Munich: Fascinating History

The final weekend, with schools and offices closed, offered us the opportunity for traditional sightseeing. Munich, the capital of the state of Bavaria, has a fascinating history.  Prior to the much-maligned Munich agreement consigning Czechoslovakia to German rule (see the entry on the Nuremberg Document Center), the most interesting part of that history involves the salacious gossip around two kings: Ludwg I and Ludwig II (known as “Mad King Ludwig”)

Nymphenberg Palace
Grand Hall in Nymphenberg Palace

Ludwig I. Ensconced in the magnificent Nymphenberg Palace, Ludwig I (ruled from 1825 to 1848) was a notorious womanizer. Part of his seductive technique was an offer to have the court painter render his paramours in oil – a promise that produced some three dozen portraits of beautiful young women ranging from maids in the castle to noblemen’s wives.

Mistresses of Ludwig I

Ludwig was forced to abdicate in 1848 in part because he refused to reign as a constitutional monarch amidst the revolutions that wracked Europe that year and in part because of his notorious affair with an actress and prostitute, Lola Montez. Apparently discrete affairs on the side were acceptable, but public scandal was not. His son Maximilian ascended to the throne.

Ludwig II. “Mad King Ludwig,” a tragic figure, succeeded his father Maximilian in 1864. He reigned for only two years. Ludwig II had no interest in marriage or children but loved to read and design new palaces on which he spent a fortune. Among his masterpieces was Neuschwanstein Castle, built in 1869. This model for Disney’s castles in California and Florida was completed on the outside, but Ludwig was arrested and imprisoned (on the grounds that he was deemed mad) when the interior was only one-third complete.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Within days of his arrest, Ludwig was permitted to take a walk near a lake with his doctor. A man over six feet tall and an excellent swimmer, Ludwig along with his doctor were found “drowned” in two feet of water later that day. The following day, construction on the castle came to a halt, never to be resumed. Suspicion runs high that poor Ludwig was murdered because he was gay, would not produce an heir, and was burning up the royal family’s fortune on castles at a prodigious rate.

University of Munich. Ludwig Maximilian University better known as the University of Munich, founded in 1472, is one of Europe’s premier research universities. Students at the university put up one of the few public demonstrations against Hitler and fascism during the war. They published leaflets and wrote graffiti on public buildings. In February 1943 they were arrested for tossing leaflets denouncing the regime from a balcony in one of the main halls at the university. These brave young men and women, members of what was known as the “White Rose Society” were guillotined within days for their defiance of the regime. Their story is memorialized in the movie “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.”

Great Hall of University of Munich with balcony from which White Rose students tossed their leaflets

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