Schleißheim Palace has always stood in the shadow of Nymphenburg Palace. But there is nonetheless much to see here – for example the magnificent palace garden. Apart from Herrenhausen in Hanover, this is the only preserved baroque garden in Germany. Another highlight: the rooms inside the New Palace. Nowhere in Munich can visitors admire higher baroque ceilings and larger halls. All the same, even many inhabitants of Munich do not know Schleißheim Palace and its gardens, and tourists only visit rarely. So, it is high time to take a closer look at this “attraction in the shadows”.
The French garden
The French baroque garden developed from the Italian renaissance garden, which in turn was based on the ancient gardens of Roman mansions. Geometric shapes, running water, water basins, box, gravel, trimmed hedges and antique sculptures – all these elements have been carried over from Italian horticulture. Incidentally, the first baroque garden was designed for none other than King Louis XIV of France.
André Le Nôtre realised the king’s wish for an exceptionally lavish park and created the world-famous Gardens of Versailles, which soon became a model for gardeners all over Europe. Following the example of Versailles, a baroque garden always refers to the accompanying palace, everything should be seen as one ensemble. Therefore, both the Schleißheim palace and gardens were designed by the Swiss architect Enrico Zuccalli, who also completed the church Theatinerkirche. Later, a professional realised the garden design: Dominique Girard, a pupil of André Le Nôtre.
Axis and symmetry
What astonishes visitors to Schleißheim most, are the huge dimensions of the garden. Everything seems gargantuan, yet harmonious and elaborate. The focus of the garden lies on its principal axis, the canal.
This is a typical stylistic device of the baroque garden, because fundamental rules from the renaissance, such as symmetry and order, still played a dominant role in baroque art. Contrary to Nymphenburg or Versailles, the Schleißheim canal does not run all the way to the horizon, but functions as a connecting axis between the New Palace and Lustheim Palace.
Parterre and bosquet
The parterre (from the French par terre, “on the ground”) is the separated area in front of a palace and the most decoratively designed part of the garden. The special feature at Schleißheim: although flowers do not normally belong in a baroque garden, the parterre was planted with them as “Parterre de Fleurs”. Evergreens were the usual plants for baroque gardens, the reason being that flower bulbs were expensive, and it was much easier and cheaper to design the curved ornaments with evergreens. A similarly playful component of the garden are the so-called bosquets (French term meaning “copse”). In Schleißheim, the bosquets are set apart from the monumental canal axis. Here and there, small clearings can be found, where concerts, plays or ball games used to take place. Today, the bosquets sadly only remain in rudimentary form.
A feature that can be admired to this day, however, are the wonderful old lime trees in the Schleißheim Palace gardens. In 1688, 2000 lime trees were brought to Schleißheim (by comparison: in 1972/74, 1219 lime trees were needed to replant the Herrenhäuser Allee). By 1699, they were thriving. Further plantations followed in 1688, 1690 and 1692. In 1695 and 1700, a number of trees were imported from France. But why lime trees? Already the Germanic peoples, Slavs and Celts had worshipped the lime as a holy tree. It was dedicated to the goddess Freya, who can in many ways be seen as the equivalent to the Roman Venus, the goddess of love. Over the course of the Christianisation of Europe, the Virgin Mother replaced the old heathen goddess, and many a Freya lime became a Mary lime. But the lime tree still remains the tree of love. In its shade, the secret of love is revealed in all its wonderful facets.
By the way: The idea for one if the best-loved children’s classics in Germany was born under the lime trees of Schleißheim Palace. Here, in their cool shade, writer Waldemar Bonsels was inspired to write Biene Maja und ihre Abenteuer (The Adventures of Maya the Bee). The book was first published in 1912 – and, to this day, the exciting stories about the courageous lady bee have remained hugely popular with children in Germany.
Water and optical illusions
A real marvel are the optical illusions in the baroque garden, which verge on the metaphysical. When looking from Lustheim Palace across the canal towards Schleißheim Palace, the huge parterre in front of the palace seems to have vanished completely. It looks, as if the canal reaches all the way to the palace, right up to the doorstep. And when the palace is mirrored in the water, the effect is all the more convincing. All this was, of course, planned. These fascinating effects were designed to dazzle visitors – after all, this was the baroque era, the age of optics and perspective.
Current state of the garden
After the death of Max Emanuel, the elaborate garden fell into a kind of enchanted sleep. A stroke of luck, because this means it retained its original design. In the 19th century, Ludwig I and his garden architect Carl von Effer started to tend the garden again. They tried to reconstruct parts, especially the flower parterre in front of the palace. This is the state we see it in today. The garden and parterre could, in theory, be reconstructed a lot more faithfully (the original plans still exist), but this goes against the approach of German monument protection authority. It is the last preserved layer that counts.
On the eastern edge of the expansive baroque garden lies Lustheim Palace, which was commissioned in 1685 by Maximilian Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria, to mark his engagement to the Austrian emperor’s daughter Maria Antonia. The palace is also worth a visit, because it houses the world-famous Meissen porcelain collection. On the 1st Sunday of every month, the BNM offers a free tour to visitors. This is the only tour of the palace that takes place regularly.
For more information on Schleißheim Palace and Lustheim Palace, please go to: http://www.schloesser-schleissheim.de
Opening hours: Old and New Schleißheim Palace, Lustheim Palace, April-September: 9.00am – 6.00pm, October-March: 10.00am – 4.00pm, closed on Mondays. From April to mid-September, the fountains in the court garden run daily between 10.00am and 4.00pm.
How to get there by S-Bahn (city train): Schleißheim Palace can be easily reached by train. Simply take the S1 and get off at Oberschleißheim. From there, the path is signposted and takes approx. 10 minutes on foot.
How to get there by car / bus: The municipality of Oberschleißheim lies in the north of Munich and can be reached via the motorways A 92 (exit Oberschleißheim) and A 99 (exit Heuherberg) as well as the A-roads B 13 (in Munich “Ingolstädter Straße”) and B 471.