On Sunday, the end of my last weekend in Austria, I went with Michael to one of King Ludwig II’s incomplete palaces in Bavaria, Germany. Due to a series of misfortunes, including an incomplete essay and a forgotten passport, we ended up catching a late afternoon train, arriving in Prien am Chiemsee, the closest stop, at around 2pm. From there, we walked along the train tracks (the train only runs in the summer) through the city, taking about 30 minutes to reach the Prien/Stock boat pier.
Chiemsee is the largest lake in Bavaria; it is often called “the Bavarian Sea”. There are three main islands, the largest of which is Herreninsel (“Gentlemen’s Island”). King Ludwig’s unfinished palace, known as Herrenchiemsee, and its extensive grounds are located on the island. The next island, called Frauenchiemsee (“Ladies’ Island”), is home to a Benedictine nunnery, built in 782, as well as a small village. Finally, the last of the three main islands, Krautinsel (“Cabbage Island”) is uninhabited, the name coming from the Middle Ages when it was cultivated with cabbages and other vegetables. There are also three very small islands: the Schalch, to the west of Frauenchiemsee; and two unnamed islands south of Krautinsel. For over 170 years, steam boats have carried passengers across the lake and to the various islands year-round.
We reached Herreninsel around 4pm and bought a ticket for the last English tour of Herrenchiemsee. Started in 1878, the original plan was to have a copy of Versailles built on the island as a “Temple of Fame” in honour of the Sun King Louis XIV of France.
As we had quite a bit of time before our tour, we decided to explore the palace grounds. The first fountain we came across, which was unfortunately not running at the time, was the Latona Fountain. Featuring the Titaness Latona, it tells the story, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, of when she turned Lycean peasants into frogs after they refused to give the Titaness and her children, Apollo and Diana, water. Built in 1883 by Johann Nepomuk Hautmann, it is a copy of the fountain with the same name found at Versailles.
Closer to the palace are two fountains complementing each other. The Fama Fountain, located on the upper left side in front of the palace, features a pyramid of rocks as a base for the allegorically winged Fama astride a horse celebrating victory over Envy, Falsehood, and Hatred. On the upper right side is the Fortuna Fountain, which features the goddess of fortune on the wheel of fortune. Both fountains are skirted with various mythological figures.
After exploring the gardens, we took a quick tour of the King Ludwig II Museum in the Royal Palace. Opened in 1987, the museum is housed in 12 modernized rooms and documents the story of Ludwig II’s life.
After walking around the museum, we lined up for our tour. Because King Ludwig II intended the palace to be a monument to absolute monarchy, it had little practical function. Georg Dollmann, the architect, studied the original model and even reconstructed rooms that no longer existed in Versailles. Only a few rooms were finished before the king’s death, but those that were are lavish to say the least. Gold leaf covers much of the hand carved woodwork and the faux marble in the Grand South Stair was more expensive than true marble. The king’s dining room features an elevator to raise and lower his dining table (a feat taking 30 minutes) so that he would not be disturbed by footmen. The hall of mirrors, copied from Versailles, is about 25 feet longer, slightly wider, and 2 feet higher and is lit by 33 chandeliers and 44 candelabra. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures during the tour of the palace.
After the tour, we decided to walk around more of the island as we had quite a bit of time before the last boat back. We began by walking away from the palace, running into farmland and a pathway lined with apple trees.
The path led to a couple of farm buildings and the former Parish Church of St. Mary.
We eventually meandered our way back to the pier and sat on a bench by the edge of the water waiting for the boat to come.
It was an enjoyable last exploration, though the time felt too short. The lake was absolutely beautiful, though it was a cloudy day. I only wish I could have gone again to explore more of the islands and spend more time on the lake itself.