A tour of King Ludwig II’s Palace on Herreninsel Island
Mad King Ludwig. The Fairy Tale King. Our Cherished King. These were names by which King Ludwig II of Bavaria was known during his short life.
By Mr. TWS — Why was he called “Mad King Ludwig”? Why did he have so many palaces and castles? What was his obsession with a monarch from another country and century? Why was his death mysterious? Why was he popular with Bavarians and other Germans then and now? On our trip to Bavaria in December, we learned more about this enigmatic man on a tour of one of his palaces on Herreninsel Island in Lake Chiemsee, the largest lake in Bavaria.
We began in the small Bavarian town of Prien am Chiemsee, catching a ferry that would take us to Herreninsel to visit Herrenchiemsee, the complex of royal buildings on the island, to tour King Ludwig II’s palace and then later take us to Frauenchiemsee Island for one of our many Christmas market visits of the trip.
A wintry walk on Herreninsel Island
Even on a cold December day the lake was beautiful with the Bavarian Alps backdrop. The 15-minute ferry ride to Herreninsel had quite a few people aboard for a Friday morning in December because many were headed to the Christmas market on Frauenchiemsee. The island was covered with snow and it was a brisk and refreshing clear day. The lake, the shore and the Alps were visible as we began our walk toward the palace from the ferry dock and ticket office.
Also visible high above us was the Herrenchiemsee Abbey, built in 765 A.D. Ludwig utilized the abbey as a residence on his visits during the construction of the palace. It is an impressive building itself, but it certainly didn’t prepare us for the splendor that lay ahead in the palace. The abbey had been converted for other uses including a brewery when the island was sold in the early nineteenth century before Ludwig bought the island in 1873. We didn’t have time on this visit to tour the Abbey but I am curious about the history and the fairly modern look of the building from the outside.
The walk to the palace beneath the abbey and through the woods took about 20 minutes on the snow-covered path.
In April through October a horse-drawn carriage ride is an option. As we walked I could picture a horse drawn sleigh ride but the walk set the mood nicely, giving us some quiet time to take in the scene, especially since we only met two other people along the way. Incidentally, Ludwig was fond of sleigh rides at night and had very elaborate sleighs.
Up a last hill and we had our first view of the Royal Palace of Herrenchiemsee, also called the New Palace (Neues Schloss). This was the third of Ludwig’s palaces/castles and the most costly and elaborate. For those who have visited Versailles, it may look familiar. Ludwig passionately admired Louis XIV of France and set out to build a palace modeled after Versailles but exceeding it.
Ludwig II was king of Bavaria from 1864 until his mysterious death in 1886. The “Mad King” reference came from the reason sought by his ministers to depose him claiming mental illness. The ministers’ cause was aided by Ludwig’s focus on architecture and art and dislike of traditional matters of state and the fact that Ludwig’s younger brother was mentally ill. Also, Ludwig’s eccentric behavior, spending extravagantly on the palaces and castle, bankrupted him well before he was close to completing Herrenchiemsee Palace.
He was able to complete the fountains and gardens resembling Versailles in front of the palace face but we were unable to see these since they were covered for the winter.
Below is a summer photo taken across the lake.
Inside the Palace
The scheduled tour of the palace was led by a friendly and enthusiastic guide, but since photos weren’t allowed you’ll just have to imagine the opulence of the interior. Only 20 of the 70 rooms were ever finished and of the planned two back wings one was never begun and the almost-completed North Wing was demolished in 1907.
The tour began in the State Staircase, a replica of the Ambassadors’ Staircase in Versailles. However, because the original was demolished over a century before Herrenchiemsee was built, some visitors come here to see what the Versailles staircase was like. The lavishness of the ornate rooms was really overwhelming; it was easy to see how Ludwig went bankrupt.
From the marble to the paneling to the porcelain and gold, no expense was spared and room after room revealed more extravagance — all intended to surpass Versailles. There was so much gold from floor to ceiling in the State Bedchamber in the State Apartment that I was compelled to ask if it was all real gold (of course, it was actually real gold leaf everywhere throughout the palace).
The room I liked best was the Great Hall of Mirrors. It ran 98 meters (25 meters longer than its counterpart in Versailles) along the entire front of the palace with windows to the garden and fountains. With 52 freestanding lights and 33 chandeliers, there were over 2000 candles (the chandeliers could be lowered for lighting). The room was spectacular in day time but I could only imagine what it would have been like at night with the candles lit and light reflecting from the many mirrors in each of the 17 arches on the left (east) wall pictured below. They hold summer evening concerts here and until 1982 still lit all the candles.
Among other interesting aspects of the palace was the bathroom with a swimming-pool-sized tub that was never filled. I think they estimated it would take many servants 20 hours to fill.
I think Sweeney’s favorite story was of the dining room with the “magic table” inspired by the Grimm’s Fairy Tale about the table that would set itself on command. The table could be lowered to the floor below, where it was set and the food was placed on it. Then it was raised to the room above for dining, the table appearing to have magically set itself. The kitchen was never used due to Ludwig’s very short stay. Instead the servants used the abbey kitchen.
The Popular and Mysterious King Ludgwig II
Ludwig only spent about 10 days in the palace in September of the year before he died. The fantasy of Ludwig’s life seems very much symbolized in his palaces and castles. He was popular in Bavaria and elsewhere partly because of his youth and good looks and partly because his projects created jobs and prosperity. With the citizens of Bavaria in his time, he was also popular because he often traveled the countryside and spoke with people along the way, repaying hospitality with extravagant gifts. To the current citizens of Bavaria and Germany he is popular because the castle and palaces that he built (bankrupting himself) have been a tourist draw and significant revenue source.
Ludwig stated that he wanted to remain an enigma to himself and others and succeeded partly in that his death is still a mystery. When he was deposed, he was moved to Castle Berg on the shores of Lake Starnberg, south of Munich. The next evening he asked the doctor who had pronounced him mentally ill to take a walk on the grounds. They never returned but during a heavy storm that night were both found dead in shallow water near the lake shore.
The Soup Interview: Sweeney Talks Ludwig
I’m including an impromptu and candid video of Sweeney talking about King Ludwig’s Palace at lunch after our tour. I hope that you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.
Photo Credit for “State Staircase” and “Palace in Summer”:
© Bayerische Schlösserverwaltung
For more information about Herrenchiemsee Palace and other Bavarian castles:
Quite an interesting piece and what a great couple team you make! More….more…..
Thank you for the comments. Really interesting history and a fun day in Bavaria.
Wow, I have heard of this palace but didn’t know very much about it until now! Loved the story about the magic table…our beloved Fairy-tale King certainly did have a vivid imagination, didn’t he?!
I think you’re on to something with Talk Soup and you should add to all of your posts for additional insight into your article and it really adds a nice personal touch too!!
Thanks for the feedback. I really agree with you on the video. When I played it back the first time on the camera, I had the sound off and it really emphasized how dramatic Sweeney was though it was a completely impromptu video, just testing with no thought of posting.
Keep up the great work!
So great to see Mr. TWS writing, I’m really enjoying your posts and am glad you liked the castle. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Thanks for the comments and recommendation. I’m working on getting a few internal shots that I’ll add later. We really like the palace, the stunning opulence, the history and the incompleteness. I hope to add a contrasting picture of the undecorated North stair case and had it in the first draft but making sure I can use the picture.
I love the Chiemsee area any time of the year. Proud of you that you made it in winter 🙂 Enjoyed the article, and of course the “soup interview” with Cathy!
Thanks . It was beautiful in winter ad can imagine awesome in other seasons. I am really happy about the response to the soup interview.
I loved the video although the background noise made it hard to hear what Cathy was saying. But I liked the idea, and Cathy is a natural. I can see it working well in different venues. Great Idea.
Thanks. She certainly is. Regarding the background noise, it was completely unplanned and only after I replayed it did I realize we had to use it. I am investigating ways to reduce the background noise.
Nice post but Sweeney Talks was the highlight for me… I can read factoids and details just about anywhere on anything but watching Sweeney Talks was much more engaging.
Thanks for the comments. I totally agree with your comments on the Soup Interview and I’m really pleased with the response to the video. It reinforces our intent to do more of it; I am always concerned that I am not an objective judge so the feedback is very helpful. “Watching Sweenie talk” is a very interesting comment. When I first replayed it, I was in a public place with the sound off and the drama of her expressions and gestures really caught my attention.
Thanks, Mr. TWS! It’s great to hear a bit of the history of Ludwig. I visited Neuschwanstein, but not the palace or the abbey. What a fascinating character he was.
He really was fascinating. I still haven’t completely got my arms around it. I think t’s that he had the romantic view of royalty and castles that I do. He was fascinated in the way the rest of us are. Thanks for your comments. We hope to get to Neuschwanstein.
From abbey to brewery, eh? Interesting history.
Thanks for the feedback. I believe it is back to being a abbey but didn’t have time to visit. Next time.
I love the impromptu video! Bob and I do this a lot and I think you get better reactions because you haven’t thought about what you were going to say first- more natural I guess. And pumpkin soup- I want some right now!
I think I had pumpkin soup 3 times and they were all a little different and delicious. We’ll definitely continue the Soup Interviews.
Nice “you are there” descriptive reporting. Despite the snow, it didn’t look like you were freezing (like we are here in Philly right now). One question, was the video in black and white? It seemed that way on my android phone. For example, the pumkin soup wasn’t orange, but maybe they use white pumpkins there.
Thanks for the feedback. Sorry for the cold snap. It was just on the brink of being too cold. We pack only carry on and didn’t have our warmest attire. The video was posted in black and white. Sweeney preferred that but the pumpkin soup is a really a pretty color in the original.
Another great post, Mr. TWS! I loved the soup interview. Not having the awesome opportunity to meet both of you yet, it was great to put a voice to a face. What a beautiful castle and it’s too bad they restricted photos inside. We’re heading to Bavaria this summer so it would be wonderful to do those sleigh rides. We’re definitely adding this to the itinerary. Thanks for all the background information!
Thanks so much. The soup interviews will definitely be continuing. Hope you get to visit Herrenchiemsee Palace. Inside photography was restricted in a number of our palace visits in Germany and Austria.
Very interesting post. I must admit I don’t know anything of Bavarian history. A shame, now it seems.
The palace does look worthy of a visit.
I always find it fascinating to read about how people used to live. Prominent figures as a king are even more interesting and when that king turns out to be quite excentric… jackpot:D
Thanks for the feedback. Same here with regard to Bavarian history. Yet another benefit of travel. I doubt I would have stumbled upon Ludwig any other way. There is much more worth additional exploring in the history of Ludwig – and the palace is definitely worth a visit.
I mean… you have to be a tiiiiny bit mentally ill if you want to surpass Versailles… right;)? On the serious side, I have heard of him and his death, but not much more, and he seems to have been quite an interesting chap – also a good friend of empress Sissi (if you want to get your Bavarian Royalty Freak on, the “Sissi”-triologie is a must-see!!), who was also… interesting. The palace seems intriguing – a magic table? A bath tub that realistically cannot be filled? My, totally sane – again. But it also looks pretty stunning in the pictures, and I’d love to visit… I’d also love me some pumpkin soup, but the Internet does not yet materialize these wishes:(. Great post, cool video (the background noise was mentioned, but I just want to say: I heard it, too:)…) – more!
Good comment about Versailles – hammered home the eccentricity. Yes, I think Ludwig is really fascinating. I will continue to explore. I don’t think I picked up on the relationship to Sisi during the tour but then as we continued on to Austria we learned a lot about Sisi as well. Future post. It makes sense they were good friends. I’m a big movie fan but hadn’t come across the trilogy until our visit. Sisi (Sissi, even the spelling of the nickname is controversial) is another historical figure I am compelled to learn more as a result of the trip. The pumpkin soup was great.
I’d heard of Mad King Ludwig but never knew anything about him- interesting. Wonderful photos. The castle is out of a German fairytale.
Thanks for the comments. He’s really interesting. I think the Fairy Tale King seems an appropriate name. His other castle is even more the prototypical castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein, and one of the inspirations for the original Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Wow, it’s massive! And ornate…
And the island location is unusual.
What a fascinating post and what a monumental undertaking. It’s hard to fathom the lavishness of the period but at least these palaces have stood the test of time, I would have loved to see the candles and mirrors and all the reflections out of that scene. I also like the fact that the place takes a bit of effort to get to – boat rides and walks certainly set the tone. Great piece Mr. TWS.
Thanks so much for the feedback. The image of the candles and mirrors reflecting light seems the height of romanticism. That’s a really good comment about the effort; I hadn’t thought about it but now that you mention it, it definitely contributed to why we enjoyed this.
Loved this post. You were so descriptive you made me want to pick up a book on his life. The magic table was an incredible idea. I wonder how they did the mechanics that would have been needed that far back. Very thought-provoking article and love seeing the video. Thanks.
Thanks so much. It was built in the1880s and I don’t think that it used particularly sophisticated mechanics but we didn’t see it in action.
You must have stepped into a fairy story. Amazing winter photography.
It really seemed like it. Thanks.
What a fascinating post – I could picture taking the snowy walk to the castle – I would have loved that. The castle itself was beautiful – thank you for including so much history as well. But my favorite part of the post? The Soup Interview!
Thanks for linking up with us!
It’s incredible how much it looks like Versailles! And come to think of it, we visited the gardens of another of his palaces in Ludwigsburg that the outside looks similar to Versailles. Love the video! Cathy is kind of like “this soup is really good and I just want to eat it in peace.” 😉
I would love to visit it during the summer season. Somehow, it looks quite different during winter. When I was in Europe, I loved visiting palaces–it’s sooo different from our everyday life!
It is quite different. Fun to think of what it would have been like when you are walking in the palaces. I also can’t help thinking of the amazing disparity for the very few.
Such an informative post! I knew nothing about King Ludwig other than his nickname so I enjoyed learning a bit more of his history. Would love to visit the palace someday – we visited Versailles earlier this year and I would love to compare the two!
Thanks for the comments. I’m finding out more about Ludwig; the immersion in fantasy is really intriguing. We’ve been to Paris several times recently but not long enough to get to Versailles. Hope to soon and then also compare.
Building a more opulent version of Versailles is quite a goal! It sounds so beautiful that I now want to see it in person. That wintery walk through the woods looks idyllic, too.
It seems even more staggering a goal given it was in the 1880s The island would be very pretty in other seasons too.
I knew there was a Herrenchiemsee, but not that there was also a Frauenchiemsee. Neat that there is balance. The palace looks a lot like Sanssouci in Potsdam, which makes sense as it too was based on Versailles. Again another place I need to go see in my own (host) country.
I didn’t hear anything and haven’t found anything about who came up with the names and whether there was a story of interest but the names did make me curious.
I was very impressed by the second staircase which has never been finished. It was a good chance to see how such a staircase is constructed by simple bricks before it get all that decoration
I was really glad we got to see that. It also showed what the walls in the rest of the palace were like underneath. It seemed really big and we only saw this unfinished staircase and the 20 finished rooms and not the other 49 unfinished rooms. The unfinished North Staircase was how Ludwig entered.
I visited Herrenchiemsee last summer and was so surprised at the castle, it just appears after that short walk though the woods… crazy Ludwig surely liked building opulent places!
I am amazed at the opulence given the timing of the 1880s. The surprise of it sort of appearing at the end of the short walk is a good way to describe it. I believe some of that has to do with the incompleteness. His grandiose vision had the entire island part of the garden.
Probably don’t need to tell you this, but Bavaria is one of my favorite places including the castles of King Ludwig. Loved this post since this is one of his castle’s I’ve yet to visit! He must carry his themes throughout his castles because Linderhof also has a Hall of Mirrors and Neuschwanstein a mystery table! The opulence is amazing, isn’t it?
This was our first visit to Bavaria and we’d like to see more. I think that he had visions of many new projects and some with beginning plans when he died. It’s the fantasy view with which he approached it. Bankrupt, he still had grandiose plans. I am surprised a bit about the common themes. The Hall of Mirrors, for example, was in Versailles so a logical part of Herrenchiemsee Palace. It’s surprising he’d already done that at Linderhof.
Very nice, Herr TWS.
An interesting personality, that mad King Ludwig.
Thanks, his immersion in fantasy spurred him to pursue these amazing projects and unattainable goals.
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I know of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles, even Linderhof, but I had no idea he built his own Versailles, too! How is it possible that I haven´t heard about this one?? Hmm.. Thank you for education! Well, Ludwig had great taste – for a “mad” king, that´s for sure. No one complains anymore about the cost of his castles, I guess.
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A really interesting post, to start off with, but as others have already said, the highlight was seeing and hearing Cathy in the interview. Glad to know that you’ll be planning more of this. You make a great team.
Fantastic post! I never had a chance to visit this palace; I went to Linderhof and Neuschwanstein (great palaces). If I ever return, I’ll make sure to visit this one! The Mad King is a very interesting historical character! Great pics!!