Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Places to Visit: The Karlsaue and Insel Siebenbergen in Kassel, Germany

Here, finally, is the post I have been meaning to finish for over a week now. While staying with my grandmother in the German city of Kassel I revisited some of the sites of horticultural and landscape design interest in the area. First up was the Karlsaue, a large landscape park that lies adjacent to the main shopping streets of the city's downtown area, and the man-made island know as "Siebenbergen" ("seven mountains") that is located in one of the park's artificial lakes and houses an extensive botanical collection. The park lies more or less at the level of the river while the older parts of the city rise on a hill above. As a result, the otherwise largely flat park, despite being right next to the busiest part of town, is separated from the latter's hustle and bustle by a rather steep drop traversed by steps and winding paths.

A section of the slope between the Karlsaue and the city center, as seen from the park

A close-up of the planted part of the slope

One of the staircases that connect the park with the city's downtown area; this one doubles as a memorial to the victims of the two World Wars.

The history of the Karlsaue as a park began in the 16th century when the local duke began to have a formal garden laid out on the site. Until the middle of the 17th century these formal gardens were further expanded and developed in the ornate fashion of the time and apparently featured elaborate fountains, sculpture, and topiary. Beginning in the early 18th century this original garden came to be replaced with a baroque layout of French inspiration. The new park was given a fan-shaped outline, with three main axis stretching out from an orangery-cum-palace that began to be constructed at one end of the site in 1701. The two outer axis were marked by long canals that ran around the entire park and formed an outline resembling the shape of a lyre. At the end of the Karlsaue furthest from the orangery the two arms of this canal system connected through two large basins, each in turn adorned by a small island. The central axis between the basins was planted as an avenue, and the space between the canals and this central axis was filled with formal parterres, bosquets, artificial hills, and various other decorative features. Since these works were carried out during the reign of Duke Karl the park came to be known as "Karlsaue". In the early 19th century the site was redesigned as an English-style landscape park, but the canals, basins, and avenues were largely retained, as were the two artificial islands and the palatial orangery. 

View along one of the canals

The orangery

View along one of the avenues

Statuary at the edge of the bowling green in front of the orangery

The small Schwaneninsel or "swan island" with its pavilion

A map of the park showing the mixture of French formality and the English landscape park in its layout

A waterlily blossom (Nymphaea alba)

The larger of the two artificial islands, known as Siebenbergen, was originally laid out in a series of formal terraces planted with spruce hedges but was redesigned as part of the overall transformation of the Karlsaue into an English landscape park. In 1822, Duke Wilhelm II put the gardener and botanist Wilhelm Hentze in charge of the administration of all his parks and gardens and by the early 1830s the latter began to assemble an extensive botanical collection on the island, planted largely in a naturalistic manner meant to harmonize with the new style of the surrounding park. His vision for Siebenbergen has been followed ever since, and the island continues to be a sort of miniature botanic garden filled with a profusion of trees, shrubs, and perennials ranging from the ordinary to the very rare, as well as summer displays of annuals, a sizeable fuchsia collection, and a number of tropical and subtropical shrubs in containers. Furthermore there is a family of peacocks that roams the island and one section  of the island is used during the summer for open-air theater performances.

A friendly peacock at the entrance to Siebenbergen

The bridge to the island

Beds of annuals on the island

As a result of its original terraced layout Siebenbergen still has somewhat of a three-tiered structure, with one circular path tracing the edge of the island, another one encircling the central hill about half way up its relatively steep slopes, and a third surrounding a large bed of annuals on the flat top of the hill. The path at the bottom of the hill takes the visitor past most of the perennial displays as well as the fuchsia collection, whereas the paths further up the hill have more of a wood land feel. The top of the hill, apart from the bedding display of annuals and a number of tender flowering shrubs in pots, also provides nice views out over parts of the Karlsaue.

Birches and perennial beds

Gunnera manicata

Flowers of the southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides)

Many varieties of Astilbe flourish on the island

A lovely maiden hair fern (Adiantum sp.)

 Creeping saxifrage (Saxifraga stolonifera)

 Memorial commemorating Wilhelm Hentze who, as director of courtly gardens, gave the island its modern layout and began its botanical collection

Flowers of a cultivar of Brugmansia suaveolens

 View along one of the paths that connect the first and second "level" of the island

A path at the top of the hill

A double pink oleander (Nerium oleander) with a wonderful fragrance

Stewartia pseudocamellia - I want one of these!

Since it is now a public city park, the Karlsaue is open to the public year-round and free of charge. Siebenbergen, meanwhile, is open to the public daily from April 1 until October 3 with an admissions charge of 3 Euros for adults and 2 Euros for students. If you read German, you can also visit the website of the Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel ("Museum Landscape Hesse Kassel") here.


  1. Olbrzymi ten zamek. piękny park, kwiaty i paw. Pozdrawiam

  2. How fun! I like the diversity of plants, and I like all the spruces.

  3. nice pictures. the peacock is so beautiful; as are all the plants. i especially like the many different shades of green on the maiden hair.

    what is an orangery?

  4. Thanks for stopping by everyone!

    Arati - An orangery is a sort of early greenhouse or conservatory, basically a heated hall with huge windows, that was constructed by the Central and Northern European aristocracy in the 16th/17th/18th centuries to overwinter plants too tender to be left outside. They were called orangeries in German, French, and English since in those countries oranges were the main (sub)tropical plants grown at the time.


Thanks for stopping by!