13 June: 125th anniversary of the death of the Swan King, King Ludwig II

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 13 June 2011 | 3:20:00 pm

"Someday, when we both have not existed for a long time, our work will shine for those generations that follow as a bright example which will charm throughout the centuries. And every heart will be burning in enthusiasm for divine, eternally living art!" (Part of a letter from King Ludwig II to Richard Wagner)
An hastily thrown together tribute, but without Ludwig there would probably be no Ring or perhaps (in a sense) no Wagner.

(The Associated Press) BERG, Germany — Hundreds of Bavarians have gathered for a Mass to mark the 125th anniversary of the death of King Ludwig II, the 19th-century monarch famed for building the spectacular Neuschwanstein castle.

Ludwig, who died aged 40 on June 13, 1886, lives on in popular legend as the artistically inclined "fairytale king," a patron of composer Richard Wagner.

Ludwig was locked up in one of his castles, on Lake Starnberg outside Munich, after being declared insane. The circumstances of his death remain murky: the king took a walk with his doctor and the two were found drowned in the lake.

Monday's service was held near where Ludwig's body was found.

News agency DAPD reported that the abbot of nearby Andechs monastery, Father Johannes Eckert, said of Ludwig: "he lived in tension between the ideal and reality."




There is only one cross located at Starnberg Lake, just south-west of Munich, around which so many questions are raised.

It stands in shallow waters just offshore, awash in mild waves being pushed by north-westerly breezes coming down from the mountains. The cross marks the spot where the lifeless body of Bavarian King Ludwig II was found.

To this very day, just how Ludwig died has never been absolutely clarified. Did he really drown, as stated in the official accounts from 1886? This seems scarcely imaginable, since the shore area is so shallow, barely knee-deep where the cross is standing.

Or was he murdered by his opponents who had had him declared mentally unfit and wanted to get rid of him because his mania for building castles - the magnificent Neuschwanstein among them - had plunged the kingdom of Bavaria deeply into debt?

There may never be a final answer.

Only the location of his death is certain, and there stands the cross to mark the spot, and behind it the Votive Church, an imposing structure of stone. On June 13, the 125th anniversary of Ludwig's death, some 1,000 visitors will be taking part in a memorial church service. The altar will be set up outdoors, because the chapel is not largeenough to accommodate the expected crowds.

Out on the lake, the steamship 'MS Starnberg' will stop near the cross. Passengers on board will be able to watch the church service from onboard, while enjoying a three-course meal and listening to the music of Richard Wagner.

The mystique surrounding the fairy-tale Bavarian monarch attracts visitors to Lake Starnberg from around the world - and not only for the fact that he died here. The lake was his retreat and refuge. 'He liked to be alone and enjoyed the solitude, looking for an oasis amid the quiet,' says Stefan Jetz, chairman of the local Monarchy Loyalists Association. 'Lake Starnberg was a resting place for his soul.'

Those looking for the places where the 'Kini' (king) relaxed must take a steamboat from the town of Berg, on the north-eastern shore of the lake and cross over to Possenhofen on the western side. The same way that Ludwig often did when he wanted to retreat even further, heading to the tiny island Roseninsel about a kilometre further south.

It was in Possenhofen Palace that Ludwig as a child often met with his cousin Elisabeth, often better-known as 'Sisi.' But he would meet her much more often on the Roseninsel later on when Sisi was the Empress of Austria. To get there, Ludwig rode by horse-drawn carriage. Today, one strolls through the town of Possenhofen, going past the Gebhardt fisherman's house, then the Schiffsglocke restaurant and on through Lenne Park.

The last stretch one can travel together with Norbert Pohlus. Dressed in his picture-perfect traditional Bavarian lederhosen outfit, he sits at the controls of his 'Plett'n', a small flat-bottomed boat, and ferries people back and forth between the island and mainland.

King Ludwig II lying in state in the Hofkapelle (Court Chapel)
 of the Munich Residenz (photograph).
There are than 300 rose bushes on Roseninsel ('Roses Island') and more than 100 types of roses which blossom at different times. A hedgerow of lilacs separates a circular rosebed on three sides from the rest of the park. On the fourth side there stands a villa, with its bright rooms, sweeping terraces and balconies. From these there is an open view of the park, the lakeshore and in the distance beyond, the Alps.

Those who take a guided tour of the villa and stroll around the small island will understand why King Ludwig came here so often to seek solitude, why it was here that during the German-Prussian War of 1866 he spent weeks enjoying Nature and listening to the music of Richard Wagner. And the Roseninsel was where he also had his secret rendezvous with Sisi.