When Luitpold Emanuel Ludwig Maria, Duke in Bavaria, was orphaned the the age of 4, he was left a large amount of money and a desire to build a castle.
This doesn't strike me as remotely surprising since --had I been given a choice of abode at the age of 4-- I would also most certainly have picked a castle.
On the other hand, building a mediaeval castle in the early 20th century might be considered a little eccentric.
When building work began in 1914, the Duke was 24 and had plans to create the new family seat for his decedents. The personal importance of this project likely stemmed from the Duke's branch of the family being relatively young, beginning only at the start of the 1800s. Its creation was caused by a split in the Wittelsbach extended family with the purposeful desire to create a second, subsidiary family line. The main family were henceforth referred to as the 'Dukes OF Bavaria' while the new splinter group became the 'Dukes IN Bavaria'.
The resulting inferiority complex could have been the inspiration for the ancient castle theme, with the concept being that if the family seat looked mediaeval, people would be led to think that the family themselves had a similar depth of history.
However, the Duke forgot one key ingredient when creating a family heirloom; he never married nor sired any off-spring. Indeed, his family line failed entirely when his only other living relative, his cousin, Duke Ludwig Wilhelm, also failed to produce a child. Ludwig Wilhelm made a last ditch attempt to remedy this by adopting a boy from the other side of the family, Max of Bavaria. Duke Max is currently 76 years old and has 5 daughters. This sounds almost excessively prolific until the traditional primogeniture stance in the family is added into the calculation, which only allows boys to inherit, thereby discounting all of Duke Max's bedroom exertions.
Such a complete failing of the family line was rather spookily prophesied by a monk, who told the Duke's aunt, Queen Kaiserin (Empress) Elisabeth, that her line would die within 100 years; a forecast that is now most certainly to come true.
Ringberg castle, though, is not the story of one man, but two. While studying philosophy and the history of art at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, the Duke met Friedrich Attenhuber; an artist and interior designer. The pair travelled around Europe together, after which the Duke offered Attenhuber the job of personally designing every detail of the home he planned to build. For a man from a poor background, it was the chance of a lifetime. It was also the one that would ultimately lead to his death.
The construction of the castle continued for almost 60 years and was not even completed by the Duke's death in 1973. One of the reasons for such a prolonged building process was the indecision regarding the style of architecture. The Duke originally opted for a villa as the main house and the large painting in the castle hallway shows the Duke standing with his cousin in front of a single story version of the ultimate building. This then changed to a castle design, followed finally by the mediaeval bent. Even now, the castle is not one pure style throughout, but reflects the varied tastes of the Duke. Such alternations required as much deconstruction as construction and slowed the process down considerably.
Attenhuber's work as the designer stretched far beyond the formulation of room plans. His designs dictated every minute detail, from the custom made furniture, the lampshades and continued right down to the ash trays. What was more, every single painting in the castle was done by Attenhuber himself.
It is perhaps in the art work that Attenhuber's story begins to be revealed. Walking through the hallways, it would be easy to believe there were two independent artists employed, with markedly different styles. In fact, Attenhuber's work had two distinct periods; his impressionist time from 1904 - 1926 and his folk-style canvases from 1926 - 1947. The earlier impressionistic work is significantly superior and demonstrates Attenhuber's true gifts as a painter. Quite why he abandons this style is not certain, but it is likely to be to conform to the Duke's tastes.
His later style of art has the unfortunate association of being favoured by the Nazis, where it was known as 'Blut und Boden' (Blood and Soil). The landscapes are based on real scenes and frequently depict peasants working the land with their own hands. Due to lack of money, Attenhuber's models were normally people from the local village, some of whom are still alive today. This political association was however coincidental, since the Duke had no Nazi affiliation; he simply liked the style.
As time continued, Attenhuber's relationship with the Duke deteriorated. At first, the Duke was the student and Attenhuber the teacher, but as the Duke became older, he began to instruct his old friend as to how he wanted the work done. His high handedness stretched to all the castle workers, who were forced to address him as 'Sir Highness' or risk losing their jobs. When the recession struck in the 1920s, the Duke stopped paying Attenhuber for his work altogether. His argument was that the currency was worthless, but Attenhuber would get his bed and board in the castle and his art supplies. If the castle was then later sold, Attenhuber would also get 10%. All in all, it was not the most promising deal, but Attenhuber accepted. The reason he accepted was that he had become a prisoner to his own work.
With every inch of the castle so intimately designed, Attenhuber's life project was tied up inside the stone walls. What was more, the isolated nature of the castle had meant that he had cut himself off from almost all outside contact. He had invested too much and now he was a prisoner.
In the winter of 1947, Friedrich Attenhuber climbed the castle tower and jumped to his death.
The Duke never stopped building even after his friend had gone and he died with grand extension plans sitting in his desk drawer.
As his time drew near and it was apparent there would have no family to inherit his work, the Duke looked for options for what to do with the castle. His first choice was to donate it to the closest village that sat at the bottom of the hill. They however refused, since a small settlement did not have the funds to maintain such a huge property. The Duke next offered the castle to the City of Munich who also rejected it, perhaps because they already had too many castles.
Next, the Duke tried to sell the castle. He acquired one buyer: the German Trade Union, but rejected them. Lastly, the Duke looked for a scientific organisation to whom he could donate his property and he offered it to the Max Planck Society. The institute heads at that time told the Duke they would be prepared to take the castle ... so long as he also bequeathed them all his cash.
Really, that must be up there as one of the best bargaining strategies of all time.
The Duke accepted and upon his death 1973, Germany's most prestigious science institute came to own a castle.
Yet, the story does not end there since the castle was not finished. The main building had no second floor, the tower was just a facade and there was no central heating. The castle was heated via ceramic wood stoves that still sit in each room. Visiting groups of scientists staying in the castle had to shovel the wood themselves to provide heat.
When you consider this, it was a small miracle the castle survived such an experience.
In 1980, the Max Planck met with a second piece of luck in the form of a large donation from a Munich insurance company to mark their jubilee. They donated 6 million deutsche mark (3 million euros) which was able to modernise the castle. 14 new guest rooms were built on the second floor, the tower was completed, central heating was installed and lecture rooms were added. The new work was completed in 1983, producing a conference centre that is now booked up for two years in advance.
There was only one request the Munich insurance company placed on their donation; the painting of the Duke and his cousin in the hallway was too ugly and had to be covered. They paid for a tapestry to be hung over the image. While millions of deutsche marks tend to call the shots, the Max Planck was never happy with this situation. The Duke had been their principal benefactor and it seemed wrong that his portrait should be hidden. During an open day at the castle, the tapestry was removed for cleaning...
… and no one will confess to remembering where it was sent.
The painting now stands uncovered as a central piece. It is indeed quite ugly, but since there is a room down the hallway with a theme of witch paintings, it does not seem particularly inappropriate.
The popularity of the castle is essential for its continuing upkeep. Situated at an altitude of 1000m in the Alps, the castle burns 100,000 litres of oil per year. In addition, it is a modern historical monument, meaning the Max Planck are legally obliged to keep it in its current condition. This means that the wooden shingles on the roofs must be replaced every 15 - 20 years, at a cost of 150,000 - 200,000 euros each time. Energy saving is also a challenge, with the older first floor windows being made of thin glass.
That all said, the castle is an incredible heritage and I for one, was staggered to be able to attend a conference there and sleep in an ornate wooden bed.
THIS IS WHY I WENT INTO ASTROPHYSICS! TO BE A PRINCESS LIVING IN A CASTLE.
Although I admit, the route to that goal was a little unconventional but I never really fancied marrying into Royalty.
(Many thanks to Jochen Essl and Max Planck Society for the tour of the castle that provided the information for this post)