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Bruchsal Palace and Town

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It all started with a vision...
Damian Hugo von Schönborn, Prince Bishop of Speyer, founded the residence in Bruchsal in 1720. After quarrels with the imperial city of Speyer, which was protestant and didn't want a catholic bishop to live inside its walls, he went looking for a place to build a new palace. Here he found the most beautiful location in his territory, a pleasant climate, sufficient infrastructure and enough flat empty space to carry out his big plans. Damian Hugo wanted a ‘modern’ baroque palace with a symmetric ground plan, wide gardens, and a system of alleys that connected it with other important places in his territory.

The Palace

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The palace complex originally consisted of more than 50 separate buildings. Damian Hugo was well aware that, as he wrote to a relative, he was building his new home „in a country were war takes place every day and hour. All buildings have to be separated, so if a fire occurs, the rest can be saved.“

Most of these buildings are still there. The residence covers a whole quarter of the town. All the many different functions that belonged to the court of an absolutist prince show up in these buildings. Years ago I used to do special guided tours in the palace grounds to present all those buildings and their functions and explain how this court worked. Unfortunately I have forgotten a lot of details in the meantime, please bear with me when I take you on my tour ‘virtually’.

A residential palace was a huge body, almost a city of its own. Even if its official purpose was being the household for just one single person, in this case the Prince Bishop, the number of people involved may well be about 1000 or 1500. There are the servants, kitchen staff, artists and artisans of almost every metier, musicians and actors, clerics, gardeners, grooms, administration, military, noblemen from the country with their own entourage, etcetera etcetera. First, the building of the palace required an army of workers who were busy on the site for decades. One step further, all these people needed food, clothing, housing, furniture, tools and household items and so on. Farmers and artisans produced the goods that the court required. All these people and their families made their living on the court. Artists and top-class artisans were attracted to settle in the vicinity. A residential palace could not exist without the adjacent city or town.

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My little wombat on his first outing in Germany.
That was back in 2008. He looks oh so young and fluffy...

Bruchsal used to be a small country town without much significance. Like most places in the Upper Rhine Plain, it had suffered severe damage in the wars of the late 17th century. The building of the palace meant a boom for the city. The population grew. New buildings were erected in the town, too. We’ll visit and discuss some of these later on if you still have the forces to continue the walk into town after finishing with the palace grounds.

Hochstift Speyer, the territory the Prince Bishop ruled, was, to be honest, not very big. Nevertheless there was ambition. The Schönborns were a noble family from Franconia, originally a family of little importance. They managed to become actors in big politics of the Empire, though, by making gifted male family members clerics and placing them in important positions. Various Schönborns became canons at the big cathedrals, then made themselves elected as bishops, even archbishops and Electors. Architecture was their preferred media to express their ambition and influence. Bruchsal is by far not the biggest among their projects.

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Corps de Logis

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On the staircase

Let’s start our tour with, the heart of the palace. The French term Corps de Logis is used for the main and central wing which contains the most representative halls and rooms. This is where the Prince Bishop lived and held his ceremonial events. It now contains several museums: the museum of mechanical musical instruments on the ground floor, the historical museum of the town underneath the roof, and the palace museum with the festival rooms on the main floor, the belle étage.

The entrance hall, the famous staircase by Balthasar Neumann and the two ballrooms show splendid baroque decorations and ceiling frescoes. The helpful staff will do guided tours in several languages upon request.

Keep in mind, however, that almost everything you admire inside is a post-war reconstruction. The palace was heavily hit by World War II bombs. The only original remnants of the frescoes are in the Sala terrena, the garden hall, on the ground floor.

The frescoes above the three festival rooms were reconstructed according to photographies in the 1970s. The frescoes show ancient mythology combined with allegories of the country’s and diocese’s well-being under the divine provision and the history of the palace itself. Describing them in all details would probably tire you, my readers, too much to follow me on my walk around the palace grounds, hence I spare you going deeper into this complicated iconography.

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The dome over the staircase
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Ceiling fresco in Fürstensaal
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Grotto underneath the main staircase

It has been a while since I last visited Bruchsal. I have not yet had the chance to see the belle étage in its present shape. After the war only the two festival halls were reconstructed. On both sides large halls were inserted that served for temporary exhibitions. In recent years, construction works were done in order to re-establish the sequence of rooms that once were the principal appartements. A 100% reconstruction cannot be done but the result gives a much better idea of the Prince Bishop's residential quarters. Original paintings, tapestries, and furniture have returned to where they once belonged. The new belle étage has been reopened in April 2017. I am curious to see what the rooms will look like.

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Details of Fürstensaal and Marmorsaal, the two ballrooms

The Church Wing

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The southern side wing of the palace contains the palace church (Schlosskirche). The outward architecture is identical to that of the Northern wing, from the outside you wouldn't guess that there is a catholic church inside.

The splendid baroque interior was lost forever in World War II. Today's Schlosskirche is a modern post-war church. The new people’s altar has been placed, in accordance with the standards of the second Vatican council in the 1960s, on an elevated pedestal in the middle of the long rectangular room, while the congregation is facing it from both sides. (As a researcher on protestant churches I am constantly amazed and amused how modern catholic architecture has adapted the principles of 18th century protestant church design.)

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The Chamber Wing

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The northern side wing, the so-called Kammerflügel (Chamber Wing) because it hosted the administration offices of the financial chamber, was the first part of the palace to be completed. In 1726 the Bishop moved in. He stayed here until the central part was finished and he could move over to his real big apartment.

The side wing is a complete little palace. Its centre is a small but pretty festival hall on the 1st floor which is nowadays used for concerts. The rest of the building contains offices of the local law court.

The Gatehouse

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The front courtyard, cour d'honneur, is separated from the public street by a wrought-iron fence and a more symbolic moat. Anyone who wanted to enter the courtyard had to pass the soldiers standing guard.

Today courtyard and park are open to the public and free. Times have changed...

Kanzlei

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The highest building on the other side of the street opposite the gate was built in 1729 as office building for the government.

Today it hosts the local law court.

The little tower on top contains a carillon.

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Damianstor

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The construction of the palace added a whole new quarter to the existing town. This quarter had to be protected and included in the town's fortifications - as Bishop Damian Hugo himself wrote, this country saw war „every day and every hour“.

The road leading north towards Heidelberg needed a new town gate. It was named „Damianstor“ after the founder and first resident of the palace.

The Steeple

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The highest point of the palace is the onion-shaped roof of the steeple.

In order not to disturb the symmetry of the three-winged main palace, the steeple was not built next to the palace church in the Northern wing but separated, hence its asymmetric position.

The steeple was probably designed by Balthasar Neumann and built in 1738-40.

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Two Orangeries

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The two identical buildings closest to the park originally served as orangeries, as winter shelter for sensitive plants. Soon they were turned into living quarters for court officials.

Both of them show elaborate facades (only on the sides facing the park, though) with pillars, reliefs and stucco. Look carefully, all the architectural details have simply been painted on the plain plastered wall. The Bishop had to watch his expenses.

The northern orangerie now contains the offices of the administration of the palaces and gardens in Baden-Württemberg (Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg) - my former colleagues. At those times when I worked for them, however, their seat was still in Karlsruhe.

The southern counterpart hosts the local building authority. Plants are not kept inside them any more.

The Palace Gardens

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The palace park has partly been reconstructed in recent years. Only one third of the original park is still there, the rest was cut off by the railway tracks and used for other purposes. The central alleyway, however, continues beyond the railway.

Note the chestnut trees. The original park was already planted with this kind of trees. Letters tell us that Bishop Damian Hugo asked relatives for chestnut seedlings.

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The four houses at the end of the park were inhabited by court officials like the gardener and the huntsman.

Some of the baroque sculptures have been preserved. The originals are kept in safe storage in the basement of the palace, the ones in the park are copies. The allegories impersonate the four elements and the four seasons. Then there are the Hellebardiere, four soldiers with halberds standing guard below the terrace.

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Pharmacy building

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The little building west of the steeple once served as the court pharmacy. Nowadays it is used by the administration of the gardens and palaces in Baden-Württemberg, who have their offices in the northern Orangerie building, as their library. The interior is not accessible for visitors. The library is only for the use of the employees.

Bandhof

South of the Corps de Logis, two rows of low buildings frame a long yard. These were the workshops and homes of the coopers and other artisans working for the court.

The little houses have been carefully restored and are now sought-after places to live. The clothesline behind the pharmacy building probably belongs to inhabitants of the adjacent Bandhof.

Servants’ Building and Hospital

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Two long building complexes flank the street towards the town centre. The one on the Eastern side, named „Großer Dienerbau“ (Big Servants' Building), contained rooms and apartments for the „servants“ of the court, among them high ranking officials, government employees and court charges. The building on the other side served as a hospital for the population - the Bishop showed his social side here. Today's purpose of this building gains it less sympathy: it's the tax administration office.

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Now, how is the energy level, folks? Still in the mood to see more? If yes, please follow me further down the street, we shall explore a bit of the town.

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The Town

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The town of Bruchsal is much older than the baroque palace. It was first mentioned in 976 A.D. In its history it has suffered two almost complete destructions. In 1689 it shared the fate of most towns in this area and was burnt to ashes by French troops. Very few buildings, like the main church and the castle keep, date from before. The surviving inhabitants rebuilt their homes in baroque style, and then, soon after, the boom started with the construction of the palace and the establishment of the government and court. Bruchsal became a baroque town.

March 1, 1945 was a fateful, traumatic day for Bruchsal. An allied air raid reduced about 80% of the so far unharmed town as well as the palace to ashes and rubble, and killed more than 1,000 people, among them 668 citizens of Bruchsal, in one single night. A memorial plate on the Southern wall of the castle keep recalls this event.

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Bruchsal's town centre has mostly post-war architecture. Along the pedestrian malls you'll of shops that sell about everything - the shopping is at a small-town level, though. You'll get what you need, but if you want a wider choice a trip to Karlsruhe, Heidelberg or Mannheim is recommended.

Quite a bit has been done recently to improve the town centre in the last 10 or 15 years. Since the completion of Rathausgalerie mall behind the town hall, several new shops have moved in. The pedestrian zone has partly been redecorated with sculptures and fountains and looks much nicer than before. The local department store closed down but a large fashion store has moved into the building. Bruchsal is still much smaller than the cities around but all in all the efforts to modernize the town are visible.

Some side streets, however, have maintained their pre-war appearance. One has to know where to look.

Klosterstraße: Turning Back the Clock

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If you overlook the modern cars, the general appearance of this street reminds me of what small towns looked like 50 or 100 years ago.

I loved best the tiny house with the shoemaker's shop. It was closed when I passed, but the sign on the door states opening hours, meaning that it is still in operation. My imagination sees a very old man working with his old tools in a little dusty workshop...

Huttenstraße: One Baroque Street Survived

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One street survived the World War II bombing. In Huttenstraße, you can still see what the street of this baroque residence town once looked like. The 18th century townhouses on both sides are still there.

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Being an independent territory, the Prince-Bishopric of Speyer had its own army. This impressive military force consisted of 350 soldiers. To accommodate them, Prince Bishop Franz Christoph von Hutten had new army barracks built east of the town in the street that was later named after him. Only the two buildings next to the street, which served as officers' quarter and administration, still exist.

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Town Hall

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Bruchsal's baroque town hall was destroyed in the war. The new town hall was built in 1954 and shows the typical Fifties style.

Another visit in 2011 showed that the town hall has received fresh paint in lemon yellow. This here is an older photo, though. I chose it because weather and light were better.

The coat of arms above the entrance, a silver cross on dark blue ground, is the old coat of arms of the prince bishopric of Speyer, with the addition of a silver circle.

Stadtkirche (Church of Our Lady)

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The Church of Our Lady (Stadtkirche Unsere Liebe Frau) is the catholic parish church of the town centre. The gothic choir is facing the market square. The spire bears a baroque top.

A Latin inscription on the outside of the choir recalls the beginning of the construction works on Saturday, May 27, 1447 On the same pillar there is a 15th century Madonna (now a copy, the original is kept inside the church).

The church was heavily hit by the bombing of 1945. The gothic choir remained; the nave has been rebuilt in modern style after the war.
The medieval capstones of the gothic nave have been saved and are on display inside the steeple.

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Castle Keep and Bürgerzentrum

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The Bergfried (castle keep) is Bruchsal's oldest building. Originally it was part of a castle, the so-called „Altes Schloss“, the rest of which is gone. The keep was erected in 1358 by bishop Gerhard von Ehrenberg, whose image and coat of arms is depicted on a stone relief above the little balcony.
The roof was renewed in 1986/87, since then the tower can be climbed. The key is available at the tourist information in the Bürgerzentrum.

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The Bürgerzentrum (citizens' centre), erected in the 1980's around the medieval castle keep, is the centre of the town's cultural life. The building complex unites the theatre, the public library, the Volkshochschule (adult education centre), rooms for congresses, exhibitions and other events, the town archive, the tourist information, and restaurants.

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The small park behind the Bürgerzentrum offers the best views of the castle keep. It is a new park with some modern sculptures, a playground and some benches to rest - nothing special but a nice place to sit down if the feet are tired.

The small pond in the park is marked as „biotope“, reeds and other water plants have been planted around it to create a home for insects and frogs and fish. As I noticed at my last visit, though, the biotope is not being taken care of and the creatures that feel happiest in it are algae. In other words, it is in urgent need of some measures to remove the algae, or it will soon turn into a dead muddy hole.

Belvedere

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The Belvedere on the hill above the palace was built in 1756 for shooting and other court entertainment. The terrace on top and the two pavillons in oriental style serve as lookouts. Nowadays the Belvedere becomes the stage for open air theatre performances for a couple of weeks each summer.

The town of Bruchsal offers guided tours now and then that enter and climb the Belvedere. Otherwise you cannot go up.

Belvedere can be reached either by climbing the hill behind the Kanzlei building opposite the palace, or from Huttenstraße up the stairs of Andreasstaffel.

View from Andreasstaffel

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The Andreasstaffel is a flight of stairs that connects the Belvedere hill with the Huttenstraße quarter below. It was built by, and named after, the baker Andreas Rössler who owned the vineyard here on the hill. He also had the little vineyard house built which served as his refuge to rest and relax with a glass of wine while enjoying the view.

From the top of the stairs you have a view of the town centre and the valley, on clear days even over to Karlsruhe and the Palatinate hills.
The modern building complex at the bottom of the stairs is an old people's home and care centre.

Peterskirche (Church of St Peter)

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St Peter's church (Peterskirche) is the only one of Bruchsal's churches that was not affected by the war. The splendid baroque church, designed by the famous architect Balthasar Neumann, was built in 1740-42. Its crypt contains the tombs of 3 of the 4 last Prince Bishops of Speyer, and the heart of the fourth (who died in Passau and was buried there).

Unfortunately the church has to remain locked due to bad experiences with vandalism. If you want to visit it, contact the parish and ask for the key.
Since this part of town remained unharmed during the bombing of 1945, there are some pretty hidden spots and old houses in the surrounding streets.

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Posted by Kathrin_E 04:14 Archived in Germany Tagged palaces baden-württemberg bruchsal

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Comments

How interesting! I visited Bruchsal last year with the VTers at the Christmas Market meet in Karlsruhe, but there was only time for the main palace building which I really liked. I hadn't appreciated how many of the surrounding buildings were also part of the palace.

by ToonSarah

Very beautiful buildings.

by irenevt

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