King Ludwig – Pop Icon and Technology Visionary


Bavaria’s fairy-tale king Ludwig II died exactly 125 years ago. In the commemorative year 2011, Herrenchiemsee castle dedicates an extraordinary exhibition to this colourful character and his love of technical innovations.

Long before Neuschwanstein was copied in Disneyland as fairy tale castle, the monarch of the Wittelsbach dynasty was known world-wide. In the commemorative year, the Bavarian State Exhibition 2011 invites audiences to Herrenchiemsee castle – planned by Ludwig himself. Entitled “Götterdämmerung – Twilight of the Gods”, the unusual exhibition presents the Bavarian king in different theme worlds. Like an opera production, the curators stage the exhibition in five acts. The underlying narrative examines the relationship between myth, superstar and man. The breach of conventions, the deep love of art and music and his mysterious death in Lake Starnberg have long turned King Ludwig into a pop icon.

The exhibition compares the former Bavarian ruler with stars like James Dean, Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe – all tragic heroes of a modern age. Ludwig II had always been a modern personality, even if the penchant of Bavaria’s fourth king towards the architectural style of the Middle Ages was often ridiculed. As a pioneer in the areas of electronics and chemistry, the king was far ahead of his time. In order to be able to converse with his staff from floor to floor, he had telephones installed in his castles. Artificial dripstone caves were flooded with electronic lighting – such projects were powered by and drove innovation. Consequently, the search for an artificial blue for the Capri Grotto at the Linderhof Castle resulted in a patent for synthetic indigo for today’s global player BASF. The Bavarian king was also a pioneer in battery technology. His Royal Sled was equipped with battery operated lights – arguably the world’s first electrically lit vehicle.

This passionate admirer of Richard Wagner did not only create the Music Academy in Munich. With the establishment of the Poly-Technical School in 1868, he also laid the foundation for the Technical University Munich. In 1882, he was patron of the International ‘Electricity Exhibition’ in Munich, which saw a world premiere: the first long-distance transmission of direct current electricity. Ludwig II was fascinated by the possibilities of electro-technology. He pushed scientists to use modern technology for the production of operatic works – the Residence Theatre was Germany’s first stage lit with electronic lamps. However, the exhibition in Herrenchiemsee also reminds us of bizarre innovations which never took off. Shortly before he was committed to a mental hospital, Ludwig II had apparently developed plans to build a cable car line with gondolas attached to a captive balloon.

Bavarian State Exhibition 2011:
Götterdämmerung King Ludwig II
Neues Schloss Herrenchiemsee