Fussen, Germany

Fussen, in the Bavarian (southeastern) section of Germany, is home to the most iconic castle in the entire country. Although Neuschwanstein (“New Swan Castle”) looks like a high-end medieval structure, it was actually built in the 1870s, around the time of the Eiffel Tower and our own wild west. It had a modern kitchen for its day and a heating system that makes the place look actually livable.

Getting here was an adventure, as we were re-routed because of a train strike and did not arrive in town until very late in the evening. And one of our mandatory connections will forever serve as the reminder as to why you pack light. We would have never made the connection otherwise. The cab driver spoke his only words of English when we arrive to a dark and locked hotel: “Ummm, problem!” Fortunately the innkeeper had left us a key in the mailbox.

Fussen is the transportation hub, and has sights all its own. But a couple miles outside of town lies the small collection of tourist-oriented buildings called Hohenschwangau (Upper Swan Town). There has been a knight’s castle here (i.e, a working man’s military outpost as opposed to a king’s residence) for something like 900 years, being rebuilt several times and in the most recent rendition modernized for the Bavarian royal family into which mad king Ludwig was born. This older castle is very well restored and quite intriguing in itself.

But when Ludwig grew up, he wanted to build a castle of his own, higher on the hill. This is Neuschwanstein, (New Swan Castle), named after the opera (Swan Lake) of Ludwig’s idol, Wagner. It was never finished, as Ludwig was declared insane, deposed, and died before he could fully move in. It is hauntingly fitting that the throne room is complete except for one thing: the throne.

Fantastic countryside and beautiful castle. Gives new meaning to “if you build it, they will come.”