Monday, August 15, 2011

Places to Visit: Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel, Germany

The people of the German city of  Kassel - my extended family included - are proud to inform anyone who will listen that their city has the largest Bergpark, or 'hill park', in Europe. To those of us who spend most of our lives in places without 'hill parks' of any sort, that distinction might not mean much. What, one might ask, is so special about a park that happens to be on hilly terrain? Well, as it turns out there is lots that is special about the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe. Representing landscape architecture on a truly gargantuan scale, the steeply-sloped park and its monuments tower over the city, with its central axis extending all the way to the city center in the valley below in the form of a wide, dead-straight street known as the Wilhelmshöher Allee. A colossal status of Hercules, set on a large pyramidal base, crowns the highest point of the park and is visible from almost anywhere in the city. Below it a massive baroque cascade descends down the slope. Even further down the hill sits the large palace whose garden this park once was. It now houses an art museum that features a notable collection of antique sculpture as well as one of the most important collections of paintings by Rembrandt in Germany. The park further features  artificial castle ruins  from the late 18th century called the Löwenburg or 'lion's castle', a conservatory, various ponds and pavilions, a collection of shrub roses, and a slew of other features.

 The palace as glimpsed through the trees on the approach uphill

View along the central axis of the park from the parterre in front of the palace towards the Hercules statue

A classical statue flanked by Inula magnifica and various rhododendrons

The parks massive size and scattered attractions invite leisurely exploration. Coming from either the parking lot or the streetcar stop at the foot of the hill, it is a relatively short and moderately steep walk to the palace with the art museum. From the palace entrance the conservatory is visible to the right, surrounded in summer by elaborate Victorian-style bedding. Straight ahead lies the central vista of the park up the steepest part of the slope, along the cascade and towards the monumental Hercules at the top of the hill. To the left the land drops steeply towards a serious of ponds connected by a small stream, on the other side of which further woods as well as broad meadows rise gently towards the Löwenburg. In addition, the park's large collection of antique and modern shrub roses is arranged around the banks of these ponds.

 The central section of the conservatory, known as the Große Gewächshaus or 'great greenhouse'

Beds of annuals in front of the conservatory

Fragrant heliotrop (Heliotropium arborescens)

One of the various ponds

Some late roses in the shrub rose collection

Climbing roses conquering the trees

Light and shadow

The Löwenburg

 One of the broad meadows below the 18th-century "medieval"  castle

The design of most sections of the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe follows the precepts of the English landscape garden. This is due in large part to the work carried out beginning on 1785 under local ruler Wilhelm IX. He also razed an older residence on the site and replaced it with the neoclassical palace still in existence today. The name of the palace and ultimately the park and even the surrounding part of the city is also part of his legacy, for prior to his reign the hill at Wilhelmshöhe or 'Wilhelm's height' was known as the Karlsberg or 'Karl's mountain' after one of his predecessors, and the old palace was known as Weißenstein. However, in the uppermost third of the park the most conspicuous features of 'Karl's mountain' survived, namely the huge baroque Hercules monument and the Italianate cascade which had been created for Karl beginning in 1701  under the guidance of the Roman architect Giovanni Francesco Guerniero. One can climb up the stairs on either side of the cascade all the way to the base of the massive monument, which on clear days offers amazing views of the whole city and surrounding countryside. The water in the cascades and fountains does not run constantly but usually at set times twice a week from late spring until mid-fall.

 View across the Fontänenteich or 'fountain pond' halfway between the palace and the cascade

 A smaller artificial woodland at the edge of the woods next to the central vista

 A small bridge, another one of the playful monuments along the ascent towards the cascade and the Hercules statue

 View towards the Hercules from the bottom of the cascade

 View from the top of the cascade towards the city

The Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe is open to the public year-round and free of charge. If you want to know more about it, the Wikipedia pages for it in English and German are a great start, with lots of information and further links. There are also tons of videos on YouTube if you want to get an idea of what the cascades and fountains look like when the water is turned on; unfortunately most are not of particularly high  picture or sound quality, which is why I did not bother to include one in this post.


  1. That is one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen. So much going on all over and the water features are stunning. Thx for sharing this lovely place.

  2. Wow! Thank you for the tour, I enjoyed it very much. You are right, it is gardening on a grand scale... I loved the last picture with the cascade and the amazing view.

  3. must have been nice walking through. love the heliotropes

  4. You have a very impressive blog and this was a wonderful tour of the hill park.

  5. Anita - Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed it... :)


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