History is Alive in the Castles of Germany’s Magic Cities
Palaces and castles in Germany are all original. There is not just a handful of well-preserved ones, but several hundred from all epochs and of every genre. Taking a quick spin through Germany’s nine Magic Cities from Munich in the South to Hamburg in the North, many of the castles host great museums where visitors can explore the past or discover something new.
The City of Munich boasts various glorious palaces, but Nymphenburg, formerly the summer residence of the Bavarian Wittelsbach Dynasty, with its museums is at the top of the city’s sights. Among its attractions are King Ludwig I’ s Gallery of Beauties and the great Hall with lavish Rococo decoration. The Marstallmuseum houses a collection of historic state coaches and gala coupés, ceremonial sleighs and riding equipment. The Porcelain Museum, also called the Bäuml collection, documents the development of the Nymphenburg Porcelain Factory from its foundation in 1747 until 1920. The hunting lodge Amailienburg, located in the Nymphenburg Park, is an exquisite example of rococo and was a present from Elector Karl Albrecht to his wife Amalia. In downtown Munich, the Residenz, the former main castle of the Wittelsbachs, houses fascinating attractions, such as the Antiquarium. The castle has the largest secular Renaissance interior north of the Alps, and the treasury shows Bavaria´s crown jewels. The Residenz had grown from a small moated castle in 1385 to the present castle complex that was finished in 1918.
In Stuttgart, the Old Palace stands on the site where Duke Luitolf of Swabia once grazed his horses – the name Stuttgart and the city’s coat of arms come from the old German word Stutengarten meaning a stud. With its cloistered courtyard, the palace reflects the splendor of the former ducal town. Nowadays it is home to the Württemberg State Museum where the crown jewels remind visitors that Württemberg was once a kingdom. Close to Stuttgart is the residence castle in Ludwigsburg, which was originally built by Duke Eberhard Ludwig of Württemberg, the uncle of Carl Eugens father. This castle to the north of Stuttgart, originally a hunting lodge completed by 1733, is one of Germany’s largest and most magnificent baroque palaces consisting of 18 buildings set in a 32 hectare park. The castle grounds today are home to the porcelain factory founded in 1758, the garden show ‘Blooming Baroque’ and the renowned Ludwigsburger castle festival taking place every summer.
Dresden is home to the Zwinger Palace, a lovely baroque building in the heart of the old quarter. It is one of Europe’s foremost late-baroque buildings. The Crown Gate with its golden dome has become a famous Dresden landmark. Not only the building itself is impressive, but also the exhibitions housed in the palace’s twelve world class museums. On the occasion of the city’s anniversary in 2006, the Historic Green Vault, the former treasure chamber of August the Strong, has opened its doors in the West Wing of the Palace. Extensive restoration work and partial reconstruction allow the historic interior to shine in new splendor. In harmony with the festive architecture, 3,000 artworks are presented standing freely against a background of richly embellished and mirrored display walls and on ornamental tables.
Located in the upscale Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district in West Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace was once the summer residence of Prussian kings. The 300-year baroque palace is the largest and most elaborate of the Hohenzollern residences in Berlin. Across from the palace, two historical buildings designed by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV and built by his star architect Stüler, will present major art collections in early 2008: From Spring 2008, the Scharf-Gerstenberg Museum will be open in the Eastern Stülerbau, with a permanent exhibition on surrealism, featuring over 250 masterpieces portraying the history of Surrealism from Piranesi to Dalí. In the Western Stülerbau, Heinz Bergguen’s collection “Picasso and his Time” will reopen in its extended exhibition space in the spring of 2008, displaying over 160 masterpieces of classic modern art by Picasso, Klee, Cezanne and van Gogh and others.
In Frankfurt the Emperor’s Hall inside the Roemer was once the site of the coronation banquets of German emperors. Although not a castle, it was here where all the kings, dukes and other high-ranking noblemen got together in and elected the Emperor and even established the first democracy in 1848. Today visitors can see the room where the Holy Roman Emperor celebrated after getting elected. Its walls were lined with the 19th Century portraits of 52 German Emperors beginning with Charlemagne and ending with the last Emperor Franz II.
Further west, in Düsseldorf, Elector Karl Theodor built his summer residence Castle Benrath in the 18th century. The remarkable ensemble of palace and park forms an architectural synthesis of great cultural-historical importance. The spacious park with a mirroring pond, an English landscape park and French baroque garden invites visitors for a stroll. But in the castle itself there is more to discover: The Natural History Museum in the west wing was opened in 1929 and is still open to the public. The Corps de Logis is in the central building which was erected for the Palatine Elector Carl Theodor and can as well be visited. The east wing houses the Museum for Garden Art and its exhibition ranges from the villas of Greek and Roman history to the Italian Renaissance.
Right outside of Cologne the Augustusburg palace and Falkenlust hunting lodge are amongst the most impressive princely residences in Germany, and have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site sice 1984. Set in 74 hectares of parkland, designed by Girard and Lenne, the foremost late baroque and rococo buildings were built at the beginning of the 18th century by the archbishop of Cologne, Clemens August of Bavaria of the Wittelsbach family. Today the Augustusburg Palace, which was the favorite residence of the archbishop, can be visited all year long and is also home to the most important and comprehensive motorbike collections in Europe. The museum focuses on motorcycle history boasting a wealth of unique exhibits. Falkenlust has been open to the public as a museum for falconry since 1974. The falconer’s daily life is presented in a recently fitted-out falconer’s workroom.
Further north, Hannover was the seat of Hannoverian kings as well as to the House of Guelph. The baroque gardens of Herrenhausen are among the largest and most important baroque gardens in Europe today. The unique gardens are a wonderful backdrop for the ,Festival Weeks’ in Herrenhausen featuring concerts and musical performances. The International Fireworks Competition during the summer time is the fifth biggest in the world. Marienburg Castle, which is nowadays the residence of King Ernst August of Hannover and his wife Caroline, is located half an hour south of Hannover. It is open to the public for guided tours as well as concerts.
In Hamburg the classical Jenisch house was built at the beginning of the 19th Century and today serves as a branch of the Altonaer Museum. It is located in the beautiful Jenisch-Park beside the river Elbe, and displays historic examples of upper middle class home furnishings from the 16th-19th Centuries in 14 exhibition rooms on several floors. Among them are impressive halls for prestige purposes, which are decorated in the Classical and Biedermeier styles, as well as many pieces of furniture, paintings and crafts from the late renaissance period. The beautiful art nouveau furniture is also worth seeing.