Trial throws spotlight on Germany's fairytale castle

Neuschwanstein Castle overlooking the surrounding valley and meadow.

BERLIN - The trial of a former employee at Germany's most famous castle has triggered startling reports of the supposedly carefree habits of its staff - including wild parties in the sumptuous throne room after closing time.

The fairytale replica medieval castle of Neuschwanstein in the foothills of the Alps, whose turrets inspired Walt Disney, draws more than 1.5 million visitors a year and is one of Europe's top tourist attractions.

A 66-year-old man who used to be a senior member of the castle's administration is charged with fraud and breach of trust for not handing over earnings of almost 5,000 euros (S$8,398) from special tours between 2007 and 2010 to the Bavarian state.

His deputy has already been acquitted of taking 198 euros from an envelope of earnings from a tour, due to a lack of evidence. "The defence is arguing that the castle authorities knew about all this," said a spokesman for the court in the Bavarian town of Kaufbeuren where the trial is taking place.

The accusations may not seem grave, but the trial has opened the floodgates to a series of reports of irregularities at Neuschwanstein.

One unnamed ex-employee has told German media that once the tourists had gone home, employees held parties in the famous throne room, an ornate golden and blue hall.

Bavaria's castle administration has said it cannot confirm media speculation about parties at Neuschwanstein and no unauthorised celebrations were allowed. It said security included an electronic locking system and a night watch.

Hubert Nikol, an official sent to the castle in 2010 by Munich authorities, has been quoted widely by German media as saying there was a "self-service" mentality and that vehicles from the castle pool were often missing at weekends.

In summer, more than 6,000 tourists a day visit the castle, commissioned by eccentric King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a private refuge. His castle was opened to the public seven weeks after he drowned in a lake in mysterious circumstances in 1886.

Its lavishly decorated rooms include picture cycles inspired by the medieval legends on which Richard Wagner based his operas, with images of the poet Tannhaeuser, swan knight Lohengrin and his father Parsifal.