Destinations Magazine

Solving Mysteries of the Starnberger See

By Monkeys And Mountains Adventure @Laurel_Robbins

overlooking the starnberger see
Starnberger See is actually a lake (see is German for lake), but a rather large one, with a circumference of 55km.  It is also the most popular lake in the Munich lake district, perhaps because it is just under 30km away and Starnberg, the most northern town on the Starnberger See is also reachable by public transport (S6 train).  In previous times it was popular with nobility, most notably King Ludwig II.  Today it is popular with Munich’s elite and home to many football players. With it’s grass “beaches” and lake-side beer gardens and restaurants, it’s easy to see why the Starnberger See is such a popular destination.  In itself that would have been enough reason to go, but I was motivated by something else:  to solve the mystery of King Ludwig II’s death!

relaxing at the starnberger see

Sunbathing at the Starnberger See

Like any good detective, I decided it was important to get a feel for the lay of the land, so we started off in the town of Starnberg and started the 5km towards Berg.  As we observed all the sunbathers soaking in the rays, it soon became apparent that there’s no age limit to wearing speedos and bikinis in Germany. I don’t think I’ll be wearing a bikini when I’m 60, but I do admire the body confidence.

Bridge on the Starnberger See

I loved these bridges that sailboats passed through enroute to the Starnberger See.

As we came closer to Berg, the houses lining the Starnberger See got bigger.  I tried to glimpse into the windows hoping to catch a glimpse of one of Berg’s famous residents, but it was almost impossible due to the gates and how far the houses were located from the gates.  Besides, I soon  realized my efforts were fruitless anyway given that I  wouldn’t be able to recognize a German football player even if I saw one.  Note to self:  pay more attention to the sports section of the newspaper.

Mansion on the Starnberger See

One of the many large houses dotting the Starnberger See.

Over an hour later, as we entered the village of Berg, we saw the sign for the Votivkapelle, a small memorial chapel built in honor of King Ludwig II, just steps from where his body was found.  The chapel is small, but intricately painted.  I think King Ludwig II would have approved.

Votivkapelle, King Ludwig II Memorial Chapel in Berg on the Starnberer See

Votivkapelle, King Ludwig II Memorial Chapel located in the village of Berg

In front of the memorial chapel, stands a cross and in front of that cross stands another cross in the Starnberger See where the bodies of King Ludwig II and and a doctor were found in thigh deep water.  It’s a beautiful, but chilling spot, since the cause of King Ludwig’s 1886 death still remains a mystery.

Inside the Votikapelle, King Ludwig II Memorial Chapel in Berg on the Starnberger See

Inside the Votikapelle, King Ludwig II Memorial Chapel in Berg on the Starnberger See

King Ludwig II was ousted from power on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to rule over Bavaria by his ministers, turned his conspirators.  The ministers asked King Ludwig’s uncle, Prince Luitpold,  to rule over Bavaria once King Ludwig was no longer in power.  Prince Luitpold readily agreed, but wanted to first show that King Ludwig II was mentally unstable, given King Ludwig’s odd behavior.     Prince Luitpold likely didn’t have the best intentions in doing this but was doing it for appearances.  King Ludwig II was frequently  described as eccentric and sometimes simply as  mad, depending on how you viewed him.  He was known as the Fairytale King for his building of whimsical and extravagant castles and palaces, including the world famous Neuschwanstein Castle, which the Disney castle is based on.  His fantasy castle building ventures rendered him millions in debt, but ironically are a source of tourism dollars today.   He indulged in his love for art, architecture and theater.  He avoided social events wherever possible, which I’m sure would not be easy for a king.  While his social avoidance  was certainly frowned upon in some circles,  King Ludwig II was generally well liked by his people, but perhaps not his staff who he reportedly abused and sent off on wild goose chases searching for historical minutiae.  Mental illness also ran in his family, his brother Otto was diagnosed as mentally ill and unfit to rule over Bavaria.  King Ludwig II though was never diagnosed as mentally ill.

Crosses marking King Ludwig II death in Berg on the Starnberger See

The cross in the Starnberger See marks where King Ludwig II's body was found.

Regardless, the conspirators decided his eccentric behavior provided enough “evidence” to “prove” that King Ludwig II was mad and medical report was compiled and signed by four psychiatrists includig the Chief of the Munich Asylum, Dr. Bernhard von Gudden.  None of the psychiatrists had ever examined or even met King Ludwig II, except for von Gudden, who had met him once twelve years earlier, but hadn’t examined him.  Perhaps they had other motives or were made promises in exchange for their signatures?

Gulls at the Starnbegrer See

Birds also seem to love the Starnberger See as much as people do.

The depostion was delivered in part by von Gudden on June 12, 1886, an earlier attempt had been made but thwarted thanks to some of King Ludwig II’s loyal men who had warned him about the plan.  King Luidwig II was now in custody being held at Schloß Berg (Berg Castle) and was no longer the ruler of Bavaria.

Flowers at the Starnberger See

The Alps overlook the Starnberger See in the south.

The next night at around 6:30pm King Ludwig II and Gudden went for a walk by the Starnberger See.  By 11:30 that night  their bodies were found floating in the Starnberger See. So what happened?  Perhaps King Ludwig II drowned?  Unlikely, since King Ludwig II was an excellent swimmer and his body was found in shallow water.  There was also no water found in his lungs.  It is also  unlikely that both King Ludwig II and Gudden both drowned.  Some say that King Ludwig II was shot.  He definitely had his share of enemies so this could be a possibility, except that no bullet holes were found on his body.  Perhaps he strangled Gudden and then committed suicide?  This is a possibility as strangulation marks were found on Gudden’s body, but it’s not clear whether King Ludwig II strangled him, and then committed suicide.  Or perhaps both men were murdered?  If so, the murder was never found.

Boat at the Starnberger See

The boat we just missed back to Starnberg.

125 years later the cause of King Ludwig II’s death still remains a mystery, but each year on June 13th, there is a remembrance ceremony held at the Memorial Chapel to remember King Ludwig II and to ponder, what really happened on that fateful night.  I had lots of time to ponder the mystery surrounding King Ludwig II’s death,  since I was so focused on King Ludwig that I forgot to check when the last boat ride was back to Starnberg, which we missed by 5 minutes and now had to walk the 5km way back again.  I decided if I wasn’t going to solve the mystery of King Ludwig II’s death, then I could at least do as the locals do and headed to one of the beer gardens overlooking the Starnberger See before heading back.

For more information see the Starnberger See.


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