Saturday, 5 August 2017

Ludwig's Lust for Life!

We're off exploring Germany with our tent yet again, this time heading North-West from Berlin to the Baltic coast of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

On the way we overnighted at the Meck-Pomm town of Lugwigslust.

The town began as a small collection of farms known as Klenow. It is recorded that in 1724 Prince Christian Ludwig II (15 May 1683 – 30 May 1756) of the House of Mecklenburg chose this spot to build a hunting lodge. The proposed Jagdschloss was finally built in 1735, having been delayed because Ludwig's elder brother, Karl Leopold, was having a very divisive time as Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and forbade Ludwig from building anything.

A little bit of context: Karl Leopold was trying to rule Mecklenburg like an absolute monarch. He for example married (his third marriage) a niece of Tsar Peter the Great so that he could have a standing army of 40,000 Russian troops in Mecklenburg to support his ambition. The other Northern Germany nobles appealed to the Holy Roman Emperor, who declared Karl Leopold's actions illegal and with the support of George of Hannover (King George I of England) took the title of Duke away from him for a while. By the way, the history of Mecklenburg is incredibly complicated and driven by many in-fighting factions and claims to it by the kingdoms of Sweden and Norway amongst others. It is all a bit Game of Thrones and for most of its centuries long existence was considered the most backward area of the Holy Roman Empire.

Prince Ludwig became the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin on the death of his brother Karl Leopold in 1747. The hunting lodge remained a place for Ludwig to get away from the troubles at his court in Schwerin, and for that reason Klenow had its name changed to Ludwigslust (Translation: Ludwig's joy) in 1754. Christian Ludwig II died two years later, and the Dukedom passed to his son Friedrich (9 November 1717 – 21 April 1785). Shortly after his succession, the global Seven Years War broke out. These were very violent and turbulent times, and we can imagine that Friedrich wanted to create an oasis of normality in the place with which he shared his father's happiest moments.

Duke Friedrich II moved his permanent residence to Ludwigslust (though not the government) in 1765 and began planning with architect Johann Joachim Busch on building between 1772 and 1776 the church, palace, houses, and landscaped park we see today (with later additions and modifications, such as between 1852 and 1860 by ubiquitous landscape gardener Peter Joseph Lenné). In 1777 the original Jagdschloss was demolished.

Schloss Ludwigslust remained the residence of the Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin until 1837 and the accession of Paul Friedrich, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

The Schloss is often described in guide books as 'The Versailles of Mecklenburg', or 'The Versailles of Northern Germany'. This is rather a stretch, unless it is meant ironically, but never the less it is a delightfully bijou neo-classical building with baroque notes. A tour of the building is worth the entrance fee, but don't expect anything to rival Versaille's Hall of Mirrors. Indeed, the size of the State coffers of the Dukedom of Mecklenburg reflected its backward status, and economies had to be made. For example, the stucco decorations on the Corinthian columns and ceilings are made from paper-maché, a cheap innovation known as Ludwigsluster Carton.  

The water features (the cascade in the forecourt, the canals, the ponds and fountains) are the Schloss' best attractions. The parkland heralds a Romantik joy in tamed wildness that would preoccupy later generations, though often the canals are a bit too straight and geometric to fit in fully with the Gothik sensibilities.

The town that grew up around the Schloss looks like it has been recently extensively renovated, and there is still a lot of restoration work going on. Like many former DDR towns that have been done-up, there is a feeling of Ludwigslust still being depopulated and lacking in soul. And oh my, cobbled streets and pavements everywhere are a nightmare for cyclists and high-heels!

Here are a selection of my photos from the visit:



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