The two Bavarian castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau drew me back once more to see them dressed in their autumn colours to herald in the winter.
I was not disappointed, for above the autumn colours towered first Neuschwanstein Castle…
…its white sandstone walls a contrast above a palette of red hues that would have done any master painter proud…
…and then Hohenschwangau Castle.
It was like a temptress luring you onward, for these photos were made within a few steps of each other on the approach from the nearby town of Füssen, making a pretense that the two castles are closer to each other than they are in real life.
The whole concept of Autumn in Bavaria first came into my life in the form of the painting of the same name painted by Wassily Kandinsky. It hangs now in the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, but painted in 1908, it reflected Kandinsky’s impressions of the sort of intensity of overlapping colour that welcomed my return to Hohenschwangau.
First inspired to paint by the works of Monet - Kandinsky was a lawyer who was also an accomplished musician. He played both piano and the cello, which he described as having the bluest colour of all instruments.
He “heard” colour – or conversely “saw” colour from sounds.
The music of the Wagner opera “Lohengrin” – the same that inspired King Ludwig II of Bavaria – caused Kandinsky to write, after experiencing the opera at a Moscow concert :
I saw all my colours in spirit,
before my eyes.
Wild, almost crazy lines
were sketched in front of me.
On the trip down I had been listening to selections from my eclectic music collection, but turning off the autobahn had just switched to "The Swan" by Saint-Saens.
It seemed to be the right music to visit the High Country of the Swans, Hohenschwangau.
You might like to read this page to the same music.
When you speak about Neuschwanstein – please don’t refer to it as the castle of a “mad” king.
Ludwig was eccentric, inspired, willful – but his state diagnosed “madness” by a psychiatrist who had never even met, let alone examined him – is commonly believed to have been an excuse to have him deposed.
King Ludwig was inspired by the romance of the Swan Knights who had previously lived in this enchanted area and of the mythical Parsifal and Lohengrin – and their struggles to be honourable enough to be worthy guardians of the Grail.
Just as for Ludwig, and for many before me, travelling through the vibrant countryside of Bavaria in Autumn I was moved by the incredible beauty around me. The play of colours made me smile – and I had to comment out loud on its loveliness.…
Once off the Autobahn, the route was punctuated with picturesque villages through which I had only passed in the dark before.
Later, once at the Hotel Müller in Hohenschwangau, they said that this year there was a particular intensity to the autumn colour.
You could see it on their restaurant terrace …
…and at the Jagerhaus, further up the street.
This time, the room at the Hotel Müller ( who were just as welcoming as BEFORE I wrote how welcoming they were!)looked straight out at Neuschwanstein Castle.
…and Hohenschhwangau Castle above the town seemed as if carved out of the sky, for the air was so still and clear that every edge was precise.
I was just in time to wander around the Alpsee – the lake below the castles, and wait to see how the sun would depart and over what it would drape yet another mantle of colour.
The result was not what I expected, having some sort of blazing display in my mind.
Instead of the sunset colours painting the lake crimson and gold, it was as if there was some sort of orchestrated complicity where they instead seemed to cast a spotlight on both castles – Neuschwanstein in the distance, and Hohenschwangau close to the lake.
Before sinking below the mountains, the sun seemed to particularly enjoy a rest on the yellow walls of Hohenschwangau directly above the lake shore, captured here from the boathouse where you can rent canoes or paddleboats.
It was a lovely time of day to be there, though as you will see from the morning video – so is early morning.
Couples were sharing the view of returning canoes…
…and the pathway beckoned you onwards as if briefly illuminated from underneath.
This lighting effect also framed the fishermen as they cast into the lake
…and made a Kandinsky-worthy effect of almost unreal colour along the lakeside as the same scene was for the briefest moment transformed from this…
…to this momentary transition to surreal colour…
..until the dusk approached and brought back with it the deeper sky blue and richer dark contrast.
The pathway beside the Alpsee is popular for dog walking…
…and more fishermen were arriving.
Being autumn, the sun didn’t linger and when it finally did set, I was expecting some sort of spectacle of colour on the water.
Instead there was just a blush of pink as the daylight dimmed…
…and then man-made illumination took over, highlighting Hoheschwangau Castle above the town.
…and as what the German’s call “Blaue Stunde” Blue Hour – that period of intense blue that sometimes occurs between sundown and darkness – fell on the Bavarian Alps, it set the King’s Chapel into contrast against the tall maypole of Hohenschwangau.
The Jagerhaus (Hunting Lodge) was ready for Halloween the following night.
A very friendly looking Jack-o-lantern sat by the door, where before had sat merely a pumpkin.
Every building was transformed by internal illumination, suggesting what was taking place within – and making each suggestion in one’s mind as a piece of fantasy itself.
The kings of Bavaria loved the mountain beauty of their kingdom – and in their accompanying passion for the arts they have left us a great heritage in the castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.
Both are a sort of culmination of romantic idealism, fantasy and inspiration.
As I walked in the twilight, I thought of the power of light and dark to play upon each other and transform the spirit.
Many times, alone in a strange city, I have walked at night, looking at the imagined lives softly sketched by lit rooms that formed a sort of magic stage on which I could create the players.
Light has its powers of magic and as Samuel Butler said:
We all know what light is;
but it is not easy to tell what it is.
Perhaps that is because we do not so much “see” as “experience” light – and each of us has a unique experience of the moment.
So, in a thoughtful mood I returned to my room at the Hotel Müller.
I was a bit cold, but feeling the privilege of having only to share with the handful of people still left at Hohenschwangau the twilight theatre around the two castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.
Entering the Hotel Müller, I was welcomed by the autumn decorations at the entrance…
…and a beautifully cooked dinner to finalise the day.
Oscar Wilde once said:
A dreamer is one
who can only find his way by moonlight,
and his punishment is
that he sees the dawn
before the rest of the world
King Ludwig lived most of his life in isolation and was a “night person” as have been many artists and composers.
Dreamer he was, for how else could he have created the brilliant castles that he did.
Like the rest of us, I have my dreams – and although I most enjoy arriving at dawn from night-time festivities – there have also been times when rousting myself from bed to welcome the dawn has been no punishment – and so it was again at Hohenschwangau.
The sunshine was gently wakening the mountains…
…with the colour I had missed at sunset now appearing on the lake…
…together with some startling colour effects as the autumn dawn light seemed to be dancing from leaf to water and back again.
The light seemed to linger on every leaf – and I understood why artists like Kandinsky have been – and are still – inspired by a Bavarian autumn.
But I was at first the only “dreamer” for whom this dawn scene was painted.
Somewhere between three and five thousand visitors would be here as the day progressed – but for now it was just me with the birds and the sound of the leaves falling.
Shortly the fishermen arrived, and as if detected by radar, along came the fishing licence inspector to collect his fee – and to tell them that it was over on the other side of the lake that the big catch was made yesterday.
Looking from the boathouse, Hohenschwangau Castle was blushed pink with the dawn light – as if it had been discovered returning late from night revelry.
I returned to a wakening town.
The workers were getting the place orderly for the daily invasion.
..and I saw the reason why the town was so tidy, for outside each residence someone was picking up any stray rubbish – even cigarette butts.
There was someone outside the Lisl Hotel – leaving the street in front and entrance immaculate…
…and further down the hill the process was being repeated outside the Hotel Müller.
I just had time to have my breakfast and check out before taking the bus to the Marienbrucke for a different view of Neuschwanstein Castle.
Thinking about my expectations of both sunset and dawn at Hohenschwangau, I was reminded of the admonition of André Gide :