There are few better things in life than freeing up a couple of weeks to finally take a break and go on holiday. The average holidaymaker will try and find somewhere warmer and with cheaper booze that then current location. However, for the British expat this really means returning to blighty to enjoy worse weather, extortionately priced beer and odd questions such as “How is Germany?”. I mean honestly, how the hell do I answer that question? “Well, it has a strong economy, lots of rules and a fine selection of beer and leather trousers”. Anyway I digress. For the family of an expat, holidays are an opportunity to jump on a plane and sample the odd world that a relative has chosen to call home. This was the case for me three weeks ago when my mother decided to come visit my fiancée and myself in the wilds of Germany. This did leave us with a slight conundrum though, what the hell do we do with her while she’s here? There are only so many city tours any person can handle, and despite my invitation, she really wasn’t up for watching football with my mates in the local. Luckily, when all else fails, there is always one place that someone living in the South of Germany can take a relative. As the old (and entirely made up) saying goes, ‘When in doubt, go to Neuschwanstein.
For the uninitiated, Neuschwanstein is a castle, on a hill, surrounded by the Alps. You might know it, you might not. If you don’t, think of Walt Disney designing a castle on an infinite budget, while high on meth. That’s Neuschwanstein. If you still have no clue, watch the video above. It’s OK, I’ll wait. Now you know what I’m talking about. Actually, despite the clear resemblance to Uncle Walt’s summer home, this castle was actually built in the middle of the 19th century by a rather eccentric monarch named Ludwig II of Bavaria. Despite being in charge during a rather turbulent period in German history, Ludwig found time to spend vast amounts of money on building a series of elaborate castles, culminating in the fantastic, yet unfinished Neuschwanstein. The castle included an indoor cave, taps that flowed with ice cold Alpine water and throne room. Sadly for old Ludwig, he never got to install a throne as he was forced to abdicate and then mysteriously drowned in a lake a few days after. It’s a shame, I bet that throne would be made out of cheese, or live cats, that’s how mad monarchs roll.
Anyway, today the castle is a major tourist destination and also a suitable place to distract various relatives for a few hours. It has everything a serious tourist trap should have: over priced novelty tat, over priced beverages and over priced horse rides up the top of the hill. Being as this is a German tourist trap, everything is run at maximum efficiency. Having bought a ticket, tourists are herded into over priced buses, like startled cattle, and deposited outside the castle walls. You’re then herded into a gate, rushed round the castle on a whistle stop tour of the several finished rooms and the carefully released into the wilds of the gift shop. It’s kind of like being in an abattoir but without the taser/bolt gun combo at the end.
One of the weirder aspects of the castle is that it is one of the few areas in Germany where there aren’t actually any Germans, if you exclude the staff. In fact, I don’t know many Germans that have actually been there. Those that have seem to recollect very little of the tour or the castle, but instead seem to have a hundred stories about Japanese tourists. I actually think the Germans only go to marvel at the speed with which Japanese tourists pile out of their buses, do the tour, buy a load of castle based trinkets and pile back on the bus again. This is mostly because Japanese tourists have only nine days (on average) to see everything. This may sound a little crazy to us, but after one afternoon at Neuschwanstein, you begin to wish all tourists would follow the Japanese method. Sadly for the rest of us, they don’t.
Something odd seems to happen to perfectly sane and intelligent people when they change their work clothes for the obligatory sandals and safari vest of the average tourist. I’m not sure if Ryanair do cut price lobotomies now, but somewhere between hotel check in and arriving at a tourist trap these people seem to lose 40% of their IQ points. It’s happened to us all, I’m sure. I know I go a bit odd. One time in Prague, I decided to attempt the local language by ordering dinner in Czech. The waiter patiently waited as I brutally murdered his mother tongue, Geordie accent and all, and then proceeded to gently inform me that he actually spoke very good English. On the particular day we decided to go visit Ludwig’s weekend retreat, it seemed there was a higher proportion of the walking lobotomised than usual. My personal highlights included the naïve American wedding party that attempted to take some nice photos, but failed as the gormless hoards trooped obliviously through all their photos. Another favourite occurred while waiting in a very long queue for a bus to the castle. Despite it being fairly obvious where the queue started, people still attempted to bypass standing in line and simply walk straight on the bus. Sadly for these line bandits, they were confronted by the famous German directness of language as the rather unhappy bus driver gave them quite specific directions on what they should stick up any available orifices. This was obviously appreciated by myself, respect the queue dammit!
In the end though, these tourists were just average folks muddling along. When it comes to shitty tourists, you need only look for one thing; the fool taking photos with an Ipad. I have no idea at what point this became acceptable, but for the sake of humanity I wish these idiots would stop, if just for their own sake. Nothing screams “mug me in the face!” like holding up an expensive tea tray to take a picture. The real problem I have is that when you happen to see someone using an Ipad to take photos, it tends to look like a zealot holding up a religious icon. Perhaps their not actually taking a photo but hoping that everyone in the vicinity will begin to worship them as gods. On the other hand, maybe they’re hoping, through sheer force of will, to raise Steve Jobs from the dead. Either option is plausible, and would at least make them look less like over privileged twats.
Despite the wide array of tourist based buffoonery, Neuschwanstein is well worth a visit. If you have the opportunity you should defiantly go, and should you get the chance, knock some Ipads out of some peoples hands. You might find yourself in the local clink overnight, but trust me, it’s worth it.