The villages in Bavaria, Germany are small and sleepy, tucked away off the frantic autobahn where new BMWs roar past at 120 miles per hour. Driving through the soft, rolling hills past corn and wheat fields reminds me of home. That is, until the tour van I’m riding in approaches the village of Hohenschwangau (Upper Swan County) and atop the abrupt start of the Alpine foothills rests Schloss Neuschwanstein.
The palace could be from a fairytale, and in fact, inspired Walt Disney’s design of the castle at Disneyworld. King Ludwig II of Bavaria, a peculiar and reclusive man, designed the castle after the operas of Richard Wagner inspired him. While the castle was completed rather recently (in 1886) its design was medieval because Ludwig found the style to be romantic. He did not spare a single cent and created one of the most famous and beautiful castles in the world.
After my visit to Neuschwanstein, I was enchanted with this perfect, fairytale land. However, like every fairytale, there has to be a villain and the story of Bavaria is no different.
A mere hour from Neuschwanstein lay the villages of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics. The event was presided over by none other than Adolf Hitler, who, at that time, was considered a legitimate and respectable politician. While the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin, were tense and several countries threatened to boycott them, photos from the Winter Olympics show alarming images of acceptance of the Nazi regime.
The Canadian team can be seen giving the Nazi salute, the Nazi flag flew above the French one (even as German troops moved into the Rhineland), and “Jews Not Wanted” signs were removed from shops for the games.
While traveling throughout the Bavarian countryside it was hard for me to reconcile the two conflicting images I had of the area. One, an image of beautiful castles and soft, green hills. The other of a monster with a tight smile, waving to a crowd of people unaware that a human being could be so vile. The story of Bavaria has all the makings of a true fairytale and like the best fairy tales, the villain is defeated by the powers of good.