In the previous blog I wrote about the intellectual content of the meeting on evolutionary economics. But the setting was as remarkable as the content. The castle where we met is not open to the general public, and the only way you can gain entrance is by being invited to one of conferences organized by Max Planck institutes.

Schloss Ringberg is a result of collaboration between two very different individuals, Luitpold Emanuel Ludwig Maria, Duke in Bavaria (1890-1973) and his friend Friedrich Attenhuber (1877-1947), a Munich painter. Duke Luitpold was a scion of a junior branch of the Wittelsbachs, the ruling dynasty of Bavaria.


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Luitpold Emanuel Ludwig Maria, Duke in Bavaria (painting by Attenhuber) Credits: all photgraphs in this blog are by P. Turchin

The ruler of Bavaria was called the Duke of Bavaria (Herzog von Bayern), while the branch to which Luitpold was an heir was referred to as Duke in Bavaria (Herzog in Bayern). A small substitution of preposition meant a significant change in the level of power. Still, by the time Duke Luitpold was born in 1890, his royal relatives were all dispossessed of real power, since Bavaria was annexed by Otto von Bismarck in the process of building modern Germany (a fact that many Bavarians still regret today). And Luitpold was a very wealthy individual.

In contrast, Attenhuber came from a very poor family. He was a painter and he met the Duke when he gave Luitpold painting lessons.


Young Attenhuber (self-portrait)

They became friendly and traveled across Europe looking for ideas to implement in their mutual creation, Schloss Ringberg. The castle, thus, is a hodgepodge (but a delightful one) of all kinds of styles and influences. Luitpold provided the resources, but Attenhuber was the real creator. He was the main architect, he painted most (all?) of the innumerable paintings hanging on the castle’s walls, and he even built much of the furniture in the castle. For example, this bed (on which David Sloan Wilson took repose during the conference):


The bed may not look very large, but it is actually 2 meters long. The chair next to it is also on a similar Brobdingnagian scale. Here is a view of my room:


Unfortunately, it is difficult to see the scale of furniture. Just keep in mind that my computer on the table is the largest portable you can buy (in fact, calling it ‘portable’ is a large – very large – stretch)

Attenhuber’s fate was ultimately tragic. He gave up his career and students in Munich to devote all his energies to building the castle. He moved to the premises and lived in for many years. After a while the friendship between the Duke and the painter-architect cooled off, and the Duke stopped paying Attenhuber for his work (he was however allowed to live in the castle and was fed by the staff).


Old Attenhuber (self-portrait)

One stormy night Attenhuber climbed to the top of the tallest tower in the castle and threw himself to his death. (Well, I actually don’t know whether it really was a stormy night, but it almost has to be to fit this tragic – and tragically romantic – story). In the end, Attenhuber sacrificed not just decades of his life and life’s labor but life itself. This reminds me of stories about how ancient and medieval fortresses often incorporated human sacrifices in their foundations to make them stronger and better able to resist enemy invaders.


The tower of Schloss Ringberg

Attenhuber was not a particularly good painter, although he wasn’t horrible, either.The times when he painted (the interwar period) and his patron’s preferences put a strong imprint on his art. During the tour of the castle, we saw two of his paintings depicting the same mythological story, that of Apollo and Daphne. The first one was done in the style on which Attenhuber’s patron, the Duke, insisted:


Later Attenhuber painted the same story in his own preferred style:


Both paintings are funny, each in its own way. I especially love how the Bavarian leather shorts (Lederhosen) in the first one transmogrify into much more authentic 🙂 furry shorts in the second one.

Here’s another example:


Again, lederhosen are conspicuous in their presence.

And the final one:


This one depicts Luitpold (on the right, in the green vest) and his cousin.

After Attenhuber’s death in 1947, the Duke continued to build and elaborate the castle. He would probably be still doing it today, but fortunately for us, in the 1960s he felt that the end of his days was nearing, and he had to start thinking about what would happen to the castle after his death (he had no direct heir to pass it on to). Eventually he had a stark choice facing him.


The only organization willing to buy the castle was the Confederation of German Trade Unions. This was entirely unpalatable to the crusty aristocrat, so he instead gave the castle as a gift to the Max Planck Society (and also endowed it, so that it could be repaired and renovated as needed).


Published On: September 19, 2013

Peter Turchin

Peter Turchin

Curriculum Vitae

Peter Turchin is an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut who works in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics. His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution, historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Currently he investigates a set of broad and interrelated questions. How do human societies evolve? In particular, what processes explain the evolution of ultrasociality—our capacity to cooperate in huge anonymous societies of millions? Why do we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations? Turchin uses the theoretical framework of cultural multilevel selection to address these questions. Currently his main research effort is directed at coordinating the Seshat Databank project, which builds a massive historical database of cultural evolution that will enable us to empirically test theoretical predictions coming from various social evolution theories.

Turchin has published 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including a dozen in Nature, Science, and PNAS. His publications are frequently cited and in 2004 he was designated as “Highly cited researcher” by Turchin has authored seven books. His most recent book is Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth (Beresta Books, 2016).

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  • Sven says:

    Though I don’t begrudge you such a luxury, I’d like you to ask who paid for it and why; and if so you’d be back in Adam Smith’ economy, miraculously.

  • Peter Turchin says:

    I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that ultimately the construction of the castle was paid by Bavarian peasants, the most probable original source of the Wittelsbach fortune. How does that put us back into Adam Smith’s economy? And what is “Adam Smith’s economy”?

    • Sven says:

      And what is “Adam Smith’s economy”?

      I think this quote explains it adequately:
      … such great European thinkers as Machiavelli, Hobbs, Hume, and Adam Smith, whose great contributions eventually led to the Rational Choice Theory …

      Unfortunately, I cannot remember anymore where I found it 😉

      Probably my fault. I should have been “economics” is instead of “economy”. And a mistake that reveals my nationality. In German economics and economy are translated by the same word (

  • Igor Demić says:

    The story sounds quite cinematic. Strange nobody has filmed it yet. Maybe some kind of Wuthering Heights / Brokeback Mountain crossover? 🙂

  • O.Voron says:

    Wuthering Heights / Brokeback Mountain crossover

    My thought exactly

    • O.Voron says:

      I love Appolo and Daphne, they are hilarious – in both iterations. The portrait of Luitpold and his cousin is pretty ugly too.
      It is very mercyful of Peter to call Attenhuber just not a particularly good painter.

  • Attenhuber’s style was typical of Nazi representational art.

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