Aside from Mickey Mouse himself, the one thing most people think about when they think of Walt Disney World is the iconic castle at the center of the Magic Kingdom. Cinderella’s Castle has been enchanting little girls and grown men alike for forty years now. And while many real-life castles claim to have been Disney’s inspiration for the Cinderella Castle’s design, there’s one that seems most similar in both design and story–Newschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany.
Newschwanstein was built by King Ludwig II, a man who really should have his biography turned into a feature-length Disney film. Ludwig is a semi-modern monarch, born at the time in Germany’s history where kings had just begun to make the transition from rulers to ceremonial figures. However, you wouldn’t want to tell Ludwig this. He lived in a time before his time, truly believing in the fairy tale version of royalty. He was obsessed, among other things, with swans, fancy gloves, and opera.
Ludwig’s early rise to the throne was too much for his delicate, creative disposition, and resulted in an almost permanent childhood–not unlike one of my favorite flying Disney characters, Peter Pan. Ludwig lived in a fantasy world, often sleeping only during the day and parading about the countryside at night in an ornate horse-drawn carriage while wearing elaborate costumes. And, like any good (and semi-crazy) king worth his salt, he built himself a real-life fairy tale castle.
While most castles were built high on hilltops for defensive purposes (aside from Cinderella’s digs in super-flat central Florida), Ludwig did not build Newschwanstein as a fortress. It is true that it offers a great vantage point, looking out across the Bavarian Alps. However, Ludwig chose this location because it was pretty, not because it afforded him any level of safety.
Additionally, the castle–like the Disney World version–is not even made of real stones. It was made of bricks and fronted in stone, and one whole section of it (the throne room) isn’t even brick–it’s made of steel, just like the Magic Kingdom version. And just like Cinderella castle, it is filled with beautiful murals. In Walt Disney World, these depict Cinderella’s story; in Newschwanstein, they illustrate scenes from literature, myth, and several of Ludwig’s friend Wagner’s operas. Ludwig even had an artificial cave built into the castle, complete with plaster stalactites and a decorative waterfall. Picture the beginning part of Big Thunder Mountain railroad, and you’ve got a pretty good mental picture of what that bizarre room looked like.
King Ludwig II certainly was a character. And, in my opinion, should be an animated character as well. After all, wouldn’t you go see a movie about the man who created the inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle? I know I would!