Schloss Neuschwanstein: Disney Noir

For me, Neuschwanstein is Disney Noir – both the inspiration for the Disney aesthetic and its darker flipside. Highly modern, even postmodernist in its pastiche of styles, hightech innovations and enthusiastic superficiality. And at the same time deeply nostalgic.

Neuschwanstein Castle was built by King Ludwig II, also known as Mad King Ludwig, to replicate medieval architecture and to pay homage to the operas of Wagner. You may think you’ve already seen it – it’s Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, but real.

The foundation stone for Neuschwanstein was set on September 5th, 1869. When Ludwig II died in 1886, the castle was still not complete.
• In summer over 6000 people wind through the castle per day–1.3 million per year.
• Neuschwanstein Castle was opened to the public 7 weeks after the death of King Ludwig II.
• Although the Castle was designed to look medieval, it had quite modern refinements: hot air, running water, automatic flush toilets were all part of the royal residence.
• The kitchen at Neuschwanstein has been preserved in its entirety, featuring automatic spits and cupboards that could be heated with hot air from the large kitchen stove.

(From: Go Europe)

What is it that makes this castle so attractive? What sets it apart from its reengineered lookalikes in Disneyworld and Las Vegas? The German original, it seems, owes more to dark romanticism, it adds the extra twist of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, of tragic love and of a suicidal king. It’s Disney avant la lettre, but Disney Noir.

Megan Knox writes:

Ludwig II grew up as a king in waiting surrounded by culture and events that would influence Neuschwanstein. He was very involved in the decoration and building design of Neuschwanstein and would refuse any suggested alterations. He did not allow any earlier works of art into his castles, and all were made directly under his watch.[5] As such, the interior and exterior constructions and decorations are direct projections of Ludwig’s personality. During his tenure as King of Bavaria, he spent over thirty-one million marks building the three great castles. Although this spending would prove to be a factor in his demise, all of the money has since been recovered through tourist income.[6] A mere seven weeks after Ludwig’s death, on August 1, 1886, Neuschwanstein was opened to the public.[7] Today, there are approximately 1.3 million visitors each year, and the castle can accommodate no more than eleven thousand visitors a day.[8] During the summer, there are about six thousand visitors a day, and during high season twice that many line up in hope of entering Ludwig’s fantasy castle, Neuschwanstein.[9]

This essay will identify the factors that influenced Ludwig and his romantic interpretation of the Middle Ages as expressed in his dream castle Neuschwanstein. Certain architectural and design features of four buildings – the Wartburg and Nuremberg in Germany, Château de Pierrefonds in France, and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – influenced Ludwig in his efforts to selectively replicate aspects of medieval architecture that he found particularly inspirational. Access to the latest building technology and materials of the day was also influential in that it allowed Ludwig to push the boundaries of his interpretations of medieval architecture. 


In designing Neuschwanstein, Ludwig employed many different people. The first design was that of his court architect, Eduard Riedel, who drew up plans that consisted of a three-story building that was more closely linked to the late Gothic reflection of the Nuremberg in Germany.[29] A second design was completed in 1868 and reflects what is seen today and included five stories; however, the Gothic elements in Riedel’s design were replaced with more Romanesque features in the construction.[30] Riedel prepared the architectural plans for Neuschwanstein, and Christian Jank provided atmospheric visualizations for the King. Jank was a scenic painter, and in 1868 he was commissioned to prepare designs for Neuschwanstein that were based on stage sets.[31] His task was mainly to transpose Riedel’s architectural drawings into more picturesque works of art for Ludwig to visualize. Jank submitted several drawings for the outside appearance of Neuschwastein, mainly done in the Gothic style, and Ludwig consistently modified the designs, imposing more Romanesque features.[32]


These accounts reveal that the latest building techniques were used as foundations were cemented and the walls were built of brick, which was then covered with a light-coloured limestone.[34] Machines, particularly cranes driven by steam engines, assisted in the overall construction. By using a combination of new building techniques and new materials, a modern version of medievalism was created and perfected to suit Ludwig’s every demand.


There are some current issues that are of concern at Neuschwanstein. Movement in the foundations is constantly being monitored, and the rock walls are repeatedly being secured.[55] The harsh climate has had a detrimental effect on the limestone in the building and over the past few years it has been renovated section by section. The castle features some examples of modern technology, such as central heating, running water on every floor, a kitchen with hot and cold water, toilets with automatic flushing systems, an electric bell system to summon servants, telephones on the third and fourth floor, as well as lifts between floors to carry meals.[56]


As such, and to make a contemporary comparison, it seems fitting that the Disney Corporation selected Neuschwanstein as the wedding cake model for the iconic Disneyland castles built in the United States and Europe. 

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