He is one of the icons of European cultural history: His castles, above all Neuschwanstein, attract millions of tourists to Bavaria every year. The Bavarian fairy tale king Ludwig II. is the focus of books, films and stage plays. And on the occasion of the anniversary of his death also once again in that of an exhibition.
From Saturday (14.05.2011) on until 16. October, the Bavarian state exhibition entitled "Gotterdammerung" is dedicated to him in the New Herrenchiemsee Palace. Also 125 years on 13. July 1886 after his mysterious death in Lake Starnberg, people are not only preoccupied with Ludwig's penchant for castle building. Many rumors and stories surround his person: Was the king with the pronounced passion for Richard Wagner and Edgar Allan Poe really mentally ill or was his incapacitation a scheming plot of the Wittelsbach family?
Did the self-absorbed dreamer have what it takes to rule his country, or did he fail as a ruler? He coveted male riding boys more than women and therefore broke off his engagement to Princess Sophie Charlotte so quickly? Was the demise of the two-meter man in the shore water suicide, accident or murder?
Beaten and neglected
For indignation among the "king loyalists" provided "revelations" in the biography of the Munich historian Rudolf Reiser, in which he explained the "Kini" to the half-Italian. Ludwig's "father" Maximilian had suffered from an incurable, highly contagious venereal disease. That's why he had made the Italian valet Giuseppe Tambosi his "deputy".
In his childhood Ludwig had been beaten and neglected, this explains his "unsteady nature" and flight into illusory worlds. The fact that he came to the throne at the age of 18, had to fight two wars directly and had to accept the loss of Bavaria's independence when the empire was founded in 1870/71, overtaxed the sensitive monarch and caused him to take refuge in a "counter-world" of the arts, according to Richard Loibl, director of the House of Bavarian History in Augsburg.
Regarding Ludwig's death, the historian is certain that the physician Johann Bernhard Aloys von Gudden, on the instructions of his patrons, declared him insane, lured him to the lake, anesthetized him with chloroform and drowned him.
Neither insane nor weak-minded
Heinz Hafner, a brain researcher from Mannheim, also deals with Ludwig's psychological makeup. "Ludwig II. was neither insane nor weak-minded. He had extraordinary mental abilities until the last days of his life," writes the psychiatrist in his biography. He is also convinced that the family around the later regent Prince Luitpold wanted to get rid of him.
According to Hafner, the king fulfilled his duties as ruler without any shortcomings. His merits were unjustly overlooked, although he not only left behind the three royal castles Neuschwanstein, Herrenchiemsee and Linderhof, but also founded the Bavarian Academy of Music and the Technical University of Munich, and was a promoter of modern technologies and cultural areas. The only thing he neglected, according to Hafner, were representative duties – the brain researcher attests to Ludwig's social phobia and fear of being despised. That's why he avoided people and retreated to the mountains and the mystical world.
On the subject of sexual proclivity, experts are now largely in agreement: there is ample evidence in letters and diaries that the handsome heartthrob had intimate relations with equestrian soldiers. "Throughout his life, Ludwig II. with his homoerotic disposition," writes historian Hermann Rumschottel. Ludwig himself, who was a very devout Catholic, felt his sexuality to be sinful and suffered from it.
"The longing for a myth is huge"
Is it just curiosity and sensationalism that makes people still cheer the fairy tale king today? For the Bayreuth pastor Bernhard Wolf, who observes contemporary culture on behalf of his regional church, the Ludwig myth achieves much more: "The longing for a myth in which I can shelter in a world that is getting colder and colder is enormous," he explains. And the exciting stories about the fairytale king are ideal for this purpose. He is a projection surface for veneration, longings and dreams like hardly any other historical figure.
And whether homosexual half-Italian or not – his followers appreciate him, as Bavaria's Minister of Finance and highest official of the palace administration, Georg Fahrenschon (CSU) puts it in a nutshell. Because King Ludwig was so different: "amiable, slightly eccentric and a bit gaga."