Sunday, July 3, 2011

June 25th – Oberammergau and Linderhof

We ventured up into the Bavarian mountains again, to stay at the little village of Oberammergau. This mountain village is obviously world famous for the Passion Plays that happen here every 10 years (the last one was in 2010), but our purpose of coming here was to visit the nearby Schloss Linderhof – another fabulously over-the-top construction of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria.

When I say "nearby", it looks nearby on a map, but if you foolishly decide to cycle from Oberammergau to Linderhof, you painfully find out that it's a long 15km endurance ride up the steep valley that would kill off anyone less fit than Lance Armstrong. Somehow we made it up there, but we were feeling pretty jittery by the time we lurched off our bikes and shakily staggered up to the castle.

Linderhof is probably the most human in scale, and definitely the least over-the-top of Ludwig's three castles, but it shares many of the slightly psychotic elements of the other two. Like them, it's an unfinished, forlorn testament to a troubled soul – Ludwig loved having grand designs, but it turned out that he didn't have the tenacity, the funds, or sadly the life-span either, to fulfil any of his architectural dreams.

Although it's smaller in scale than the Herrenschloss or Neuschwanstein, the level of opulence in the rooms that were completed was unbelievable – beds, tables, walls and ceilings covered in glittering gold and crowded with shining cherubs smiling down on the unhappy king. To give you some idea of his state of mind, his dining room had a table that lifted up from the floor below on a complex hydraulic lift, so that his evening banquet for one could magically appear in front of him, which meant that he wouldn't have to be bothered by actually interacting with anyone else.

Actually, Ludwig didn't shun company altogether, it's just that he got obsessed with certain individuals to the exclusion of everything else. His biggest passion was for the composer Richard Wagner, and he even went to the lengths of constructing an enormous man-made cave, complete with concrete stalactites and an eerily illuminated lake for private performances of Wagner's romantic operas. Utterly ridiculous, but wonderful to see – although the pathos was added to when we were told that Wagner never came to see the concrete cathedral of opera that was constructed especially for him.

Fortunately, after our tour, it was literally downhill all the way from here, so we virtually freewheeled all the way back to Oberamagau to have a look around. If it weren't for the hype associated with the Passion Plays, this would just be a quaint, unremarkable little historic village – but with the presence of the Passion Plays, this is now a tourist mecca full of cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops. Yet somehow, inspite of the daily tourist deluge, people here don't yet seem jaded with all the foreigners, and the place retained a friendly, folksy atmosphere – maybe it's just early in the season.