SCHWANGAU, Germany–To capitalize on the strengths of the other, two of the world’s most popular castles–Japan’s Himeji Castle and Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle will sign a friendship accord to cooperate in tourism promotional efforts on March 26.
While the Japanese castle, located in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, hopes that the tie-up will increase the number of visitors, its German counterpart says that it actually doesn’t want any more visitors as the number of tourists has already reached full capacity.
Instead, local businesses in the village of Schwangau in southern German state of Bavaria hope that the partnership with Himeji Castle, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, will give a mighty push to their campaign to win the same accolade for the German castle.
“We hope that Neuschwanstein will be inducted to the list of World Heritage sites as soon as possible so that we can have an equal partnership with Himeji Castle,” said Wilhelm Schwecke, 72, a local hotel operator.
Last November, Himeji Mayor Toshikatsu Iwami visited the Bavarian state government, which manages the 19th-century Romanesque revival castle, to sign a preliminary friendship agreement between the two castles.
The castles, both known globally for their gorgeous towers and bright white walls, have been chosen as the world’s top two castles in the U.S. online travel guide TripAdvisor’s list of “castles to see before you die.”
While Neuschwanstein edged Himeji Castle in the list, it was the German castle that made the first entreaty for a friendship pact about seven years ago.
In a compromise, the two castles agreed to sign a “tourism promotion” treaty on March 26 in Himeji after the completion of a major renovation at Himej
i Castle. Its grand opening to the public is scheduled for the following day.
“The agreement is significant also from the perspective of promoting friendly relations between Japan and Germany,” said Bernd Schreiber, a senior official at the Bavarian state government in charge of castle management.
But, he said, Neuschwanstein, which is believed to have served as a model for the Cinderella Castle towers in Walt Disney theme parks around the world, is not hoping to draw more tourists through the tie-up.
The castle drew 1.52 million tourists in 2013, with around 10 percent of the visitors estimated to have been Japanese. The number is almost at its capacity, as the castle can accommodate around 8,000 visitors a day during the busy summer season.
Located on a hilltop, the castle is actually small despite its imposing presence, and accepting a large number of visitors at a time can damage historical furniture and the art collection by raising the humidity level inside the buildings.
While the area around the castle has about 100 cultural and natural sightseeing spots, tourists usually bypass them.
“We are hoping to learn the know-hows from Himeji on how to efficiently distribute tourists to various sightseeing spots,” Schreiber said.
Local residents and businesses in Bavaria also hope that the friendship pact will give an impetus to their efforts to have Neuschwanstein registered as a World Heritage site.
The Bavarian state government is currently applying for World Heritage registration for Neuschwanstein and two other castles commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century.
But experts point out that the hurdle remains high because Germany already has 36 registered World Cultural Heritage sites, and Neuschwanstein is a relatively recent structure.
“Most World Heritage sites in Germany are national memorial structures and distinct cultural assets, but Neuschwanstein is not a structure that anyone would unquestionably commend in the light of European aesthetics despite its popularity outside Europe,” said Eva-Maria Seng, a professor of Paderborn University.