Two buildings in Bavaria

By John Masters

Meridian Writers’ Group

MUNICH—Germany may no longer have a monarchy — it was abolished in 1918 — but it still has plenty of nobility. Take the Wittelbachs, for example. They’d been the rulers of Bavaria since the 12th century. Even today, if you run into the current head of the house, Duke Franz von Bayern, you should address him as “your royal highness.”

German nobility still have some very nice real estate, too. Duke Franz lives at Nymphenburg Palace, a baroque wonder that, in the 17th century, was a two-hour carriage ride from Munich. Now it’s in the suburbs, but there’s still a nice buffer between the duke and his neighbours: his front lawn’s the size of a stadium; the backyard’s a 200-hectare park.

Since the duke still lives here, not all of the palace is open to the public, but the impressive centre block is. Built and rebuilt by successive generations of Wittelbachs from 1664, with the last major work done in 1826, its rooms are in a variety of styles that veer from Italianate to Chinese, but all would come under the general heading of “opulent.”

The Great Hall that rises before you as you enter is the biggest and best example of this: a two-storey-high rococo chamber of lavish, gold-gilded stucco work, a colourful ceiling fresco of, appropriately, nymphs, six glittering crystal chandeliers and a bank of large windows to fill the room with light. It seems a hall perfectly made for music and dancing.

The rooms with the most interesting stories to them are in the south wing, where the Blue Salon and the Queen’s Bedroom are both done in French Empire style. Why? Because in 1806 Napoleon made Bavaria its own kingdom and enlarged its borders. How better to show your thanks — and allegiance — than to redo a few choice rooms in the appropriate manner?

The Queen’s Bedroom has another story to go with it: it’s where Ludwig II — Mad Ludwig, the one who built the fantasy castle Walt Disney made into the icon for his amusement park — was born. The furniture is all as it was on that day, Aug. 25, 1845, including the mirror the delivering doctor looked into rather than gazing directly on his royal patient.

As eye-catching as the palace is, for many visitors the park behind it is an even greater attraction. It comes with two lakes, several large pavilions, a baroque garden and a canal. A 1761 painting by Canaletto shows the house and garden from the top of the canal, with several pleasure craft rowing about in the water. Ladies in voluminous dresses and gentlemen wearing white hose watch from the shore. The boats are gone, but the park remains much as it was nearly 250 years ago.

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