By John Masters
Meridian Writers’ Group
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.