Tuesday, July 31, 2007

8 June: A Lovely Day in Ludwigsburg

A trip to Ludwigsburg’s Residenzschloss and gardens was on today’s agenda, and it was a perfect day for it – cotton-puff clouds floated across a periwinkle-blue sky – although a little on the warm side. We arrived with just minutes to spare to get into the only English tour of the day, so we agreed to take the tour first and then wander around the gardens later. This was my third visit to the Residenzschloss (fifth if you count my garden visits) but I really enjoy the palace and I learn something new from each tour. Sometimes you see something new, too – this time we got to see both of the palace chapels, whereas on my previous visits we had only seen the Catholic chapel. (The theater and chapels are still used for performances and weddings, so they are not always open.) I’ve described the palace before, but for anyone who wants a refresher, here is a recap (excerpted from our October 2005 visit):

The Residenzschloss is an enormous, ornate pale yellow building with white wedding cake trim, laid out in a hollow rectangle with a large central courtyard. It was constructed in sections by the dukes and kings of Württemberg, beginning as a hunting lodge in the early 1700s and eventually becoming the seat of the Württemberg royalty. It is the largest Baroque palace in the country, also known as the “Versailles of Germany.”

The entrance to the Schloss is located rather unceremoniously along a busy street, where passing motorists seem oblivious to the history and grandeur located just feet away. We passed through an enormous wrought iron gate into a large stone courtyard, with a pleasant-looking outdoor café on the left side. A cobbled pathway lined with huge potted plants leads you to an arched opening in the palace wall, where the visitor office is located.

Our tour began upstairs, in the newest section of the palace. To get there we climbed an impressive staircase adorned with Greek gods and goddesses, then entered an empty oval room where a large plan of the palace is mounted on an easel. Our guide informed us that we would be seeing about seventy-five of the more than four hundred and fifty rooms of the palace, and we would be walking the equivalent of about a mile. The first half of the tour was spent in the newest portion of the castle, which was completed in the late 18th century by Duke Charles Eugene. The first room we entered was the extravagant oval dining room, outfitted with enormous multi-tiered crystal chandeliers hanging from a high domed ceiling. Eagles are used as a royal symbol extensively throughout the palace, and here they are painted on the ceiling as if clutching the cables of the chandeliers. Our guide demonstrated how a sharp clap of the hands made in the center of the room creates an echo that sounds like the flapping of great eagle wings.

Our tour took us through the king’s suite along one wing of the new palace and the queen’s rooms on the other (the last full-time residents of the Schloss were King Frederick of Württemburg, appointed by Napoleon himself, and Frederick’s second wife, Charlotte Mathilde of Great Britain). A rare woven portrait of Napoleon adorns a corner of one of the king’s anterooms – a gift from one of his visits. We saw the king’s throne room, lavishly decorated in red velvet and gold, his sea-green satin bedroom, and various audience rooms and libraries. The queen’s rooms mirror the king’s wing, in similar Empire style, except her throne is set on only two steps instead of three, and her bedchamber is done in brilliant red tones (above). Every so often, our guide would point out a particular painting or tapestry of an interesting historical figure or event. During the second World War, much of the artwork and furniture from the Neues Schloss in Stuttgart was brought to the Residenz Schloss, which was then covered with camouflage netting to hide it from Allied bombers. The trick worked, and while much of the Neues Schloss was destroyed, many of its precious contents were preserved in Ludwigsburg.

Before heading towards the Hall of Ancestors and the theater, we got to glimpse something you rarely see on palace tours, at least in my experience: the servants’ quarters. We viewed a room lined with numbered wardrobes where the royal family’s clothing were kept out of sight, and a dark, low-ceilinged chamber with no windows that served as kitchen, bedroom and general living quarters for about a dozen servants. Our guide noted that these conditions were actually quite reasonable for the time and it was seen as a privilege and a luxury to be a servant in the palace – not only did you get to spend most of your time in the warmth and comfort of the greatest wealth in the land, but you got to hear all of the royal gossip, which made you quite popular amongst your friends.

Our next stop was the Hall of Ancestors (right), which connects the newest section of the palace to the wing containing the theater and chapel. This long wood-floored hall is lined with portraits depicting five hundred years of Württemberg history, including all of the lords and ladies that had inhabited the Residenzschloss over its century or so of occupation. Next to each portrait sits a gigantic oriental vase, each of which, our guide informed us, is worth 80,000 Euro, so watch your step. We got our first chance to sit down when we wandered into the theater, an impressive construction decorated in pink, blue, and yellow, which in its heyday was one of the premier spots in Europe for opera and ballet. (Our guidebook says the first opera in Europe was performed here.) Next stop was a glimpse of the unbelievably large and ornate Catholic chapel through the bleary windows of the duke’s seat, high up at the rear of the structure.

Finally, we stepped back in time once more to tour the original hunting lodge, which has been extensively restored to its original Baroque condition. The Mars room contained a particularly beautiful Baroque ceiling fresco (in other parts of the palace the amazing frescos and gilt had been covered up with white paint when Baroque extravagance had passed out of fashion), and the excessively mirrored duke’s bedroom was spectacular (enhanced by the story that a particularly despised Catholic duke was murdered in it). Another room has a painstakingly preserved original wood floor, laid out in an ornate circular pattern, which is more than three hundred years old. The last room we viewed was the great hall with more enormous crystal chandeliers, which once witnessed royal balls and is still used for state functions.

After our tour we headed out into the gardens, which, this being a beautiful summer day, were livelier than I have ever seen them. All of the antique carnival rides in the Easter garden (right) were in operation, including the tiny four-car ferris wheel. We stopped at the café by the pond for a light lunch – we shared a wurst und brot and a mixed salad, washed down with a couple of refreshing Schweppes Bitter Lemons.

Next I took Mom through the tiny Japanese garden, the Mediterranean and rose gardens and then the formal landscaped gardens on the older side of the palace. We visited all of the exotic birds in their aviaries and then finished our walk on the new side of the palace. Unfortunately they were in the middle of setting up a summer festival so the place was a bit of a mess, with tents being erected and delivery trucks everywhere. Needless to say, we were pretty hot and tired by the end of the afternoon – a nice breezy trip home in the SLK with the top down was just what we needed!

For dinner we scratched the idea of making zweibelrostbraten (steak with onion sauce) because it was so hot, and decided instead to give another shot at the balsamic-glazed steak salad that John had enjoyed in Ravensburg last spring. Mom tried making a balsamic reduction and it turned out really well, but the steak was still tough – it seems to be next to impossible to get a tender piece of beef here. We served the beef with mixed greens, tomatoes, and shaved parmesan and ate outside on the balcony – a perfect end to a lovely day!

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