While Frederick II had the monumental New Palace built in Potsdam as a magnificent representational building, a small palace was built in Wörlitz in what is now Saxony-Anhalt in just two years, and this soon became a competitor. Leopold III Friedrich Franz von Anhalt-Dessau (1740 to 1817), known as "Father Franz", had it designed as a model castle of modernity.
Technical innovations were installed there, such as water and sewage pipes, English sliding windows, folding beds and freight elevators for firewood. Such features, as well as ancient sculptures, attracted crowds of visitors soon after the palace was completed on March 22, 1773. The building is also considered a masterpiece of early classicism.
The building, which is reminiscent of an English country house, was not inhabited most of the time, says Anette Froesch, head of the Palaces and Collections department at the Dessau-Wörlitz Cultural Foundation. Rather, it served as a model lock for representation.
At that time there was a "Wörlitz hype" - evidenced by the flourishing of the accommodation establishments in which nobles and members of the educated middle class stayed. The royal couple, on the other hand, continued to live mainly in the Dessau residential palace and only occasionally drove to Wörlitz with guests to show the palace with its modern facilities.
A prince's bed demonstrated not pomp, but erudition and functionality at the same time: it could also serve as a desk. The library contained writings by contemporaries such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 to 1778) and Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717 to 1768). "Everything breathes erudition," explains Froesch: "That has incredibly strengthened the status of this actually insignificant prince."
The rather modest house broke with everything that was imagined to be princely representation around 1770 – a look at Potsdam shows this: the New Palace in Sanssouci Park dates from the same period. The 220 meter long building with a bronze dome served as a demonstration of power and showed that Prussia was able to erect magnificent buildings after the Seven Years' War (1756 to 1763).
In the much smaller castle in Wörlitz, on the other hand, antique statues and wall paintings with motifs from Italy, to which the prince had personally traveled, reflected the state of archeology at the time. "An ideal world view is constructed that continues into the garden," says Froesch. Around the castle are replicas of bridges from different eras. "All of this was modern for the visitors: someone shows up as educated, as cosmopolitan, as a well-connected personality."
The 17 bridges in Wörlitzer Park depict the history of engineering since antiquity, including the Iron Bridge, which was the first cast-iron bridge in Germany to be built in 1791 as a scaled-down replica of the Iron Bridge in Central England. A bascule bridge based on the Dutch model and a semi-circular building with originally gilded poles, which are intended to commemorate the sun worship of the Incas and Aztecs, testify to the interest in other cultures.
The prince's reputation as a reformer protected the palace and garden in GDR times. In fact, however, "Father Franz" ruled quite autocratically. According to Anette Froesch, the population "didn't really get much of the modernity of the ruler". The ruler was considered tolerant towards other religions, for example he had a synagogue built in Wörlitzer Park. Jews enjoyed the right of residence and support – albeit in exchange for high protection money, which also filled the prince’s coffers.
“Father Franz” proved his willingness to reform education policy with the founding of the Philantropinum in Dessau, where sons from the nobility and bourgeoisie were taught using methods that were new at the time. The prince commissioned one of the best-known educators of the Enlightenment, Johann Bernhard Basedow (1724 to 1790), to set up the training center. It was opened in 1774, a year after the palace was completed. There, in the midst of the "Wörlitz hype", visitors took part in guided tours - and were even able to buy engravings of the garden views and the palace as souvenirs.
You can also find "World History" on Facebook. We are happy about a like.