Treasures of the Princely Courts of Germany

Posted on Wednesday 5th November 2014

Some 23 of us made this epic but comfortable journey by coach from Leeds to explore some of the wonderful treasures of northern Germany. Almost everywhere we were privileged to be led by the directors, curators and other experts of the palaces and collections who generously gave their time for a sister-museum Friends group. Our first stop was Antwerp where we admired the treasures of the Cathedral and from whence we continued to Hildesheim. From here we perambulated through the magnificent baroque gardens at Herrenhausen nearby at Hanover, led by the Director, Dr Ronald Clark, and then to the big exhibition at the Landesmuseum commemorating the 300th anniversary of the union of the British and Hanoverian crowns. On our way to Potsdam we called first at Marienburg, the vast fairy-tale castle, not least to admire the crown jewels of the later kings of Hanover, and then at Wolfenbuttel one of the seats of the dukes of Brunswick. In Potsdam we were joined by Dr Alfred Hagemann, curator at the SPSG who gave us two full days, together with his colleagues, to explore the Hohenzollern palaces and parks at Cecilienhof, the Marmorpalais, the Chinese House, Charlottenhof, the Bildergalerie and Sanssouci itself. Next day was the turn of Charlottenburg with its park, mausoleum and pavilions, followed by the little-known Oranienburg. It was a feast of delights, not least to admire the extraordinary conservation work of the past 50 years.

Our journey to Dresden, not without incident while crossing the Elbe, took us via Dessau-Worlitz, the extraordinary ‘garden kingdom’ of the anglophile Prince Franz who laid out a dream-like idyllic landscape for himself and his 30,000 subjects along English and Enlightenment principles. Dresden was another world, where Dr Max Tillmann led us through the rococo Zwinger and the great Pinacotek before embarking on a river cruise to the chinoiserie palaces and Pillnitz. Perhaps the culmination of our search for princely treasures was the collection at the Green Vaults – where nothing but the finest works of art of any and all genres are to be found. Nearby, Prof. Ulrich Pietsch, the Director of the Porcelain Museum, probably the finest of its kind in the world, gave us a personalised tour while the museum was closed. Many of us took the opportunity to go to the opera at Semper’s great theatre. Our way home took us first to Schloss Moritzburg, the great hunting castle of the electors of Saxony, with its superb feather bed, and the charming francophile Wilhelmsthal, near Kassel, to the tiny spa town of Arolsen with its mini-Versailles, built for the dukes of Walmond. From here there was just one more stopover at Mechlen before a reluctant return to the White Cliffs.