Neuschwanstein Castle is nestled into a mountainside in Bavaria (not too far from Munich) and even from far away it looks like it belongs on the pages of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. In fact, it was the inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. On a high school trip to Germany, I was lucky enough to visit Neuschwanstein Castle and the whole experience was akin to a fairy tale. You can take a horse and carriage ride up the winding pathways that lead up to the castle, and throughout the grounds there are musicians clad in traditional German clothes playing music for tourists. If you get to take a tour of the castle, you’ll see that its history is fit for a fairy tale as well.

King Ludwig II, who took the throne in 1864, was something of a recluse and decided to build Neuschwanstein Castle to have his own personal dream world removed from the general public. Enamored with castles from the medieval ages, Ludwig II modeled Neuschwanstein after these strongholds, despite the fact that the medieval ages were long since over and there was no real need for kings to have castles anymore. The interior of the palace is intricately decorated with scenes from the medieval legends that inspired the composer Richard Wagner, as Ludwig II was a patron of his. The castle even has its own grotto, adding to the fanciful atmosphere of the castle. However, Ludwig II never saw his castle fully finished.

In 1886, King Ludwig II was dethroned on the premise that he was insane. The king had a history of behaving eccentrically and spending money recklessly (such as building an elaborate castle on a cliff) and so he was deemed “mad.” On June 13, 1886, three days after his dethronement, Ludwig II and his psychiatrist disappeared. Later that day, their bodies were found on the shores of a palatial lake.

A cloud of mystery has always surrounded the cause of King Ludwig II’s death and several conspiracy theories have come out of the suspicion, such as the belief that he was murdered in a plot by power-hungry relatives. A recent study published in the journal History of Psychiatry claims that the king probably wasn’t mentally ill and, therefore, continues the speculation surrounding the king’s death.

Even though Ludwig II never got to see his castle completed, Neuschwanstein has become one of the most visited castles in Europe. It officially opened to the public only seven weeks after his death in 1886 and ever since it has become a popular tourist attraction. Currently, 1.4 million people visit the fairy-tale castle each year, and during the summer up to 6,000 tourists visit each day.

Did You Know?

There’s actually an app all about King Ludwig II and his “fairy-tale” life—perfect for history buffs or tourists. The app includes several interesting features, such as augmented reality simulations, audio features and extensive photo galleries. Plus, it’s free! (Although it’s currently only available for iOS.)