“When the Duke speaks, Bavaria listens”. This is what a senior attendant at the Residenz palace whispered in my ear after surreptitiously checking behind him that no one else was listening.
Twenty minutes earlier I had wandered into the stunning Kaisersall (Emperor’s Hall) of the once official residence of the Bavarian Royal family, when the said attendant spotted me and started to cross the floor in my direction. I was the only other person in the vast room so clearly I was going to be under his scrutiny and gaze until another visitor arrived. As I knew I wasn’t guilty of anything, I took little notice of him and concentrated my gaze on the beautifully restored frescoes on the ceiling instead. Moments later, he was standing right in front of me with only milimetres between us. With arms purposely behind his back and chest fully puffed out, he glared down at me with a stoney expression. I felt rather uncomfortable by this, but being terribly British I thought it rude to complain and simply smiled up at him wondering what on earth I had done wrong. After a deeply drawn out breathe he started to speak.
“Horses!” he bellowed at me in a strong, German accent, “used to rrride through this hall everrry morning pulling the carriage of the grrreat King behind them”. The arm gestures were just as theatrical as the address. There was a long pause after that, yet he continued to stare down at me with such intensity I thought he was going to burst. Feeling very awkward, I tried to move away as politely as possible, but he suddenly spasmed on sensing my escape attempt, stomped even further into my personal space and launched into a long but fascinating lament on the palace’s key regal occupants.
He spoke with such loyalty and subserviency to the family. He admired the shrewdness of the last ruling monarch King Ludwig III in arranging his nine daughters’ marriages to key rulers around Europe, thereby forcing the leaders to ally themselves with Bavaria. He reminisced over the King Ludwig I’s celebrated marriage to Princess Therese in 1810, speaking fondly about the then Crown Prince’s generosity in inviting the citizens of the city to attend the festivities. This gesture proved so popular with the people that they celebrated the royal couple’s wedding anniversary every year with similar festivities and alcoholic consumption, a tradition that continues to this day in the guise of Munich’s famous Oktoberfest.
And then he started to talk about the eldest living descendant of the family: Franz, Duke of Bavaria. His gait suddenly became hunched. His voice fell to a hush. His eyes flickered around the room with paranoia. He furtively leaned further forward and whispered “You know, King Ludwig III never actually abdicated in 1918”. He immediately drew back and glared behind his shoulder as though he had just spoken of treason. He leaned in again.
“Bavaria loved their King,” he confided. “And although he may not be ‘His Royal Highness’ abroad, the living Duke is ‘His Royal Highness’ here!” He drew back again now standing tall, pouting his lips and crossing his arms with pride. “You have your Prince William,” he declared, “but we have our Duke!”
Clearly a revolution was on the cards and I felt I was being persuaded to take arms and join the fight to overthrow the Government and put Franz, Duke of Bavaria back on the throne. Fearing that I would be trapped here for another half an hour (or longer) if I didn’t show sympathy to the cause, I agreed to take a look at the “strong royal branches” as my comrade described them, of the House of Wittelsbach’s family tree in the Ahnenegallery (Ancestors Gallery). “In fact,” I said finally getting a chance to speak, “why don’t I go there right now? It’s downstairs you say?”.
And before my attendant could reply, I made a beeline for the exit.
The Residenz palace is Munich’s number one tourist attraction. It is in the heart of the old city and is very easy to find, a short walk from either Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz metro stations. Use the Museum entrance in Max-Joseph-Platz next to the national theatre to buy tickets and gain entry. More information on the palace can be found here.
Also, the official website to Munich’s annual Oktoberfest can be found here.
Celebrating Munich’s world famous Oktoberfest from its not-so humble beer-ginnings