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'Disney' castle staff on trial for fraud

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'Disney' castle staff on trial for fraud
Schloss Neuschwanstein. Photo: DPA
07:59 CEST+02:00
Germany's most famous castle is at the centre of a court case with two former employees of Schloss Neuschwanstein standing trial on Tuesday for fraud.
At the start of the trial on Tuesday in the district court of Kaufbeuren, southern Bavaria, the two men, aged 66 and 42, rejected charges of fraud and breach of trust, while they worked for the tourist attraction.
 
They are accused of not declaring money from special tours of the castle which took place outside of the usual castle opening times.
 
The men allegedly kept tour earnings 228 times between 2007 and 2010, costing the castle, which famously inspired Walt Disney, €5,000.
 
But one of their lawyers, Ricarda Lang, described the accused as “pawns” and blamed the management of the site, which attracts more than 1.3 million tourists a year.
 
The responsibility lies elsewhere, she told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “My client has not enriched himself, only taken over an existing system.”

Customers on the special evening tours paid €20 each and the tour guide was given an extra €20, no matter how many people were on the tour. Prosecutors argued that the payments constitute fraud, since the money should have gone into the coffers of the Bavarian State which owns the castle.

However, a former director of the site who was called to testify told the court that Neuschwanstein had long been the scene of irregularities in management.

"There was an entrenched self-service mentality," said Hubert Nikol, who served on the board until 2012. "Vehicles were always missing from the castle's transport fleet," he said in comments reported by Bild newspaper.

Another unnamed former employee also told the paper of "wild parties" after closing time, including in the giant throne room. "You name it, it happened there," he said.

Neuschwanstein was built by the last king of Bavaria, Ludwig II, in the foothills of the Alps in the late 19th Century. It was intended to romanticize the Middle Ages and the operas of Richard Wagner, but the king enjoyed his folly for only six months before his suspicious death at a nearby lake in 1886.

It also gave the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland, and featured as ‘Baron Bomburst’s Vulgarian castle’ in the 1968 movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The trial continues in mid-July. 

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