A hundred twenty-five years ago, Bavaria's "Maerchenkoenig" (or "Fairy-tale King") Ludwig II died under very mysterious circumstances at the age of 40, his body found floating in Lake Starnberg, south of Munich. Today, Ludwig remains famous for the castles he built and attempted to build, most notably Neuschwanstein Castle, perched high in the Alpine foothills. The king was a romantic, a friend and suporter of composer Richard Wagner, and he hired theatrical set designers rather than architects to design his castles. More absorbed in his personal world than state affairs, Ludwig spent most of his time on his own projects -- emptying his personal coffers -- and left his ministers frustrated by his inattention. When his cabinet accused him of insanity, he was placed in custody after a brief showdown at Neuschwanstein Castle, and was taken to a castle next to Lake Starnberg. The following day, while out for a walk, Ludwig disappeared, his lifeless body discovered hours later. The death was declared a suicide, but many have rejected that ruling, and the demise of this popular king remains a mystery to this day.
1.Neuschwanstein Castle, perched on a rugged hill in front of the Alpine foothills near Füssen, in southwest Bavaria, Germany, viewed on July 31, 2007. Neuschwanstein was commissioned by Bavaria's King Ludwig II and designed by Christian Jank, a stage designer from Munich. Construction began in 1869, but it was only partially completed, with 185 interior rooms of a planned 200 left unfinished.
AP Photo/Christof Stache, File
2.King Ludwig II, age 22, in 1867, only three years after he ascended the Bavarian throne following his father's death. Though he was young and inexperienced, Ludwig was a popular king among Bavarians.
3.Photographer Joseph Albert, posing with his equipment in front of Hohenschwangau Castle, near the present site of Neuschwanstein Castle, around 1857. At this time, Ludwig was a 12-year-old Crown Prince, living with his family, headed by his father, King Maximilian II. Ludwig spent much of his youth in living in Hohenschwangau, exploring the surrounding lakes and Alpine foothills.
4.Hohenschwangau Castle, Ludwig's family home, near Füssen, southern Germany, viewed from Neuschwanstein Castle on August 10, 2010.
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5.The hill that would hold up Neuschwanstein Castle, seen around 1860. The ruins of two medieval-era castles, Vorderhohenschwangau and Hinterhohenschwangau are visible among the trees. Shortly after he came to power in 1864, Ludwig II made plans to build a new, grand castle in this location, replacing the smaller. older ruins.
6.Scaffolding surrounds the walls of Neuschwanstein Castle as it is being constructed, seen about 1875. In 1868, Ludwig had written to his friend and inspiration, composer Richard Wagner: "It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights' castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day."
7.A view of the upper courtyard of Neuschwanstein Castle, still under construction, as it appeared in 1886 -- the year of Ludwig's death.
8.An aerial view of Neuschwanstein Castle, near Füssen, Bavaria, seen on July 1, 2007. The castle was completed in 1886, and was opened to the public only seven weeks after the death of King Ludwig II. Ludwig himself was only able to live in the castle for a total of 172 days.
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9.Ludwig II and his fiance, Duchess Sophie in Bavaria in 1867. Though the two were engaged throughout most of 1867, Ludwig later canceled the engagement, and never married. Studies of his diaries suggest the King, a devout Roman Catholic, struggled with his sexual orientation throughout his adult life.
10.Linderhof Castle, near Oberammergau in southwest Bavaria, viewed in a photochrom print (color photo lithograph) dated around 1900. Linderhof was the smallest of Ludwig's castles, and the only one which he lived to see completed, in 1876, though some work continued there until his death in 1886.
Library of Congress / Detroit Photographic Company
11.An outside view of Linderhof Castle, seen during a night time opening on August 25, 2008. The "long night" at Linderhof Castle, with illuminations, guided tours and chamber concerts remembered the 163rd birthday of the monarch.
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12.The Venus Grotto of Linderhof Castle, seen on Sept. 21, 2008. The room was built to illustrate the first act of Richard Wagner's "Tannhäuser". Electrical wiring and lighting (a novelty in the 1880s) were used to change the colorful scenery and set differing moods.
AP Photo/Christof Stache
13.A snow covered Linderhof Castle, about 100 km south of Munich, seen on November 17, 2005.
14.The "Maurische Kiosk" (Moorish Kiosk), a structure on the grounds of Linderhof Castle, is illuminated during a night time opening on August 25, 2008.
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15.An aerial view of Herrenchiemsee Castle, built on an island in the middle of Bavaria's largest lake, the Chiemsee. Ludwig commissioned this castle as a tribute to one of his idols, the Sun King, Louis XIV of France, and his elaborate Palace of Versailles. Herrenchiemsee Castle was only partially completed, and Ludwig was only able to spend a few days there in September of 1885.
16.Interior of Herrenchiemsee Castle, the Hall of Mirrors, containing 77 chandeliers, also modeled after the Palace of Versailles.
17.An employee looks at a portrait of King Ludwig II in Herrenchiemsee Castle, as part of an exhibition called "Gotterdaemmerung. King Ludwig II and his time", on May 11, 2011.
18.Bavarian Finance Minister George Fahrenschon shows the fully restored state bedroom of King Ludwig II in Herrenchiemsee Castle, on April 12, 2011. The cost of the restoration was put at 284,000 Euros, or about $400,000 USD.
19.Neuschwanstein Castle is now a world-famous tourist attraction. Criticized by many as wasteful and extravagant at the time of their construction (despite the King using his own money, not state funds), Ludwig's castles have paid for themselves many times over in the years since his death. Photo taken on May 9, 2011.
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
20.Snow covers Neuschwanstein Castle on March 20, 2007 near Füssen, Germany.
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21.A view the Alpsee and Alpine foothills, seen from a balcony of Neuschwanstein Castle on May 23, 2007. Original here.
22.The ornate ceiling of the throne hall in the south Bavarian Neuschwanstein Castle, seen on May 11, 2005.
23.An aerial view of Neuschwanstein Castle and the surrounding area near Schwangau, about 120 km (75 mi) south of Munich, on October 4, 2006.
24.Castle Berg, on Lake Starnberg, in a photograph taken in 1886, the year Ludwig II died -- his body found floating in Lake Starnberg. Ludwig had been accused of insanity by his cabinet of ministers, was arrested at Neuschwanstein Castle on June 12, 1886, and transported here, to Castle Berg. On June 13, 1886, around 6:00 pm, Ludwig and a psychiatrist named Dr. Bernhard von Gudden left the castle for a walk around Lake Starnberg -- that was the last time anyone saw either man alive. Both of their bodies were found late that night, Ludwig was floating face-down in waist-deep water. Ludwig's mysterious death was officially ruled a suicide, but theories have existed since that day that the death was an assassination.
25.The final photograph of King Ludwig II, as his body laid in state in the royal chapel at the Munich Residence Palace in June of 1886. In his right hand he held a posy of white jasmine picked for him by his cousin the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
26.A plaster death mask of King Ludwig II, viewed in Herrenchiemsee Castle, as part of an exhibition called "Gotterdaemmerung. King Ludwig II and his time", on May 11, 2011.
27.Members of the "Guglmaenner" secret society transport a crucifix to the site where Bavarian King Ludwig II died, on June 6, 2006 in a boat on Lake Starnberg. The "Guglmaenner", who annually commemorate the king's death, are of the opinion that Ludwig II was killed for political reasons.
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28.Wearing traditional Bavarian costumes, supporters of the Bavarian King Ludwig II attend an open-air Mass at the Gedaechtniskapelle on Lake Starnberg, commemorating the 125th anniversary of the King's death, on June 13, 2011.
29.Duke Franz of Bavaria (center), current head of the royal Bavarian Wittelsbach family, attends an open-air Mass at the Gedaechtniskapelle on Lake Starnberg, commemorating the 125th anniversary of the King's death, on June 13, 2011.
30.A crucifix near the shore of Lake Starnberg near Berg, southern Germany, marks the site where Bavarian King Ludwig II is believed to have died 125 years ago. Photo taken on June 6, 2006.
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About the Author
Alan Taylor is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Photo section.