Munich Part II: Truth Be Told, I Came for the Castles…

After a long day at Dachau, dinner at one of the Beer Gardens seems like a good idea. Since we took our own food to Dachau, my husband Jesus and I decide to splurge on dinner at the Hofbrauhaus. Once the royal brewery of Bavaria, Hofbrauhaus is now owned by the state. I’m almost too busy stifling giggles at the Oom-pah Band, in traditional Bavarian dress, leather shorts and intricately embroidered suspenders to notice the strange little lockers along the walls. It turns out that the “regulars,” preferring to use their own, sometimes very valuable beer steins
, can rent a space for them. While the occasional table is empty, most of the long wooden tables and benches are crammed with a wide array of tourists and locals. Since this is a brewery, we order one of each of the two types of beer to share, one dark, and one light. The dark beer is smoother, and the light beer is bitter. Our beers arrive in liter mugs but I’m not worried. I’m sure my husband will be pleased to pick up my liquid-bread slack.
While Bavarians regard beer as an essential part of nutrition, and it’s quite filling indeed, we’d better add some food to the beer mix in our bellies if we’re to successfully walk home (in a straight line or otherwise). Despite my husband’s poorly veiled enthusiasm for the wandering barmaids in their very abbreviated, i.e. short version of the dirndl (Bavarian dress for women), said sustenance will not be twisted ropes of cold salted bread. We order (what else?) sausage with mustard, and then vegetables with Obatzda, a Bavarian cheese. It’s bright orange yellow, and far from solid, smelling strongly of Camembert cheese and onion. Jesus won’t touch it, so I leave him to scarf sausages and ogle pretzel girls, forking up the slop with lettuce, radishes and an assortment of crudités. It makes me think of pimento cheese spread, only I don’t have my favorite Triscuit crackers, which as of yet, I haven’t managed to find in any part of Europe. We make it home and collapse into bed. Tomorrow we’ll visit my castles.
Schloss Hohenschwangau
After a train and a bus, it’s time to take a hike. In typical fortress fashion both of the castles on the itinerary today overlook the small village below from atop steep hills. Steep hills that I will be forced to climb for a closer look. Both castles are relatively recent additions to the landscape, having replaced the ruins of three medieval fortresses in the 19th century.
Schloss Hohenschwangau, the “High Swan County Palace,” is a mid-19th century construction by King Maximilian II of Bavaria. His son, Ludwig II of Bavaria, a.k.a. the Swan prince, is the great mind behind the Neuschwanstein, the fairytale castle looking down on Hohenschwangau from its perch across the gorge.
The Hohenschwangau is that dirty yellow that 70s era advertisers tried to pass off as “Harvest Gold”.  Except the Hohenschwangau, far from being a mere electrical appliance is a huge neo-gothic palace complete with round turrets that scream Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The interior is impressive, and because it was built more recently, has the appearance of being much more comfortable than the medieval fortresses I’ve visited in the past. To someone that spent her childhood fantasizing about living in a castle only to find that for the most part castles are cold and unwelcoming inside, this is the best of both worlds: Castle outside, palace inside. 
A Frozen Waterfall on the Way up to Schloss Neuschwanstein

Scenic Views on the Road to the Neuschwanstein Castle
The hill to the Hohenschwangau can’t compete with the trail leading up to the Neuschwanstein for length or steepness, which I suppose explains why we are the only tourists in sight actually walking up the hill. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop by full of tourists who twitter and point at us, as we huff up the hill, each breath a puff of steam briefly suspended in the icy air as cold and dark make their gradual descent upon the valley, high points first.

Horses on the Path to the Neuschwanstein
The World’s Tiniest
After a half-hour trudge, we’re at the entrance, an imposing red brick and yellow limestone gatehouse flanked with medieval turrets on either side. It stands in direct contrast to the rest of the immense structure, in symmetry, style and intensity of the color used. Beyond the gatehouse, a screen demonstrating ticket numbers and benches have been thoughtfully provided. A tiny snowman perches, expectant on one of the benches. Perhaps his number isn’t up either. We decide to kill some time hiking around the outside. In the fading light, the castle’s slender spires in shades of white mingle with dusky skies, their conical blue caps piercing darkness falling. 
Schloss Neuschwanstein

The Neuschwanstein Castle

 The interior, however fabulous, cannot possible compare to the winter scene before me. The enchanted castle at sunset alternately peppered and piled with snow vaguely sparkling in the disappearing light. Besides, only 15 rooms were finished before King Ludwig died in mysterious circumstances in the shallow waters of a nearby lake. A mere 6 weeks after his death the castle was opened to the public. So it happened that the theatrical refuge planned for an eccentric and reclusive king became one of the world’s top tourist attractions.

After a quick turn around the interior (the tour is brief and closely supervised, no photos allowed) it’s time to slink back down the road. Even though the restaurant halfway down is sending out tempting smoke signals: stop here for coffee and a snack, we have a train to catch, so I walk firmly on, stopping every so often to look back on yet another happily-ever escapade after sunset. 
Views of the Neuschwanstein Through the Trees

The Tempting Restaurant on the Way Down from the Castle…

To make your own Obatzda cheese spread (to eat on crackers or raw veggies) with beer (Bavarian or otherwise), Mash 1 cup of camembert at room temperature, with 1/4 of a cup of room-temperature butter. Stir in 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (ground fine), 2 tablespoons minced onions, and 1 and a half tablespoons of beer. Refrigerate overnight to let the flavors mix.


First Published in the Tipton Times. Copyright 2011 Chris Ciolli. All Rights Reserved. 

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