Versailles-like Schloss Herrenchiemsee Castle on Herren Island in the Chiemsee Lake near Munich in Germany is an opulent fantasy palace built by Bavarian King Ludwig II.
Mad, or Fairy Tale, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, is famous for the three fantasy castles he erected in his kingdom during the nineteenth century. The most famous is the Disney-like, neo-Romanesque Schloss Neuschwanstein Castle, while the small Schloss Linderhof is the only palace he actually completed. However, the opulent Schloss Herrenchiemsee was intended to surpass all others. Herrenchiemsee was to be King Ludwig’s Versailles complete with a Hall of Mirrors larger than the original.
The Building of the Neues Schloss Herrenchiemsee
In 1873, Bavarian King Ludwig bought Herreninsel, the largest island in the Chiemsee Lake, with the explicit idea of erecting his new Versailles here. Georg Dollman mostly drew up the plans for a huge palace while Carl von Effner designed splendid Baroque gardens.
Construction started in 1878 but by the time of King Ludwig’s mysterious death in 1886, only twenty rooms were actually completed. These twenty rooms alone cost more than Ludwig’s other two follies – Schloss Neuschwanstein Castle and Schloss Linderhof Palace – combined.
Touring the Neues Schloss Herrenchiemsee Palace
The interior of the Neues Schloss (New Palace) Herrenchiemsee can only be seen on a guided tour. Highlights of the tour include the monumental staircase inspired by the Duke’s Palace in Venice and the Great Hall of Mirrors, which at 98 m (322 ft) is actually slightly longer than the original at Versailles.
King Ludwig was somewhat eccentric: he valued his privacy to the extent that he had his dining table hoisted, fully decked from a floor below so he could eat without servants hovering about. His desire for privacy did not prevent the construction of a state bedchamber like the one the French Sun King Louis XIV had used for going to bed in a public ceremony. Although Ludwig was a tall man, the bed measuring 2.6 by 3 m (8.5 by 9.8 ft) in the state bedchamber is a bit massive.
It is easy to see why the building of this palace bankrupted the king – no surface was left ungilded or unadorned. The Meissen porcelain used in the construction of the elaborate candelabras was one-offs – the king insisted on all molds being broken to ensure that no copies could be made.
King Ludwig II Museum at Schloss Herrenchiemsee
The König Ludwig II.-Museum is in the south wing of Schloss Herrenchiemsee Palace. It is seen without a tour and a good place to wait for the commencement of the guided tour of the palace itself. (The palace café with outdoor terrace in summer is not a bad choice for lingering in either.)
The museum has numerous displays and furniture related to the life of King Ludwig II, his fantasies, opera sets, as well as his friendship with composer Richard Wagner. He is often referred to in English as “Mad King Ludwig” although in German his romantic notions made the title “Fairy Tale King” (Märchenkönig) more popular.
Note the displays related to the planned Burg Falkenstein Castle – it would have made even Schloss Neuschwanstein look unambitious.
Despite its island location, good transportation links and long opening hours make Schloss Herrenchiemsee Palace easy to visit on day trips from Munich (München), Berchtesgaden, and Salzburg. Tickets are only sold on-site. Day-trip excursion tours are also available from Munich.
Note that the King Ludwig II Museum is closed for construction work until at least the end of 2020. The palace is open as usual but tickets are more limited due to smaller tour group sizes.