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Germany's most famous castle isn't a real castle. It's an elaborate 'work of fan fiction.'

Though it looks medieval, it was built in the 19th century by an eccentric "fairy tale king" who spent much of his life constructing his own elaborate fantasy world.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle sits atop a rock ledge in the Bavarian Alps.

Even if you haven't heard of Neuschwanstein Castle, there's a good chance you've at least seen pictures of it. Set atop a tree-covered rock ledge in the Bavarian Alps, the picturesque castle looks like it was conjured straight out of a fairy tale. In fact, it served as inspiration for Disney Imagineers as they designed "Sleeping Beauty's Castle" in Disneyland, and it's regularly named the top castle to visit in Germany.

There are estimated to be around 25,000 castles in Germany, but Neuschwanstein is unique among them. Most notably, it's not a real castle and never was. While it bears the look and feel of a well-preserved medieval castle, it was actually built in the 19th century, and rather than serving as a fortress, it served as the fantasy castle of an eccentric king obsessed with Richard Wagner's operas and medieval mythology.

Ludwig II came to the Bavarian throne in 1864 at age 18 with no experience in government or politics. Two years later, Prussia conquered Austria and Bavaria, and Ludwig's powerful status as king was greatly diminished. Not that he was particularly interested in governance anyway; he was more drawn to the romantic idea of having his own kingdom.


According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "The king worshiped the theatre and the opera, and henceforth concerned himself almost exclusively with his artistic endeavors, developing an extravagant mania for building in the Bavarian mountains that he loved." He essentially spent much of his reign constructing an elaborate fantasy world in which he could be the king he imagined himself to be.

Hence the idea for Neuschwanstein Castle, which Ludwig wished to be built "in the authentic style of the old German knights' castles." The foundation for the structure was laid in 1869, but it took until 1892 for the 65,000 sq. ft. "castle" to be completed. Ludwig himself would only ever see it as an incomplete building site, as he drowned himself in a lake in 1886, a few days after being declared insane. (Though his death was officially ruled suicide by drowning, some sources point to some mystery surrounding his death, as the psychiatrist who diagnosed him also drowned at the same time.)

The tragedy of Ludwig's final years stands in sharp contrast to the extravagant beauty of the castle he created, which The Cultural Tutor referred to as "the world's biggest work of fan fiction."

The Throne Room serves as a symbol of how Ludwig saw kingship. The grand hall was built in the style of a Byzantine church, pointing to how Ludwig saw kings as being intermediaries between God and the world.

Neuschwanstein Castle throne room

The throne room in Neuschwanstein Castle.

Public Domain

Where fan fiction comes in is in how much of the castle is an artistic shrine to Wagner's operas. In many rooms, the walls are covered in paintings depicting the German legends as told in Wagner's works, such as his 1845 "Tannhäuser" opera and his 1859 "Tristan and Isolde."

Tannhauser story, Neuschwanstein Castle

The Tannhauser story depicted in paintings

Snapshots of the Past

Tristan story, Neuschwanstein Castle

Bedroom depicting the Tristan story

Public Domain

In Neuschwanstein's early stages, Ludwig wrote to Wagner describing his vision for the castle, telling the composer he looked forward to moving in and having Wagner come visit:

"There will be several cosy, habitable guest rooms with a splendid view of the noble Säuling, the mountains of Tyrol and far across the plain; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world."

Ultimately, Ludwig and Wagner's friendship would be complicated by money, differing artistic visions and Ludwig's clear romantic feelings for Wagner, but if it weren't for Ludwig's support, Wagner would likely never have risen to the fame he ultimately enjoyed.

The "mad king" may have had some issues ranging from quirky to concerning, but he can fairly be credited with the making of Richard Wagner, as well as creating an architectural masterpiece that millions of people from around the globe travel to enjoy.

Check out the gorgeous Neuschwanstein Castle from all angles here:

All images provided by CARE & Cargill

The impact of the CARE and Cargill partnership goes beyond empowering cocoa farmers

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Cocoa, the key ingredient found in your favorite chocolate bar, has been a highly revered food product throughout human history. It’s been used for religious ceremonies in Peru, royal feasts in England and France, traded as currency for the ancient Mayans. And considering that many of us enjoy chocolate on a regular basis (mochas and candy bars, anyone?) it seems like that love is still going strong even today.

And if you are someone who looks forward to that sweet chocolate pick-me-up on a regular basis, you likely have the women of West Africa to thank.

Women like Barbara Sika Larweh, a mother of six who works as a cocoa farmer in Larwehkrom, a community located within the Sefwi Wiawso Municipality in the Western North Region of Ghana.

care, cargillMama Cash now empowers other women to gain independence

Nearly 60% of the world’s cocoa comes from both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, where Barbara and other mothers make up over half of the labor force. These female cocoa farmers shoulder the same physical burden as their male counterparts—all while also running households and paying for their children to go to school. And yet, they typically don’t receive equal income. Nor do they have access to the resources that could help them achieve financial independence.

Thankfully, positive changes are taking place. Barbara’s story exemplifies the impact of programs offered by CARE and Cargill, such as Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), which are small groups that offer low-interest loans to individuals living in poverty, helping them to build savings without going into devastating debt.

Through these initiatives, women, like Barbara, are equipped with vital knowledge like financial literacy to improve household incomes, sustainable agriculture practices that improve yields, and nutrition education to diversify their family’s diets.

“They came and trained me on the VSLA. I dedicated myself and volunteered so that I would be able to train my people, too,” Barbara explains.

Within the first year of using the programs, Barbara and the people she trained profited—earning her the nickname of “Mama Cash.”

This is no isolated event. In cocoa-growing communities supported by CARE and Cargill programming between 2019-2022, the number of households living below the national poverty line decreased by nearly 32% in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana - as a direct result of increasing and diversifying income through using these programs.

Like Barbara, who today is an executive member of the Community Development Committee, more than 2.4 million women have used their success as entrepreneurs to transform into leaders and decision-makers within their communities. Whether it’s giving most of their earnings back to their families, reducing child labor, or exponentially increasing overall farm yields, the rippling effect is profound.

The impact of the CARE and Cargill partnership goes beyond empowering cocoa farmers. The joint initiatives have fostered progress on complex global issues related to social justice, such as gender equality, climate change, and food security. By improving access to quality nutrition, water, and hygiene, the joint programs have positively influenced the cocoa communities’ well-being.

Suddenly there’s a lot more to think about the next time you eat a candy bar.

Find out more about the important partnership between CARE and Cargill here.

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NPS/Kurt Moses (Public Domain)

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