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Cars, Castles and Contrasts

I thought I’d continue with more about our trip to Germany.  We flew into Frankfurt and took the train to Stuttgart before renting a car and heading further south into Bavaria.  The main reason we decided to include Stuttgart in our itinerary was to visit the Mercedes-Benz Museum there.  We did this for PJ, who loves all things mechanical, and if we’re being candid, I fully expected to be bored out of my skull.  I can’t even tell you what kind of cars most of my friends drive, but we spent seven hours at the museum and I was completely absorbed the entire time.  You enter on the ground floor and start by taking an elevator to the top, where you begin a spiraling journey back down through the history of the automobile, including its influence on our culture and society.  Eventually, you end up at Cars of the Future.  Car enthusiasts are of course in their own little corner of automotive heaven, but even if you don’t care for cars per se, this won’t interfere with your pleasure.  At least, it didn’t interfere with mine.  Pretty good planning (not to mention thin ice) for a car museum.

One of the first vehicles on display, as you might suppose, is a replica of what is widely acknowledged to be the first gasoline-powered production automobile, built by Karl Benz in the 1880s.  His wife, Bertha, assisted him in his work, and for this she achieved the typical lack of recognition accorded to so many women pioneers in so many different fields.  (I’d never heard of Bertha Benz before we visited the museum.)  Bertha is credited with taking the very first long-distance automobile journey, in August of 1888, in the vehicle she more or less co-opted to be the family car.  She wanted to visit her mother, who lived about 65 miles away, so she loaded up her two teenage sons and off they went.  Afterwards, she reported back to Karl that the car needed three improvements.  They had had to stop to buy fuel (gasoline was sold at chemists’ shops as a cleaning fluid), so modifications needed to be made for a gas tank; it needed lower gears as they had had to push the thing up a hill at one point; and the contraption needed headlights.  Oops.  Big thing to forget but better late than never.  Having seen the machine under discussion, I don’t think it rained or the list of necessary additions would no doubt have increased to four to include a roof of some kind.   Since the trip took 12 hours, necessitated that three people sit in a space meant for two, and they had to stop to make several repairs on the way,  I think we can assume that tempers were frayed at times.  In spite of that, we can be reasonably sure that on the journey, Bertha Benz did not become the first parent to drive with one hand and try to smack the kids in the back seat with the other, because the car didn’t have a back seat.

As I explained earlier, the museum takes off from there and moves through our love affair with the automobile, how humans have developed it, and how it in turn has affected us.  It was truly fascinating.



PJ with a replica of the first car


Fast forward a week in our own journey, to southwestern Bavaria.  (Stuttgart really isn’t that far but we stuck in some other stuff between them.)  You may have heard of Mad King Ludwig (King Ludwig II of Bavaria), who most likely wasn’t mad at all, but who, like everybody else, just wanted a decent place to live.  Being a king, his standards were perhaps higher than most and he happened to like castles.  He really, really liked castles.  He wanted lots of castles.  What he didn’t like was people and kings are, after all, in the people business.  He was a reclusive dreamer, which didn’t make for popularity with his people or his advisers.  Although his obsessive castle building didn’t actually cost the government anything—it was only ruining his family financially—it was absorbing all his attention, which a lot of people thought could better be directed to affairs of state.  His government had him declared insane so they could depose him more conveniently, and at age 40 he died under mysterious circumstances, along with the psychiatrist who had certified his insanity.  (I bet he didn’t see that coming.)

Ludwig’s most famous castle, Neuschwanstein, was unfinished when he died, although he did get to live in a completed section before his arrest.    By European standards, it’s practically brand new; building began in 1869.    It was built quite close to Hohenschwangau Castle, which was built by Ludwig’s father, so it’s easy to tour both in a single morning or afternoon.  Ludwig spent his childhood at Hohenschwangau and had a telescope set up in one of the rooms so he could more closely follow the building of Neuschwanstein.  Neuschwanstein Castle is arguably the most recognizable castle in the world.  It was used as the model for the castle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Entrance to both Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau is by guided tour only for a designated time.  We had ordered combination tickets and had about an hour in between tours, as well as some extra time before our first tour.  While we were farther south than we had been the prior week in Stuttgart when it was quite warm during the day, we were higher in the mountains, and although it was only October, it had snowed the day and night before.  Driving across Germany on secondary roads hadn’t been a lot of fun but we were at least well-prepared for walking in cold weather and the snow only added to our pleasure as we explored the outside of the castles and the surrounding area.  Talk about fairy-tale settings!  We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the castles but you can look them up on the internet.


The lives of Bertha Benz and King Ludwig II were so very different, and what they represented is so very different.  She was an inventor, looking toward the future, and the castle he’s best remembered for was designed to evoke the past.  It’s difficult for me to grasp that they were, in fact, contemporaries.  He died in June of 1886, only two years before she took that first long-distance automobile trip.  I suppose most people would say that her contribution to the world was more important than his.  I’d be inclined to say so myself.  But on the other hand, what would the world be like if there were no castles?


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