A Day in Munich’s Nymphenburg Palace and Gardens

Munich's Nymphenburg Palace

A short tram ride from the hustle and bustle of Munich’s central train station takes you to the palatial summer residence of the Wittelsbach’s, Bavaria’s ruling family for over 700 years. Touring the palace and outbuildings is interesting, but strolling through the 500 acre wooded gardens makes it hard to believe that a city of 1.5 million residents surrounds this peaceful enclave.

The central pavilion of the palace, whose name means “Castle of the Nymphs”,  was started in 1664, and was expanded, redecorated, and re-redecorated over the subsequent centuries according to the tastes of the rulers at that time. As a result, the period rooms open for public view inside of the palace is an ornate mix of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles. Each room has placards with good descriptions in German, English and Italian.

The first view of the inside of the palace is the impressive Grand Central Hall.  It is light and bright, and impressive in size, rising up three stories, and glittering with crystal chandeliers and elaborate gold leaf decor. The large windows look out out over the front and back canals and gardens, bringing in light as well as showcasing the grandness of the property.

Another unique room is the Gallery of Beauties, a room with a collection of 36 beauties of the time from a cross section of society, commissioned by King Ludwig I. The portraits include a shoemaker’s daughter, an actress, a Briton, a Scot,an Israelite, the King’s mistress, as well as beauties of the ruling class.

Touring the palace rooms was interesting, but I much more enjoyed exploring the large parkland and the outbuildings built for escape from the confines of the palace.  I especially found three of these pavilions very interesting.

The MagdalenenKlause (Hermitage of St. Magdalene) is and odd mix of dark paneled hunting lodge/study combined with an artificial grotto chapel decorated with shell and stone mosaics and frescoed ceilings-not sure there is a formal name for this style of decor-maybe this was the original rustic chic?

I especially liked the octagonal Pagodenburg which was designed to be used as a tea house.  The first floor is decorated in my favorite color combination, blue and white with numerous Delft tiles. The second floor is decorated with Chinese themes.

The most intriguing building was the Badenburg or Bathing house.  It has a very idyllic setting, overlooking a large lake. Built in the early 1700’s, it was one of the first building with a large room dedicated to comfortable bathing and had water directed to it via pipes. The building has a large banqueting hall and a smaller private apartment.  Of note is the small “cabinet” or writing room, which has silver plated decor, Chinese themed wallpaper and still contains the original furniture upholstered in yellow leather. Despite it’s age, this little room has a very modern feel. The “bathing room” is really more of a two story swimming pool than a bath tub, with a balcony where onlookers can observe the action below.  What was not described was the clothing people wore swimming-and did they still keep their powdered wigs while bathing?   What a great party house!

Strolling from building to building thorough the wooded park setting on the warm and sunny May day that I was there was very enjoyable and relaxing.

Initially, the Nymphenburg gardens were laid out in a a very formal French design (think Versailles), but in the early 1800’s, most of the park was redesigned and planted in the English style with lots of wooded acreage, meadows, paths and lakes.  The original central canal and fountains and the formal gardens framing the palace were kept. The park is clearly a setting used by the locals.  I saw couples of various ages strolling the grounds, folks sitting on benches and reading or watching the swans, joggers out for a run, and parents with little kids in the area set up with a playground. And every body of water has numerous swans in it looking for a food handout.

On the way out of the park I stopped in the Marstallmuseum (Museum of Carriages and Sleighs), housed in the former palace riding stables.  This is described as one of the most important museums of its kind in the world, and it was indeed very impressive.  The display shows a huge array of elaborate carriages, sleighs, riding harnesses and other paraphernalia spanning 3 centuries.  It’s a glimpse into the Rolls Royce equivalent of a mode of transportation long gone.  Especially elaborate are the coaches built for (Mad) King Ludwig II of Neuschwanstein fame (more on him and his castles in a future post).

Interesting sights combined with a relaxing walk in the woods and a stop for lunch at the onsite Palmenhaus Cafe made for a very good day.

To get to Nymphenburg Palace, take the #17 tram going west from in front of the Munich Hauptbahnhoff  (main train station), get off at the Schloss Nymphenburg stop, and then walk along the canal about ten minutes to get to the main palace entrance.

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