Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Blog Archive

Saturday, March 2, 2013

An American in Germany / Part # 23 / Neuschwanstein-1

GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
Neuschwanstein Castle / Part # 1

Gloomy Skies of Southern Bavaria
Today was a big day on our school event calendar as we were scheduled to take a long bus ride to visit one of the most famous castles in the world known as Neuschwanstein.  My host and German GAPP leader, Andy Galneder, was scheduled to lead this trip with our Warwick students.  He was also looking forward to this excursion because he too had never visited the famous schloss known as the Fairytale Castle.  The previous night we all attended a backyard dinner at Angela's parents home where we enjoyed her father's famous goulash cooked in a suspended kettle over an open fire.  However, Angela had unfortunately fallen ill shortly after dinner and had gone home early.  During the night she suffered from a nasty intestinal virus.  Apparently, little Leo had brought home some unwelcome germs from kindergarten that had penetrated Angela's immune system.  At breakfast a few minutes before our scheduled departure time, Andy finally appeared in the kitchen looking several shades of green resembling Lake Königsee.  He had also caught the virus overnight and there was no way he could endure a long bus ride and subsequent field trip.  Looking at the two of them in their advanced stages of misery, I started to feel a little sick myself!  Andy's parents who had watched the kids during our dinner party last night had also fallen prey to the sickness.  The contagion of little Leo had aggressively swept through the first two floors of the Galneder residence and I was suddenly the last man standing!

 Hohenschwangau Castle / Schwansee Lake
There was no way Andy was leading today's field trip, needing to stay at home in bed to try and recover.  Leo had rebounded quickly from the virus but only time would tell if adults would fare as well.  It was up to Wendy and I to lead this trip to Neuschwanstein with the help of our trusty bus driver Fitztum, who would prove to be a valuable asset.  I was scared to death, just envisioning myself getting struck with illness at any given second but for the moment was still healthy and had no choice but forge ahead with false courage.  The iconic instructions of the British Information Ministry from 1939 resounded clearly in my head... to stay calm and carry on!  It was a dreary overcast morning with rain showers predicted all day, the first day of rainy weather during our trip to date.  We boarded the bus and Fitztum pulled out of the KKG parking lot to begin the 150 mile two and a half hour journey toward the castle located in southwestern Bavaria near the villages of Füssen and Schwangau.  Now I was trapped inside a moving vehicle without access to bathroom facilities for the next two and a half hours.  Was I really feeling sick or was it just psychological?  I couldn't help but think Leo's virus had already traveled throughout Tüßling and was heading towards Altötting, growing more ominous as it consumed one helpless community after another!  I did my best to keep it out of my mind and to try and stay focused on the beautiful scenery outside my window.  The damp weather seemed to enhance the deep green color of the passing landscapes.  Low lying misty clouds settled down on the valleys concealing the hilltops and the view beyond.  It was like looking at Bavaria again for the very first time. 

Lakeside Lodge / Schwangu, Germany
Wendy and I talked along the way as I tried to keep my mind off my present and pending future health and well being.  Neuschwanstein Castle was the number one thing on my wish list of sites I wanted to see before we left Germany.  The castle is known as the Fairytale Castle, a nickname most likely attributed to the structure in modern times because it was the model for Walt Disney's Cinderella Castle in Orlando, Florida.  However, King Ludwig II of Bavaria built several dream-like palaces and castles, most of which, never progressed to completion.  His extreme building projects helped dub King Ludwig II the Fairytale King and his castles and palaces stand as monuments to his rich imagination and personal world of fantasy.  Neuschwanstein was his crowning architectural achievement and today is one of the most widely recognized castles in the world.  The rain began to pelt against the bus window and it wasn't looking good for the sky to clear up anytime soon. And, as you may have already guessed, I left the umbrella Andy had given me to use on the front seat of his car when he dropped me off this morning.  Gee, didn't see that one coming, right?  We finally pulled into the village of Schwangu and Fitztum steered the bus into the crowded parking lot.  I was hoping the rain would keep the crowds away today but parking spaces were at a premium.  After two and a half hours on a bus, the first order of business was to hit the bathrooms.  The only facilities in sight, located on the edge of the parking area, had a pair of lines out the door.  We all rushed to secure our places in line before other buses unloaded, which continued to arrive.  The word was passed that the bathroom was blocked by turnstiles that required 30 cents in the form of three ten cent coins.  Thankfully, there was a change machine located inside the door that accepted Euro bills and the kids worked together to distribute coins to all in need, including me!  The wait was excruciating and seemed like an eternity but from a selfish point of view, the men's line moved a lot quicker than the ladies.  As a wise man once told me... Sometimes it is just good to be a man!  Sorry Ladies...   

Misty Neuschwanstein (Zoomed Image)
Wendy went off to secure the tickets while I did my best to corral the kids who were buying ice-cream, checking out souvenir stands, and still emerging from the crowded bathrooms.  I took the opportunity to purchase a simple small black umbrella for about four Euros from a sidewalk vendor.   It looked cheap but I just needed it to last through the day and I was glad when the kiosk clerk unwrapped and tested it out to make sure it worked properly.  Two seconds after I opened up my new umbrella, I instantly had four new student friends who were squeezing in to shield themselves from the light rain.  Wendy had returned with timed tickets for the castle gate scheduled in about an hour, so we had to get a move on.  We had two possible known routes we could take to get to the top of the mountain where the gate awaited, which was put to a democratic vote.  Choice Number One was a nice relaxing horse drawn wagon ride where passengers were protected from the weather by an overhead canopy.  Behind Door Number Two was the choice to walk up the mountainside on a paved roadway that looked like a forty degree grade, unprotected from the rain.  When you are voting with a group of teenagers, you are at a major disadvantage and the end result was a foregone conclusion... I lost 17-1 and up hill we would walk.  It was advertised as a steep 30-45 minute walk and it looked tough.  The horse drawn carriages passing by with non-winded passengers full of smiles didn't help!  The castle was barely visible high up in the clouds shrouded by mist, fog, and light rain.  The energetic kids were soon out of sight showing off their youth, rounding the first switchback turn with ease.  I was prepared to stick to the slow steady burn, taking breaks when needed despite being dead last.  Wendy and a few students were taking it slow, as well, and sticking back with the old man.  I appreciated the company.

Hey, Mr. Martin, It's About Time!
The climb seemed to go on and on and I didn't seem to have my normal level of strength. I started to picture little Leo and his virus hanging on to my ankles slowing my progress as I dragged them along ever higher up into the mountains.  Without any point of visible reference, there was no way to tell just how far it was to get to the castle gate.  Suddenly we turned the corner and came to a large alpine styled restaurant and lodge.  The pathway curved around the inviting white stucco building with windows framed with green shutters and flower boxes overflowing with creeping red annuals.  It looked like a great hiding place to take a break but I pressed on toward the summit.  There were no castle towers visible overhead and dense woods served as a deep green curtain of trees that flanked both sides of our route.  The pathway was cut into the mountainside with the incline balanced between the steep slope above and the deep valley below.  It was straight down to my left side, less than two feet from the path's edge.  A little scary!  A short time later, another structure came slowly into view off to my left, which was large and red in color.  Amazingly, I was within sight of Neuschwanstein and was almost to the observation deck and tour staging area just below the castle's entrance gate.  The rest of the Warwick students were already at rest, checking out the sights, and grabbing something to eat from a few small kiosks.  I arrived to a resounding cheer from my fellow hikers and it sure felt good to sit down and sip on my Coca-Cola Light.  I was glad we had some spare time to recover but I was soon up and about with my camera capturing all the amazing sights from our mountain top perch. 

Neuschwanstein Castle in the Clouds
The castle came into focus, which was almost impossible to see from ground level far below when we first started our uphill hike.  Although the weather would limit our view out over the valley below, the misty damp atmosphere gave the castle a dreamlike aura of mystery.  It would still be a climb to get to the actual entrance gate of the castle.  In the meantime, I checked out all the available views from the observation tour staging area including a man made steel and glass ledge that allowed people to step well out over the edge to look down into the deep ravine below.  The castle itself is over 3,300 feet above sea level providing incredible views on a clear day.  Unfortunately, the skies were still chocked full of rain clouds, fog, and mist giving little hint of the sights beyond the Schwangu and Alpsee Lakes below.  The observation ledge provided a great view of the bright yellow exterior of Hohenschwangau Castle where King Ludwig II spent his childhood.  Hohenschwangau was built by Ludwig's father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria in 1833 on top of the ruins of an abandoned fortress formerly known as Schuangau.  The castle continued to be expanded until 1855, eventually becoming the official royal summer and hunting residence of Maximilian.  King Ludwig II assumed the throne following the death of his father in 1864 and moved into his private quarters within the yellow palace that same year.  He enjoyed living in Hohenschwangau with his mother and younger brother Otto, especially after construction began on Neuschwanstein five years later.  He could easily watch the progress of the massive building project slowly rising in the mountains overhead.  Today Hohenschwangau remains in the shadow of Neuschwanstein, receiving about 300,000 visitors a year, compared with Neuschwanstein's 1.3 million visitors annually.

Neuschwanstein Observation Ledge
Our wait had come to an end and it was time to hike the final leg of our journey all the way to the castle entrance gateway.  I was feeling about 85% of my normal self and had taken the time to rehydrate with pending illness still in the back of my mind.  The final climb was easier because the end target was visible and we knew exactly how much farther we needed to walk.  The red masonry of the large arched gateway was impressive and looked down with authority on those passing through below.  We gathered in the courtyard as a group and waited until our tour was scheduled to begin, noted by number that was displayed on a digital sign.  We had a few more to go and so I was able to scout around the courtyard in search of views over the edge of the protective castle walls.  One of the amazing sights that took me by surprise was an incredible suspension bridge spanning the gap of a steep rock walled gorge located above our position.  It was filled with people who were checking out the waterfall that fell from a large fast moving mountain stream located about the midpoint between the bottom of the steam bed and the level of the bridge above.  I couldn't see the waterfall very well because my view was blocked by trees but I could easily hear it thundering off the mountain into the cauldron of the stream far below.  Despite feeling tired, I was determined to press onward following the interior tour, to get to the bridge span to see the view, even if it was partially obscured by cloud cover.  I had made it this far and, time permitting, what was one more section of paved pathway at a steep grade.  It was possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity so I wanted to see as much as possible during our trip.  

Warwick Does Neuschwanstein
The interior space of the courtyard consisted mainly of white stone creating another balcony level up above our present position and several towers ascended high above caped by circular cone tops.  For a second I thought I saw Cinderella peer down through a window in the tower above me but she was gone when I took a closer look.  Soon our number was displayed and it was time to get in line and scan our tickets in a blocking turnstile.  Each person was granted access when the bar-code was read and a light flashed green allowing the bar to be turned forward.  We lined up and prepared to go up a flight of steps within one of the towers.  We had signed up for an English version of the tour, which had a total of about 25 people in the group.  Our tour guide was a young guy who didn't seem to be a whole lot older than our students.  We followed the line as it disappeared into the tower and quickly scaled upward on the interior circular stone stairwell that made me a little dizzy after awhile.  We eventually came to a landing where we were told all photography inside the palace was verboten!  For some unknown reason, all 17 of our students shot me an accusing stare?  There was a line of windows inside the landing that gave a nice view of the courtyard below.  I wondered just how literal this rule actually was... could I take pictures out the window of the exterior of the castle from inside during the tour?  I couldn't resist and took a shot in full view of our tour guide who didn't react with a response.  Apparently, it was ok and I looked at him with an unsure expression of... Ok? and he nodded yes.  For once, I didn't get reprimanded for rogue photography at a historic site!  Progress or luck?  Tune in next time as we venture inside the brick and mortar monument to the creative imagination of King Ludwig II...        

 Shot from the Inside Out
Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!

Neuschwanstein LEGO Castle
(Lego Land / Arhus, Denmark)
Constructed of 300,000 + Lego Bricks



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