When Walt Disney created his Cinderella's Castle, he drew his inspiration from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. Today the medieval-style, cliff-clinging castle, with its white turrets and intriguing history, is open to the public. Youth rail discounts, a local youth hostel, lakeside camping and student entrance fees make it easy for travelers to reach the area and explore the real thing.
Neuschwanstein was the creation of Ludwig II of Bavaria (also known as the Fairy-tale King and Mad King Ludwig). He was crowned at the age of 18, after the sudden death of his father in 1864. A sensitive loner and a dreamer, he was loved by his people but hated by his administrators for his castle-building splurges.
Because of those extravagances (including Linderhof Palace, Versailles-inspired Herrenchiemsee Palace and the planned Gothic fortress at the site of ruined Falkenstein Castle), his ministers feared Ludwig would ruin Bavaria, so in 1886 they decided to get rid of him.
He was diagnosed as mentally ill and incarcerated in Berg Castle. On June 13, 1886, his doctor arrived to take him for a walk. A few hours later they were both found drowned in Starnberg Lake. Murder, suicide or accident? It's not known.
Ludwig was buried in the Royal Crypt of St. Michael's Church in Munich.
The irony is that the buildings once considered a threat to the financial stability of the kingdom are now among the most popular tourist attractions in Germany and big moneymakers for Bavaria.
You can visit by taking the train to the town of Fssen (a two-hour journey from Munich). For travelers on tight budgets, there is a youth hostel in Fssen, at Mariahilferstrasse 5, with beds in shared rooms for about $11 and up per night. There are also two lakeside campgrounds in the area. For details, check with the local tourist information office at Kaiser-Maximilian-Platz 1, or view photos on the Internet at http://www.fuessen.de.
From Fssen you can take a local bus the three miles to Schwangau or ride on a bike path. The regular entrance fee to the castle is $6.25, but students are eligible for a rate of $5.35.
If you travel to the area on a Eurail Pass (including a Youth Pass), you can consider taking the Europabus along the Romantic Road, which links Fssen to Munich, Augsburg, Wrzburg and Frankfurt. Railpass holders get a 75% discount for the daily service along the scenic route. This discount is also available to travelers with German Youth Railpasses.
German Youth Railpasses are available for unlimited second-class travel throughout Germany to travelers who are younger than 26 on their first day of travel. Any four days of travel within one month cost $138, five days $156, six days $162, seven days $174, eight days $186, nine days $198 and 10 days $210. For these rates you must purchase the pass from a travel agent before you leave home. For information on the Internet: http://www.raileurope.com.
Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet http://www.izon.com.