Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Castle of Neuschwanstein (a jigsaw puzzle)

“Oh what a brute you are!” said Mutti (my grandmother) under her breath. “Oh, you brute!”

She held one of the 500 pieces in her hand, trying it this way and that. The puzzle (we did not call them “jigsaws”) was three-quarters finished, but there were big gaps in the sky and also in a shady tangle beside a wall.

“Got you.” The piece fitted neatly into place in an unobvious spot. “At last! What a fearful brute.”

We sat in bed with the tray across our knees. The handles were strung with dull green beads that reminded me of peas. In Eastbourne I was always aware of the sea. The night was never still. Behind the curtains there was a restful soughing; the noises of the town, of breeze and leaves; complaining seagulls. Mutti was a keen swimmer from April onwards, and I thought of her as standing beside the brilliant expanse of the beach, its keeper. Now she occupied the same position in relation to the gleaming oblong that we pored over: a thatched cottage gloriously hung with pink roses, or all the fun of the fair.

When I was still younger, we played patience together. My favourite game was called Blue Moon, because it so rarely came out.  The jigsaw-puzzles started because Mutti took part in an exchange scheme at Holy Trinity Church. Often we’d find a piece or two missing. When this happened Mutti slipped a note into the box (torn from a used envelope), and marked the place with an X on the lid. 

Forty years later, I'm piecing together the castle of Neuschwanstein.  (When you're doing a jigsaw you have an agreeable sense of constructing the objects themselves.)

After the edges and the snow-capped mountains the castle itself goes up quite easily, especially the upper part which looks white and sharp-edged in the sunlight. The shadowy parts are more tricky. I have to sort through the box picking out “gloomy architecture” and, eventually, “black architecture”. I am making up terms as I sit here, too absorbed to smoke. The next evening my attention shifts towards the September woods, a confusion of green and bronze leaf-canopies. After a frustrating tussle I make the discovery that the photograph is slightly sharper on the left, a touch more blurry on the right. The woods come together. Now I’m left only with the blue sky, which except near the horizon has not the faintest variation. I’m stuck; I’m going nowhere. I sort the pieces into groups which have something similar in the shape, beginning with the more eccentric ones. After a little while I begin to grasp that these eccentric shapes tend to fit together in vertical columns. Looking more closely still, I begin to see how the jigsaw was cut. There is more variation in the horizontal cutlines than in the vertical ones. I can’t always explain it, but I realize that before I have placed a piece I can usually sense which way round it goes. And the sky fills up, until I lay in the last three pieces and my journey is complete; now I have only a picture. 

On that journey I experienced the castle as part of nature, a thing of sun and shadows, its “architecture” inextricably mingled with the trees, its white turrets chiming with the snow-capped mountains. I never felt a compulsion to judge it. Like the arenas of other games, for example the golf-course and the cricket-pitch, the jigsaw is nature made comprehensible; it is structured. Here the structure is a levelling one. We have to focus on every inch of the picture, eventually; the straggly little tree by the rock just as much as the apex of the highest turret, ringed by battlements.

Work began on the castle in 1869. Ludwig II announced that he would rebuild the ruins that occupied this spot “in the genuine style of the old German Knightly fortresses ... the spot is one of the most beautiful that one could ever find.” The latter consideration, no doubt, suggests an un-Medieval attitude from the start. In the end the old ruins, known as Vorderhohenschwangau, were blasted away with dynamite. The new construction was designed by Christian Jank and Eduard Riedel, and made full use of modern technology.  Neuschwanstein, whatever Gothic – or rather, Romanesque (the style was changed at the design stage) - motifs it appropriates, is plainly the “old German Knightly” viewed through imaginative spectacles; the vision of a man besotted with Tannhäuser. Though this was actually the cheapest of Ludwig’s three new palaces, no expense was spared. The internal grotto, the singer’s hall, the bedroom on which (it is said) fourteen wood-carvers spent four and a half years, above all the throne-room, were conceived with a Wagnerian contempt for practicality. Ludwig funded his three palaces privately and on foreign credit, but in 1885 the banks threatened to seize his property. In 1886 the Bavarian government declared Ludwig insane. He was deposed, interned in the Berg Palace and died in the Starnbergersee the next day. In the last two years of his life he had spent a fair amount of time at the castle; the king’s apartments were habitable. But construction was barely half-finished when he died.

That should have been the end of this folly, but for an unexpected source of revenue.  A matter of weeks after Ludwig’s death, Neuschwanstein (as it now came to be known – Ludwig has called it the “Neue Burg Hohenschwangau”) was thrown open to tourists. Strangers had been forbidden in Ludwig’s lifetime – this palace in particular had been intended as a “holy and inaccessible” retreat. The construction was completed in 1892.

The castle did not, of course, have a military function. Ludwig had been defeated by the Kaiser in 1866, and foreign policy lay in Prussia’s control. The sheer limestone facings on all the more prominent parts are just a shell – the structural fabric is brick. Nevertheless, this fantasy proved to have political potential. “Sleeping Beauty’s castle”, in Disneyland, is a copy of it. As a secular “magnet” for tourists, Neuschwanstein focussed, for good or ill, some of the most powerful energies cementing western society.

Let’s hear from some of the visitors:

I was in Germany two years ago and had the chance to go to Neuschwanstein. This place is unbelievable!! The tour they give is pretty good. Don't worry if you don't speak Dutch because they are translators for a lot of different languages. I am still obsessed with this castle because it is so amazing, and to say you have been there is pretty sweet too. I recommend this place to anybody who is going to Germany. If you don't go, you will miss out big time. (Scott Gordon (19), Santa Barbara, California)   

I visited the Neuschwanstein castle in April of 1988, when I was 16 years old.  The experience has stayed with me for a lifetime.  I have collected images of the castle over the past 12+ years, to the extent that I have had a castle printed on my wedding invitations (I am getting married to a "castle convert" in May 2001), and our cake topper is a crystal replica of the Neuschwanstein.  Many think I am crazy, but it is the "fairytale" castle to go with our fairy tale wedding.  Ah, to be a princess for just one day... If you are in Europe, visit this castle...it is one of the most amazing places on earth! (Amy (29), Indy, Indiana)

 In 1986 my husband and I visited this wonder.  It was a lovely fall day and the castle was enchanting.  We had wonderful tour guide through the services of the US military.  He told us all of the inside information about the castle, and the interesting King who built it.  Sometimes people are very misunderstood and it is documented that Ludwig led a very unusual life.  I personally do not belief he was mad, eccentric perhaps.  He had too many innovations built by his design into the castle (i.e.  running water, intercom system, a primitive form of air conditioning).  It disturbs me to always hear him referred to as mad.  Sometimes if we don't understand someone, we label them and this I believe is what happened to the good SMART king. (J Montgomery (40), Maryland)

This is one of several castles I visited when I was station as a Military Policeman serving between 74' to 77'in the good ole' U.S. Army. I was off duty and had a "leave of absence" saved up so I bought a train ticket and went to Garmisch stayed at one of the popular "military favorite" hotels and went with a tour guide in his Mercedes with several of my friends. Unfortunately I lost my wallet at one of the stops in Oberamergau at the Kloster Ettal and hitch-hiked to the "Linderhof and the guy that gave me the ride offered to pay for tour of the castle, so I went then when I finished the tour I hitch-hiked to Fussen and tried to sell my watch to go thru Neuschwanstein and the guy refused to take it but he gave me the money to go thru it and I was totally blown away by the foresight of this "Mad King". If that guy was crazy then there's no hope for the world of imagination, creativity, and genius. I wish I could have met this guy, he had something wonderful going on in his head but the idiots of time were so backward they couldn't see the forest for the trees! It has been brought to my attention that this castle alone brings millions of visitors each year to it and they spend well over a billion dollars a year while they're visiting. Now who is mad? I am because such a genius would be snuffed out simply because he spent 800 million in investment dollars to bring in almost 100 billion over the last 50 years. That is a guesstimate of course but there really is no telling how far reaching the fore site of this Mad King's genius has spread. We do know he was the first king to have hot and cold water plumbing, and a room that was actually a cave with colored stalagmites and stalactites. Even Walt Disney even recognized his genius when he designed his fairy tale castle after Neuschwanstein. If you get to go to this castle I think you'll love it. Don't forget to hike around and cross the Gorge Bridge and check out the waterfall and the lake at the foot of the mountain. Also check out Hohenschwangau his boyhood home (George R Wilson III (44), Campbellsville, Kentucky)

If some of this begins to evoke Michael Jackson and Neverland, it’s not altogether inappropriate.

The jigsaw-puzzle craze, as an amusement for adults, began in the US at the beginning of the twentieth century. The first interlocking puzzles appeared in 1909, and the first cardboard puzzles in 1932. Jigsaws became even more popular during the Depression years; they've always retained a vague association with unemployment.

Here's a keen puzzler (from Massachusetts):

Just wanted to pitch in my two cents regarding the large puzzles: the 12,000-piece Ravensburger "The Creation of Adam" puzzle has sat gathering dust on my bedroom floor, awaiting completion for more than two years. I finished the left and right panels, but the massive area of light-blue/white in the center is extremely difficult, probably the most monotonous stretch I've ever attempted. I'm planning to finish that part this fall, what with all these new puzzles coming out. Personally, I've completed some monsters: the 9,000-piece Tower of Babel, Clementoni's 13,200-piece "Sacred and Secular Love" (actually quite manageable: bagged in six table-sized sections), Educa's 8,000-piece Sistine Chapel Ceiling and The Surrender at Granada. I've framed most of them, and in a couple of years I'm planning a permanent installation at our local public library. I try to do two large ones a year, mostly around the winter holidays. As far as I'm concerned, the big puzzles of classic art are the best.

Mutti would not have countenanced such excess. She probably didn't countenance jigsaw puzzles at all, really; she never approved when I urged her to attempt a really large one. It was with great difficulty that her sons eventually persuaded her to have a television – she did not like admitting that she watched anything, it was all “terribly stupid”. 


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