Book and film reviews

Honorary salvation for a misunderstood king?

(Published in GralsWelt 35/2005)

Even those who hardly know Bavarian history can at least name the name of a king of Bavaria: Ludwig II, about whom there is always something new to tell.

Before turning to this article, let's take a quick look at other rulers of the Bavarian Kingdom, whose short existence, compared to the long history of the Duchy of Bavaria, only seems like an episode.
In 1806, Elector Maximilian I (1756-1825) became the first Bavarian King by Napoleon's grace.
His son Ludwig I (1786-1868) shaped the face of Munich with representative buildings. He had the dream of expanding his small residence into a metropolis of art, culture and science. The political events met him: When his second son Otto (1815-1867) was proclaimed the first king of Greece in 1832, a wave of enthusiasm for classical Greek culture gripped the Bavarian capital, which is part of the "Isar-Athens" wanted to be designed. Personal scandals - relationship stories - forced Ludwig I to abdicate in 1848, and he handed over the affairs of state to his son Maximilian II. Joseph (1811-1864). Now this king, the father of Ludwig II, was probably the most progressive of the Bavarian kings. He did a lot to modernize his country and beautify his capital. Nowadays hardly anyone knows him, and very few people who stroll along Maximilianstrasse with its luxury shops and admire the unmistakable eye-catcher of the Maximilianeum think of this modern-minded monarch.

"I want to remain an eternal mystery - to myself and to others."
Ludwig II (1845-1886)

"... but the king, the king, who can explain such a being to himself, who can understand it - only a dramatic poet would be able to reproduce him, inexplicably as he is ..."
Cosima Wagner (1837-1930)

Maximilian's son, Ludwig II, who was crowned in 1864, is the most popular figure in Bavarian history. Countless books have been written about him, his life and his fairytale castles, and several highly regarded films have been made. His suicide (or murder?) Continues to give rise to hypotheses and speculation.
The life of the “fairytale king” was more than strange; characterized by introverted fear of people, loneliness, flight to remote castles. Was he mentally ill?
Much of the behavior of this king is incomprehensible from today's perspective. Here are a few examples:
* He had a small hunting lodge built for himself at one of the most beautiful vantage points in the Bavarian Alps, on the Schachen. But the windows, with a unique view of the Wetterstein Mountains, Reintal and Loisach Valley, were given almost opaque colored panes.
* Herrnchiemsee Palace, an image of Versailles, is located on an island in the Chiemsee - it was difficult to get to from Munich at the time.
* He also had Linderhof and the world-famous, unique Neuschwanstein built.
But all these castles, far from the metropolises, were not enough for him. When he died, Falkenstein was also planned. The Hohenschwangau Castle, which his father had reconstructed and where he had spent part of his youth, had long been near Neuschwanstein. Not to mention the castles in and around Munich.

Today the palace buildings of Ludwig II - which were nonsensical from the point of view of contemporaries - are among the attractions of Bavaria. The same goes for the festival theater in Bayreuth, which he largely financed, in which operas are performed that would probably not exist without the rescue of Richard Wagner (1813-1883) from financial hardship by Ludwig II. The modern tourist region of Bavaria has every reason to be grateful for its fairytale king's much damned extravagance at the time.

In the assessments of the personality of Ludwig II, the opinion predominates that he was mentally ill. The madness that broke out in his brother Otto (1848-1916) reinforces this widespread view.
Idealists see in Ludwig II of Bavaria the last representative of the true, a spiritual kingdom, which is hardly to be found in the history known to us.
One can still report "new things" about this king, who saw his models in Louis XIV (1638-1715) and Saint Louis (1214-1270) of France:

A recently published dissertation (1) develops a little-known picture of Ludwig II of Bavaria:
After that, in addition to the art he admired and promoted, politics played a far more important role in his life than had previously been assumed. At the beginning of his rule he made sure that his official business was carried out conscientiously and followed many areas of state life with interest. His aim was to defend the monarchical principle against the trend of the time and to preserve Bavarian independence. When he did not succeed in keeping Bavaria out of two wars (1866 and 1870/71) and, under pressure from Prussia, could not prevent the annexation to the German Empire, he tried to maintain at least as many special positions for Bavaria as possible.
With his most important concern, a sovereign kingship, Ludwig II inevitably had to fail. He could not succeed in enforcing his autocratic ideas of rule against the trend of the time. His deep rejection of the constitutional monarchy made him inflexible on this point. Instead of recognizing and using his actual possibilities, he took refuge in fantastic, completely utopian coup plans, distanced himself from reality and alienated himself from all political groups. Instead of maintaining power as much as possible, he lost influence and much of his independence.

Against this background, it does not seem absolutely necessary to look exclusively for pathological causes for his strange behavior. His alienation from his country and its government, his lack of understanding of the revolutionary developments of the 19th century, which no longer offered a place for the sovereign kingship idealized by Ludwig II, can suffice as an explanation for his bizarre life as a deeply lonely, but dated simple people, many decades later, a highly revered king.

(1) Botzenhart, Christof, The Government Activities of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, CH Beck, Munich, 2004.