to ask whether you should go to Neuschwanstein, the answer is probably no.


  1. We just missed you by a week. LOL We decided to go to Neuschwanstein on this trip because it was the first trip to Germany for my husband and children. And on every tour book of Germany is a picture of Neuschwanstein. As a first-generation German-American I had been to Germany many times, but I had never been to Neuschwanstein either. (I've also never been to Heidelberg, though I was very close by this trip.) We also heard not to wait for hours to see the inside, but as it happened, it was SO hot and the scaffolding all over the front of the castle kind of ruined our desire to even make it up there on foot. Instead we went to Hohenschwangau, took some pictures, got something to drink and an ice cream, looked around a little (it was too crowded for us also) and left and headed to Garmish-Pattenkirchen which we thoroughly enjoyed exploring. :) Maybe we missed out, but we saw enough castles later while driving along the Rhein. :)

  2. Bummer. It can be so clogged with tourists there that it really takes away from the atmosphere. The setting is pretty phenomenal with the two castles overlooking the lake.

    Of the two, I like Hohenschwangau better. The tour is more worth it and it was actually lived in. At least you got to cool off your feet!

  3. Heidelberg Castle is the second-most visited (paid entry) tourist site in Germany btw, after Neuschwanstein.

  4. As one interested in Ludwig II and his buildings,I've been to Neuschwanstein several times over the years. It never fails to amaze me. You might try to visit in cooler weather and in the off season. Much better then. Hohenschwangau is much more accessible - not much climbing - and you see a lot of the interior. Also, and not far away, Linderhof is small and a good tour. When I was there one time, there was no English tour available (I speak German, but my wife didn't), so we were given an English guide sheet and allowed to wander the interior at our leisure, while the Germans had to follow the guide. You could also visit Herrenchiemsee, Ludwig's unfinished palace on an island in the Chiemsee, patterned after Versailles. Went to a candlelit concert there once. Each one is quite different from the other, and you get the idea of how the recluse Ludwig spent so much money.

  5. You definitely did not miss anything by not taking the tour! I can honestly say that was the worst tour of my life. It took all of like, 15 minutes, after waiting outside the castle for about forty-five minutes. Compared to other castles in Germany, Neuschwanstein is way behind in quality of their tours. (which is also partly because the castle was never completed) The castle has become such a money grab for foreign tourists and when Germany boasts SO MANY incredible castles without all the tourists and with actually really, really great tours, Neuschwanstein's tour isn't worth the time. Although I took the tour, the memorable part of visiting was exploring the grounds, bridge, lake, forests and the views! The natural scenery in the area is just stunning! I recommend Hohenzollern Castle that is somewhat similar but still privately owned and is quality!


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