Friday 6 January 2012

The 12 Gays of Christmas

King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886)

Last month I mentioned that Hans Christian Andersen (my 4th Gay of Christmas) said his life was a fairy tale. For King Ludwig II von Wittelsbach of Bavaria that meant building several fairy tale castles to go with it.

Think about Disneyland in Florida and you probably picture the fairy tale castle. The castle, featured in the film “Sleeping Beauty”, was based on that of Schloss Neuchwanstein in Bavaria (pictured). The actual castle itself featured in another great fantasy film, “Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang”.

Ludwig has gone down in history as the “Mad King of Bavaria”. This is an unfair reputation because it was a political criticism of his eccentricities rather than a medical diagnosis. In fact, Ludwig’s eccentricities helped to create a German identity when Germany was still made up of competing kingdoms and hundreds of principalities with nothing to unify them.

Ludwig grew up when the Romantic movement was at its height. At the time Germany was searching for some cultural heritage which all the German-speaking nations could unite behind to beat back threats from more powerful nations like Russia, France and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This led to the creation of a German “brand”. It was the catalyst for Wagner’s music and for the Grimm Brothers collecting folk tales. Combine the 2 and you get Ludwig’s great passions.

As soon as he became king in 1864 Ludwig invited Wagner to Bavaria and commissioned several new operas from him. The fairy tale castles featured in the Grimm Brothers’ tales inspired Ludwig’s style of art and architecture. His first “fairy tale” castle was Schloss Neuchwanstein, and he built several others, all in the new (if exaggerated) gothic style. The interiors of these were also often in fantastic style, with secret passages to underground grottos, etc.

These grottos were often places where Ludwig invited handsome soldiers and stable boys to join him in late night parties.

Ludwig’s diary reveals the struggles he had with his homosexuality, something which fellow gay Catholics sometimes experience even today. The most important romantic relationship he had was with Prince Paul von Thurn und Taxis.

King Ludwig died in mysterious circumstances. He was found drowned in Lake Starnberg next to Castle Berg. Rumours spread that he was either murdered or committed suicide. We may never know the truth.

His legacy was the fostering of a Romantic German image which survives today. His Bavarian fantasies, enhanced by Wagner’s music, is, perhaps, our most stereotypical image of traditional German heritage.

No comments:

Post a Comment