The state capital of Munich owes much to King Ludwig I. of Bavaria. Not just the architectural face we know today, but also world-famous attractions like the Oktoberfest can be traced back to Ludwig I. Who was this Ludwig I. of Bavaria and what did he do, especially for Munich? That’s exactly what we’ll look at in this article.
The early life and politics of Crown Prince Ludwig
Crown Prince Ludwig was born in 1786 in Strasbourg, which at that time was in the Kingdom of France. At the age of three, Ludwig has to flee from the French Revolution together with his family. The flight brings them to Mannheim, from where they have to flee again five years later in the turmoil of the Coalition Wars.
His father, Maximilian Joseph, a member of the Wittelsbach dynasty, is a close acquaintance of Louis XVI., so Ludwig also gets his name from and the French king as godfather. As a result of the Revolution, Ludwigs godfather is executed on the guillotine, which will trigger in the young crown prince a strong aversion to everything (New) French and everything that somehow smells of revolution.
In the times following the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, the Elector of Bavaria dies. In a roundabout way, the Electorate passes to Ludwig’s father Maximilian, who is by no means as much of a Frenchophobe as his son.
He immediately positioned himself at Napoleon‘s side and went into battle with him against the European powers, which displeased Ludwig extremely. In return, Napoleon elevates the Electorate of Bavaria to a kingdom.
When Napoleon’s fortunes turned before Moscow and Europe once again rebelled against the French emperor, the German-speaking countries, after years of oppression, discovered a common cause.
German national sentiment also finds a noble admirer in Crown Prince Ludwig. Only days before the Battle of Leipzig, the Kingdom of Bavaria sides with the coalition and thus retains its monarchical rights and most of its possessions.
Despite German nationalist sentiments, Ludwig is not a lover of an all-German state: “We want to be Germans and remain Bavarians.”
Ascension to the throne and first liberal reforms
All is not well in the Kingdom of Bavaria when Ludwig becomes king of the still young empire in 1825. Many among the people were hoping for far too much from the young king’s succession to the throne. Initially, these hopes were fulfilled to a large extent, and Ludwig strengthened the constitution in the kingdom and abolished press censorship.
Among his less politically important reforms was the change in spelling from “Baiern” to “Bayern”. This was due to the young king’s great love of Greece. Already as crown prince, Ludwig had championed the Greek cause. At that time, various parties in Greece were fighting against the Ottoman Empire and for an independent Greece.
After the War of Independence, Ludwig even achieved the installation of his son Otto on the Greek throne. However, the approval of this move by the major European powers cost Bavaria the promise of continued support for the Greek kingdom in the years that followed.
Probably King Ludwig’s most impressive achievement was the complete reorganization of Bavaria’s public finances. Bavaria had been in the red for centuries, which Ludwig was able to clean up. To this end, he saved a great deal on the military, but also achieved the introduction first of the South German Customs Union and later of the German Customs Union.
Ludwig was also responsible for the Ludwig-Danube-Main-Canal and the first German railroad. Both constructions represented important steps for Bavaria towards becoming an industrialized country.
It may seem all the more surprising that despite the great upheavals and savings in the Bavarian state budget, Ludwig became one of the most important builders in Bavarian and especially Munich history.
Ludwig: art and architecture
However, Ludwig is much less known for his achievements in finance than for his love of art and architecture. Munich also owes most of its credit to Ludwig for this love. Munich’s most important landmarks (almost) all come from Ludwig.
It may seem a little irritating that a king who is bringing the ailing state finances back into shape also has money left over for extravagant buildings and works of art.
Well, it’s not quite that simple. Ludwig of Bavaria has always collected art. He also spent most of his private fortune on art and saved money elsewhere, both in the state and in his private life.
For example, spending on the military was drastically cut under Ludwig I., but he also cut the money that was available to his wife in order to be able to invest more in high-caliber works of art instead.
Ludwig tried to buy all works of art as cheaply as possible at auction, which sometimes led to years of negotiations. This was not a problem for him, because his plans for art were long-term. He wanted to build a museum in Munich that would be open to the public: The Glyptothek. It was to be a museum of antiquity and a world first. Both a Neue and an Alte Pinakothek were to be built.
He succeeded in all these plans. Which is why we in Munich today enjoy the privilege of such a beautiful city. The Ludwigsstraße, the Ludwig-Maximilian-University, the Feldherrnhalle, The Propyläen (at the Königsplatz), the old and new Pinakothek – the list of Ludwig’s legacies for Munich is long.
For the somewhat less art-loving among our readers, however, Ludwig also left something behind: The Oktoberfest.
Ludwig’s wedding: The first Oktoberfest
On October 12, 1810, Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxen-Hildburghausen. The festivities were held in Munich over several days. People had traveled from all over the country, as Ludwig invited everyone for food and drink.
During the preparations, an officer and banker suggested to him to organize a horse race on one of these days. The costs would be borne by the same banker Andreas Michael Dall’Armi.
We have summarized the history of the Oktoberfest in another article. So if you are interested in more details, check it out.
For Ludwig, whose plan had been to make the people favor him and to create a unified national feeling in the young kingdom, the festivities and the horse race were a great success. Therefore, again at the suggestion of some national guardsmen, he decided to make the horse race an annual event from now on. A tradition that continues to this day was born.
Political change of course and affairs
What do you think people are taking to the streets in Bavaria for? How many violent protests has Munich seen like this? Well, the well-known ones: Hitler’s putsch and the soviet republic. Munich, the city of contrasts, the home of National Socialism and the home of the first socialist republic on German soil. But one uprising tends to be forgotten: The Beer Revolution.
In 1844, the king raised the price of bread due to a shortage of raw materials. The people accepted this. But when the price of beer was raised by a penny, the people of Munich no longer put up with such impertinence. Originally the price was 6.5 kreuzer and was raised to 6.75 kreuzer. This corresponds to an increase from €0.4 to €0.5.
On the evening of March 1, 1844, about two thousand Munich citizens marched on various breweries and broke windows. Ludwig dispatched the military. It was supposed to take care of the rebels. However, the soldiers did everything other than what was required of them and refused all orders.
Four days later, the king was forced to revoke the beer price increase. The Hofbräuhaus, in solidarity with the peasants and soldiers, even went one step further and lowered the price of beer to 5 kreuzer.
Four years later, in the revolutionary year of 1848, protests again ignited in Bavaria over the beer price increase. From then on, Ludwig changed his liberal course back to a stricter form of monarchical government.
The Lola Montez Affair
Lola Montez was an Irish dancer with whom Ludwig fell in love. She came to Munich in 1846 and the two had a long-lasting affair. The queen, unsurprisingly, was not too pleased and from then on refused to stand by her husband’s side at public performances.
Lola Montez was also another trigger for the second beer protests in Munich in 1848. She was part of a student fraternity. When riots broke out at the university because of her, the king had it closed. That was in 1848.
March Revolution in Bavaria 1848
Lola Montez, of course, was not the only reason for the riots that occurred in Bavaria in March 1848. She may not have even been the trigger, but a drop in the barrel she was nonetheless.
After the university closed, the students took to the streets again. This time they were armed. They marched toward the Residenz to demonstrate against price increases and Ludwig’s absolutist rule.
March 1848 was known to be a very revolutionary time throughout Germany. Nationalist sentiments and democratic aspirations drove students into the streets throughout the later Reich. and then throughout Europe.
Although most attempts at revolution were unsuccessful, a number of rulers nevertheless had to accept severe restrictions on their absolute power in the years that followed, and democracy became more widespread.
This was also the case in Bavaria. Ludwig was forced not only to expel Montez from the city, but also to convene the Estates Assembly and introduce reforms. In the course of these reforms, which he was by no means favorably disposed to but found difficult to oppose, he voluntarily abdicated on March 20, 1848 in favor of his son Maximilian II..
Since Bavaria was never again ruled by a king with such outstanding authority in the years that followed, Ludwig I. is often spoken of as Bavaria’s last monarch. Munich and Bavaria owe much to him.
Nevertheless, many think that the most outstanding buildings of Bavaria were erected by his grandson and namesake Ludwig II.. Politically, Ludwig I. definitely casts a longer shadow than his grandson Ludwig II., who met his tragic end in Lake Starnberg. Ludwig I. clearly did more for Munich as well (also architecturally).