Even after more than 130 years, King Ludwig II`s death is still a mystery and hardly anything is discussed more controversially in Bavarian history than his mysterious death in Lake Starnberg: Was it an accident, suicide, or even murder? Testimonies, crime scene sketches, and autopsy results give only a limited satisfactory explanation. Only one thing is certain: three days after his incapacitation and one day after his arrest, the 40-year-old king lost his life in the lake Starnberg on June 13, 1886.
Since the end of the 19th century, Ludwig II of Bavaria is known as the mad king, who built fairy-tale castles and made an immense mountain of debt. He is considered the monarch who gambled away the power and Bavaria lost its independence and became part of the German Reich under Prussian leadership. Posterity saw him as the royal nerd, who indebted the country with his building mania and extravagance.
Everything had started so well when in 1864 he succeeded to the throne only aged 18. The young king was a handsome man, his impact on women must have been stunning, comparable to today's Hollywood or Bollywood celebrities. His Majesty had dark curly hair, shining eyes, was athletic and with a height of 1,91m unusually tall for his time (The Height of an average man was 1,62 m). The ladies fainted serially when Ludwig II showed himself, but he felt more embarrassed than flattered.
He led a life between passionate highs, bitter loneliness, and deepest depression.
He was a visionary, if not a genius. The report that stated he was "incurably ill" and "incapable of governing for lifetime" on the basis of testimonies and without personal examination, has become an unjustified accusation.
The construction projects were financed by himself; however, the kingdom vouched for him. Today his fairy-tale castle Neuschwanstein is as famous as the Giza Pyramids, attracting more than 1.3 million visitors each year just as the Neuschwanstein castle inspired Walt Disney.
Ludwig was an intelligent, cosmopolitan man who had a vision for technical innovations and promoted the fine arts. For example, the world's first power plant was located in Linderhof Castle, and his nymph sledge is arguably the world's first electrically-lit vehicle. At Neuschwanstein Castle, he had the first telephone – invented by Philipp Reis, years before the phone was officially invented by Bell. It was the first telephone installed in the kingdom. He provided funds for the development of aviation, and at his direction the dye indigo was first developed artificially. He founded the "Polytechnic School Munich" with university status, the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, and other schools. During his reign the hygienic conditions in Munich and other Bavarian cities were fundamentally improved. He built hospitals and he instructed the installation of an advanced sewerage system in Munich and other Bavarian cities.
The king, who never wanted to go to war, was involved in two wars against Prussia on the side of Austria and later as an ally of Prussia against his dream country France. During his reign was the founding of Bismarck's German Reich of “blood and iron”. It was his kingdom that opposed most of all sovereign states to the German unity. He was concerned with autonomy and independence for his country. The proclamation of the German Reich in 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles took place without him. He sent his Brother Otto and his uncle Luitpold.
"Ah, Ludwig, I cannot describe you how infinitely painful and grievous I felt during that ceremony," wrote his brother, "everything so cold, so proud, so brilliant, so splendid and generous and heartless and empty." Bavaria was not Prussian-liberal: there were no big landowners, and the Prussian model could not work well. The Bavarians were devout petty settlers who cried out to their god - and so did their king.
Contrary to all false claims, Ludwig practiced his duties conscientiously, in spite of frequent absence. Requests and documents were often provided by Ludwig with comments and recommendations; he also carefully checked appointments or mercy petitions. In the last years of his life, the shy king increasingly withdrew from the public into the loneliness of the Bavarian Alps. In his King's House also called Hunting Lodge at Mount Schachen (although Ludwig hated hunting), he set up a Turkish room, decorated in Oriental fashion in which he consumed all sorts of drugs. His strongest drug, however, was the music of Richard Wagner.
Nevertheless, even at a young age, King Ludwig rejected Wagner's anti-Semitic resentment. It is hardly known that Ludwig II was one of the few rulers of his time who openly opposed the spread of anti-Semitism. In 1893, Karl von Heigel quoted the king's intense reaction to anti-Semitic press reports: "Is it not known that I am the only prince who immediately ordered his government from the beginning to take the strictest measures against the anti-Semitic movement?"
In 1881 Richard Wagner asked for the premiere of the Parsifal in Bayreuth for the king's orchestra, but without his court conductor Hermann Levi - because he was a Jew. The king was very indignant at the demand and Wagner buckled. Later, the Bavarian King wrote to the composer: "My dear friend, that you make no difference between Christians and Jews in the performance of your great sacred work is very good. Nothing is more disgusting, more unpleasant than such disputes: people are basically all brothers, in spite of denominational differences!"
Bavaria's monarch also set signs in his capital Munich, when in 1882, at his instigation a plot of land opposite the Maxburg was sold to the Jewish community for the construction of the main synagogue for a reduced price. Only a few documents have survived on Ludwig's attitude towards Jews, so the words of his contemporaries are very important. The speeches of Dr. Joseph Perles, Rabbi of Munich or Dr. Landsberg, district Rabbi of Kaiserslautern after the tragic death of the Bavarian King, not only testify of deep mourning for the ruler, but also of great gratitude for his courage in opposing anti-Semitism.
Where the Jew-hatred led, we all know. Only the extent and the intensity has changed. Maybe that's why it's time to write a new chapter about the fairy tale king - the king who set new standards for tolerance and humanity.