“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. I will never forget those words of wisdom which came from a stranger that fateful day in June of 1999 as we rode up the hill to reach Neuschwanstein Castle in a horse and carriage on a dark, rainy day.

It was nearing the end of our week-long trip throughout Germany, following the Romantic Road and visiting as many castles and medieval Bavarian towns as we could possibly cram in to our time off from work. Neuschwanstein was supposed to be the crème de la crème, our last fairytale castle we would see before heading into Switzerland for a few days before flying home. Yet alas we woke up to a thick blanket of fog and rain, shrouding our view of Ludwig II’s masterpiece perched high up above the town of Schwangau surrounded by snow-covered mountains. We had come so far to see Neuschwanstein yet she was nowhere to be found beneath the dark coat of clouds.

I was obviously dismayed about the ugly day and issued a complaint to Paul, my boyfriend at the time. If only I knew what was going on through his head at that moment for this was the day he had planned to ask me to be his wife. It was after my disgruntled complaint about the weather that an older woman next to us said those unforgettable words, almost as if she knew that it was going to be a very special day, a day that would change our lives forever.

We rode up to the castle in silence as I pondered her advice and realized that of course she was right. There was no reason to let the rain ruin our visit and perhaps the rain kept away the hordes of tourists who usually descend upon the castle on a lovely day.

After the tour of the castle, the clouds dissipated and the rain stopped. It still wasn’t perfect but good enough to take a walk around the grounds. We heard that there was a short hike behind the castle to a viewpoint and decided to follow the trail. There was not a soul around but us as we crossed the famous Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge) over the Pöllat Gorge and into the thick of the forest. We heard grumbles of thunder off in the distance and feared we were going to get trapped in a storm but continued on up. Perhaps it was a sign of the emotions going on within Paul’s mind as he knew what he was about to do.

We rounded a corner and there sitting majestically upon a steep ridge was the castle. The view was magnificent and took my breath away. It was then that I looked and noticed that Paul was down on one knee and asking me to marry him. It felt absolutely surreal. We had been together for five years and I knew that he was the man I wanted to share my life with. Saying yes was one of the happiest moments of my life until a year later I said “I do”, and then a few years after that we had our two children Max and Sophia.

Bringing our children to the very place where “it all began” was a dream of ours for years. Yet unfortunately a few months before our big trip to Europe, Paul injured his back and couldn’t go. My father ended up taking his place which was very special yet bittersweet knowing that Paul would not be along. Since our castle tickets were booked months in advance, we still went ahead with our plans to see Neuschwanstein.  Although it never felt the same without Paul, I’m still glad I was about the bring the kids. Here is the story of our visit.

Neuschwanstein Castle

I rose early for our visit to the castle feeling a mixed bag of emotions. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when we arrived. I knew I’d be nostalgic and filled with memories of love. Yet, I also was feeling really sad that Paul could not be there with us and instead was laying home back in Minnesota in pain with a flared up back. It didn’t feel right that he wasn’t going to be there with us yet I was still joyful that my children would be able to see this special place.

We drove to Hohenschwangau, the small tourist town below Neuschwanstein, and picked up our reserved tickets for the castle tour which I had diligently purchased six months ago online in order to avoid long queues or any disappointment. We parked the car and began the 30 minute walk up to Neuschwanstein, following horses and carriages and groups of fellow tourists. As we walked, memories came flooding back to 19 years ago when Paul and I rode the horse and carriage to the top in the pouring rain. I had told my children the story many times and as soon as a horse and carriage passed us by my daughter made me promise that we could ride it down. Of course I couldn’t resist and agreed.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Horse and Carriage riding up to the top of Neuschwanstein.

We arrived at the top with plenty of time to spare before our 11 am guided tour. I was amazed how many people were there. Neuschwanstein is a very popular day trip from Munich and obviously there were tons of tour buses already parked down below given the large crowds. I winced briefly in disappointment but quickly let it subside. I was not going to let a swarm of tourists ruin this special day. We used the extra time to admire the views of this magnificent setting. Off in the distance sat the town of Schwangau as well as the rural villages of Waltenhofen and Brunnen where we stayed next to the lake Forggensee.

 

I closed my eyes and imagined what this must have looked like back in 1868 when the Bavarian King Ludwig II constructed such a fantastical, opulent castle. Built replicating medieval styles yet with all the latest technology, the King wanted his lavish castle to emulate his nostalgia and fascination with the culture and concept of monarchy that prevailed during the Middle Ages. The young King lived a lonely isolated life and was obsessed with the operas of Richard Wagner, the romantic ideals of old German knights (especially the Swan Night), and the intricate murals which graced every almost every open space in the castle.  Ludwig II used all of his money to construct the castle of his dreams, eventually going into huge debt. His political situation worsened and the only way to remove him from power was to declare him insane.  The King was removed from his castle and found dead shortly thereafter in 1886. The cause of his death remains a mystery and Neuschwanstein was never fully completed. Despite its tragic history, Neuschwanstein is perhaps one of the most beautiful castles in the world.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Marienbrücke (Mary's Bridge) over the Pöllat Gorge 

As you look from the balcony of the castle, you can see off in the distance the ancient castle Hohenschwangau where Ludwig spent a lot of time as a child. Lake Alps is on the left and Lake Schwansee is on the right. You can see why Ludwig picked this perch to build his dream castle. 

Our tour inside the castle was short but sweet. For all the waiting and anticipation, the tour lasted only 30 minutes and was conducted by an audio guide. It was a far cry from what I remembered 19 years ago when Paul and I had a live guide and the place almost all to ourselves. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside the castle and most of the rooms are sectioned off by large glass dividers. To be inside such an opulent, beautiful place was incredible. The stunning murals, the hand carved furniture and even the King’s Italian-inspired grotto gave the castle a fairytale feel. It is one of the most elaborate, spellbinding castles I’ve ever seen.

After the tour, it was time to show the children where it all began: The view overlooking the castle where Paul got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. This was the moment I had been waiting for. I wondered how I’d feel when we got to that very spot. So much has changed over the past 19 years. Time has flown like water down a stream, never stopping or slowing down for a moment to reflect.

After crossing Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge), it was time to begin our hike. Unfortunately it would not be like it was 19 years ago when it was just Paul and I wandering off into the forest to find our fairytale view. Instead, it was us and at least a hundred other curious souls following the same narrow path up to the view.

It didn’t take more than ten minutes to reach the spot. We waited for the crowds to slightly subside and then jumped in for our chance to get a couple of shots. I honestly didn’t have enough time to reflect or feel the rush of nostalgic emotions that I expected to come flooding through my soul. Instead, I impatiently awaited the selfie sticks and iPads to clear the way so we could at least get a photo.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Meanwhile my father had already lost his patience with the crowds and began to head back. Was I disappointed in this moment I’d been thinking about for some many months? Was it anything like I’d remembered or expected? Or course not. We all know that life simply doesn’t work like that at all. It would have been foolish for me to believe I’d feel exactly how I did 19 years ago at this very spot.

Yet still it was meaningful. It meant the world to me to share such a special memory of my life with my children.  My parents showed us where they got engaged, and that memory stuck with me throughout my life. I certainly hope to return again some day with Paul. Who knows, maybe we will be lucky enough to bring our own grandchildren there someday.

30 comments

  1. that they and their family again came to Germany, I have not seen your dad I hope and wish all good))) joined magnificent construction is really known outside Germany. “”Führung takes only half an hour and only a few rooms are shown 4. ”
    “it was nice trip, restaurant with German food so Bavarian food above the castle was also super. “, beautiful greetings from which our heat (((corner)) of the North back, and even holiday summer time yet! I was uncertain whether he be or!)

      1. Sehr gerne !!(°J°)I like to read, that I have read something in the family, ill is all good and I want to get well in the summer and all beautiful summertime without complaints!

    1. Yes it was quite special. I was very fortunate to have the kids there and also to open their eyes to the world outside of our country.

    1. Yes it is absolutely mesmerizing inside the castle. The walls of art, the elaborate woodwork, it is worth the visit and he has more castles too so you can see the others as well if you are in Bavaria.

  2. What a lovely post Nicole. Of course it was never going to be the same going back, and sadly without Paul, but at least your kids got to see where it all began in that very special place. Beautiful photos too!
    Alison

    1. Thanks Alison! Yes I sure hope I can go back again someday with Paul. I hope he can also mend enough so he can take a long distance flight. That is something that will be tricky even when he heals. But I just want him better! Bringing the kids was truly special. We had a very special trip together.

  3. Such a magical place. I think it is difficult to have a place evoke the same feeling on the second visit… especially if the first visit included a marriage proposal. The most important thing on this second visit is the memories you’ve created for your children. I am so sorry that Paul could not be there to enjoy the moment, but he was there for the first time, and that visit changed your life forever.

    1. Yes so true Lisa. I never feel the same way again. I am also very sentimental as a person and had to truly hold in my emotions. I’m hoping Paul is soon on the mend. He can’t travel at all except to work and back. I need my traveling partner and soul mate back in business. I’m missing having him on all our trips but yes to bring the kids was wonderful. 🙂 And my dad too!

  4. You know what wise men say, third’s time a charm. Maybe Paul has to wait for your third visit! From the sound of it Neuschwanstein Castle has apparently become more and more popular since my visit back in 2007. I remember photography inside the castle was still allowed 11 years ago, and there was an actual person guiding us through the chambers of this magnificent structure. Anyway, it still looks impressive though. Wishing a speedy recovery for your husband, Nicole!

    1. Yes that is true! Love those words of wisdom. Yes, when we went we could take photos and had a guide. It was SO much better and more intimate. I remember asking the guide lots of questions too because I really found the inside of the castle amazing. I bought two books talking about the decor and art found in the castle I was so intrigued. Thanks again for the comment and well wishes. He better get better as I need a traveling partner! 🙂

  5. I really misted up reading this post — how sad that Paul was not able to be there with you! Though I suppose in a way he was, both through your memories and through your children. It all really does sound magical. Thank you so much for inviting your readers to tag along!

    1. Oh thank you. Yes I didn’t put the full story in the post. Paul is still having serious back pain so the past four and a half months have been very very hard for us as a family. He has an inflamed nerve that got messed up skiing in April. So he has not been able to do much this summer but work and is still in pain. It has been tough and even writing the post was hard. I am hoping he is soon on the mend. It sure makes you appreciate and be grateful for what you have. Thanks again! 🙂

      1. Gosh … I’m so sorry it’s even worse than I imagined! I’m sending healing thoughts his way — and yours, too, because caretaking can be hard. xx

      2. Yes it has been hard and I’m really hoping he is on the mend. It has been a long four and a half months. Thanks for your caring thoughts! 🙂

  6. I love this story Nicole! Both the romantic engagement to returning with your family. Sometimes our expectations are a bit off but often such amazing things happen when we let go of what we thought should happen.

    1. Thanks Sue! Yes very true. 🙂 Hope you are enjoying your summer. It has flown by!

  7. What a shame not to have Paul by your side but I am guessing he felt blessed to have his children share their experience of the day when they returned home.

    1. Yes it was really hard. I have been really struggling the past four and a half months with the stress of his situation. He does seem to be getting a little better but it has been hard to have him in pain and not able to do anything at all. Anyway I am really glad I still was able to bring the kids to Europe. It was very special together and bonding time. They go back to school already next week.

      1. Chronic pain is so difficult to deal with and to watch as a spouse. Hope Paul is healing. Cannot believe summer is nearly over.

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