Today, the exhibition "Palaces and Factories - The Architecture under King Ludwig II" opens at the Architecture Museum ("Architekturmuseum") of the Technical University of Munich (TUM). In this interview, the director of the museum, Prof. Andres Lepik, and the curator, Dr. Katrin Bäumler, explain why it’s time to reassess the architectural legacy of the legendary Bavarian monarch and address the persistent stereotype of the unworldly ’fairy tale king’.
Prof. Lepik, you have described the architecture of Ludwig II of Bavaria as world-renowned, but nevertheless unknown. What do you mean by that?Prof. Andres Lepik: People all over the world know about the Bavarian royal palaces. Neuschwanstein, especially, is world-famous. But most of the other buildings constructed in Munich and throughout Bavaria during Ludwig II’s reign (1864-1886) are practically unknown: urban planning projects, housing, churches, railway stations, synagogues and bridges. The advances in hygiene supported by Ludwig II also remain relatively unknown - such as his decision, inspired by the example of London, to improve the supply of fresh water to Munich by ordering the construction of a sewer system. With our exhibition, we are hoping to raise awareness of the less famous buildings from Ludwig’s time.
Why do the royal palaces outshine everything else?Lepik: They were legendary right from the start. While Ludwig was alive, hardly anybody saw them. The fact that he built his palaces at inaccessible locations, for example Herrenchiemsee Palace, situated on its own island, they had an aura of mystery for the people of Munich. Ludwig’s palaces were also reminiscent of a fairy-tale world of bygone days: Neuschwanstein embodies the Romantic, the Medieval, the Germanic. Herrenchiemsee was inspired by Versailles, and was thus an attempt to revive the Ancien Régime. The palaces were already mythical even in those days. Consequently, everybody wanted to see them after Ludwig’s death. And they still do today.
So far, there is much less awareness of the factories built by Ludwig. What role did Ludwig II play in the industrialization of Bavaria?Lepik: Especially through the construction of railway infrastructure, he helped to promote industrialization. In the exhibition we show bridges and stations. They were important for stimulating trade, but also as a mode of personal transportation, which was just getting started at that time.
Dr. Katrin Bäumler: Ludwig assumed the role of patron for many industrial exhibitions and provided financial support especially to smaller businesses to enable them to take part. In that way he clearly worked to promote industrialization. With industrialization, however, social issues arose - in which he also took a strong interest.
Is Ludwig’s interest in social issues reflected in his architecture?Bäumler: In the exhibition we show how the first workers’ housing settlements in Bavaria were built under Ludwig, modeled on settlements he saw at the International Exposition in Paris in 1868. Later in his reign, it was even possible for workers to purchase housing with loans granted for that purpose.
That doesn’t sound like the prevailing image of the otherworldly ’fairy tale king’ ...Lepik: With our exhibition, we have the clear objective of presenting a reassessment to the public. The material we have collected shows that Ludwig’s role as a builder has not yet been fully researched and presented to the public. There is so much more than the palaces, which have dominated his legacy up to the present day. No academic research has been produced to date on many of the architects with whom Ludwig worked - or on the residential construction initiatives in Munich. This opens up many possible fields for future research.
Ludwig II’s predecessors receive much more attention in the history of architecture. They are seen as the figures who decisively shaped the city of Munich. Is he overshadowed by them?Lepik: Ludwig II did not attempt, like his father and grandfather before him, to place his stamp on entire architectural styles or urban quarters. Ludwig I wanted to turn Munich into a new Athens - "Athens on the Isar". But in our exhibition, you can see that, in terms of total construction in the city, Ludwig II’s achievements compare very favorably to those of his predecessors.
Bäumler: Like Ludwig I and Maximilian II, he reigned supreme over the top authority for construction and urban planning. All public buildings were subject to his approval. The New Town Hall, the Academy of Fine Arts, the New Polytechnic College ("Neue Polytechnische Schule") - now the Technical University of Munich - were all built under Ludwig II. In the Nordfriedhof cemetery, he had the final say on every detail. But the largest component of the construction work carried out under Ludwig was housing. Consequently, he had a real impact on the shape of the city. Ludwig ordered housing to be developed on previously vacant land. That required road construction, which played an enormous role in urban development.
How is Ludwig’s role as the founder of TUM reflected in your exhibition?Lepik: Although only a few parts of TUM’s buildings from that time are still preserved today, we feel a strong connection to this royal founder. What we wanted to do was to take a new look at him on the occasion of TUM’s 150th anniversary. It is therefore important to us to show his interest in technology, too, which has had an impact on the university up to the present day. When building his palaces, he wanted to use all of the technologies in existence at that time to implement all of the comforts then available.
Bäumler: Ludwig also presented the New Polytechnic College with an extensive collection of drawings and other planning documents, including Gottfried Semper’s designs for a Richard Wagner festival theater in Munich. With that gift, Ludwig laid the cornerstone for today’s collection in the Architecture Museum. Many of the original drawings and models presented in this exhibition are taken from that collection.
What do you hope to achieve with this exhibition?Bäumler: We want it to stimulate further exploration of Ludwig’s activities as a builder - including academic study.
Lepik: I am hoping that people who visit the exhibition will be able to take a fresh look at many buildings in Munich, and at the ’fairy tale king’ himself.