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Bavarians Observe Centennial of Death of ‘Mad King’ Ludwig

June 6, 1986

NEUSCHWANSTEIN CASTLE, West Germany (AP) _ Bavarians are holding special observances for the centennial of the death of their ″Mad King″ - Ludwig II - whose Neuschwanstein Castle inspired a Disneyland copy.

Experts hold that the moody Bavarian monarch was clinically insane and said he had planned to burn down Munich and nearly drove the royal house to financial ruin with his wild building sprees.

But the 100th anniversary of Ludwig’s death at the age of 40 on June 13, 1886 - either by suicide or Prussian plot - has touched off a wave of nostalgia among Bavarians and many other West Germans.

He lives on in popular legend in this southeastern state as the artistically inclined ″fairy tale king″ who was a patron of composer Richard Wagner.

The centennial is being celebrated with movie festivals, panel discussions, a half-dozen new books and a seemingly endless production of trinkets commemorating the king, who died four days after a government commission in Munich had deposed him on grounds of eccentric behavior.

″King Ludwig indirectly gave bread and work to nearly everyone in Bavaria. That goes from the lowly mule drivers who dragged the stones to his building projects to the best artisans of the era,″ Bruno Stoeger, deputy director of Neuschwanstein Castlen, said in an interview. ″Things went well for the people under Ludwig.″

Stoeger added that a record 1.14 million visitors came to the castle last year and an even higher number is expected this year, ″King Ludwig Year.″

Walt Disney made a copy of the theatrical-looking castle a highlight of his Disneyland park in California and a logo for his long-running television show.

Other signs of Ludwig mania abound in most Bavarian towns.

For example, the Tengelmann supermarket chain has even started a Ludwig giveaway contest called ″Bavarians, do you still know your king?″

T-shirts on sale in the fashionable southern German resort of Garmisch say: ″For the faithful people, you died much too early.″

″This man is a phenomenon,″ Munich’s Abendzeitung newspaper said recently. ″Exactly 100 years after his death he is more alive than ever. ... King Ludwig is the superstar of 1986.″

The newspaper published a picture of Achim Arnold of Munich, who hires himself out as a Ludwig impersonator, complete with long robe, military uniform and penetrating gaze.

There are also an estimated 20 to 30 Ludwig fan clubs in West Germany.

″It’s the emotional attraction to the royal house,″ says Wilhelm Woebking, a high-ranking Bavarian police official who wrote a book about Ludwig’s death.

He added in a recent interview: ″There are lots of people in Bavaria who say a monarchy isn’t such a bad idea.″

Woebking wrote his 416-page book, ″The Death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria,″ after getting permission to review the private archives of Ludwig’s descendants.

It also turned up controversial evidence, including allegations that Ludwig wanted to set fire to Munich 75 miles to the north because he disliked his capital city.

Evidence cited by Woebking also says Ludwig wanted to sell his country to Prussia because he was so short of money after his building binges, which included three major castles. One of them was Herrenchiemsee, a copy of the French royal palace of Versailles.

Woebking concludes that Ludwig committed suicide by jumping into Starnberg Lake outside Munich after striking and killing the psychiatrist who tried to save him.

However, many people say Ludwig was the victim of a plot that may be traceable to envious Prussians who had formed the German Empire in 1871.

″You can’t dispel a lot of the myths,″ Woebking said. ″They’re so deeply rooted in many people. There are still a lot of people who think he was killed by sinister forces.″

Woebking also says there’s no doubt that Ludwig, who was 6 feet 2 inches tall, was clinically insane.

″He used to go outside in freezing temperatures in the middle of winter and say he was on the sunny beaches of Capri,″ Woebking said. Capri is an island off Naples, Italy.

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