Adaptable and yet consistent

A tour through the eventful history of the Garden Kingdom Dessau-Wörlitz

By State Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

State Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Mosigkau, maze (Mid-18th century) by unknownState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

The non-profit institution, founded in 1918 as the "Kulturstiftung Dessau-Wörlitz" (Dessau-Wörlitz Cultural Foundation), was given castles and estates from the property of the noble Anhaltine family. The care and maintenance of the properties were thus transferred from family to state ownership. Gradually more buildings, parks and interior furnishings were added. In the 1930s, the castles of Wörlitz, Oranienbaum, Luisium and Zerbst with their respective parks were the responsibility of the Foundation. The nominal Duke chaired the Board of Trustees, which chaired the Foundation, but was ousted from this position during National Socialism.

Oranienbaum, teahouse (1794/1797) by Georg Christoph Hesekiel and presumably Friedrich Wilhelm von ErdmannsdorffState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

The cultural landscape created over decades by Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz von Anhalt-Dessau was already early known as the "Gartenreich". In 1925, the German art historian Wilhelm van Kempen described it as a world affair, meaning the progressive ideas that emerged in the 18th century under the influence of the Enlightenment. Influences that were essential for the Principality of Anhalt-Dessau at that time came from Great Britain, France, Italy and China, among others. In the Third Reich, however, only the political, social and economic radiance of Italy was spoken of – understandable in this respect, since fascist Italy was very close to the German regime.

Oranienbaum, teahouse interior (1794/1797) by Georg Christoph Hesekiel and presumably Friedrich Wilhelm von ErdmannsdorffState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

In 1938, local followers of the regime had envisaged the synagogue in Wörlitz, which had been built while Prince Franz was still alive. A destruction could only be prevented by the courageous intervention of the garden director Hans Hallervorden. He was subsequently dismissed for his actions.

Wörlitz, official ferry with synagogue (Synagogue: 1789/90; official ferry: second half of the 18th century) by Synagogue: Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff; official ferry: under Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-DessauState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

During the Second World War, Dessau was the target of numerous allied bombers. In 1945, over 80 % of the former residence city, including the historic city centre with the former residence castle, lay in ruins. The castle in Zerbst had also been badly damaged: Only a burnt-out wing had survived the end of the war.

Mosigkau, ballroom (1755/1757) by unknownState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

During the Soviet occupation and in the newly founded GDR, large estates were expropriated in principle, but the palaces, parks and inventory remained unchanged. The progressive legacy of the Garden Kingdom receded into the background, which only changed towards the end of the GDR. For example, the architect Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff was honoured on his 250th birthday: three exhibitions in Dessau and Wörlitz illuminated his work under the title "Erdmannsdorff Award 1986". The nobility predicate “von” was deliberately omitted because nobility and socialism were not compatible.

Oranienbaum, double bridge (Reconstruction: 1992) by unknownState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Wörlitz as a whole was seen as a symbol of progressive change: The garden was the first natural landscape garden based on the English model and thus the antithesis to the baroque, strictly symmetrical garden.

Oranienbaum, English-Chinese garden (1793/1797) by Johann Christian NeumarkState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

The palace, on the other hand, was the first classicist building on the European continent and stood for antiquity, which the French revolutionary architecture was based on. The reforms initiated by Prince Franz, which led to a selective relaxation of the absolutist regime, were praised by contemporaries and, from the point of view of GDR historians, formed the antithesis to “Prussian-German militarism”.

Wörlitz, castle (1769/1773) by Friedrich Wilhelm von ErdmannsdorffState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Wörlitz, temple of Venus (Second half of the 18th century) by Friedrich Wilhelm von ErdmannsdorffState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Due to the strong centralisation of the allocation of funds, the financial budget was always very tight, which was reflected in declines and losses. The Solitude on Sieglitzer Berg, the Schwedenhaus and the island of Stein in particular have suffered from the shortage economy.

Sieglitzer Berg, Solitude (1777/1784) by Friedrich Wilhelm von ErdmannsdorffState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

The political turning point and reunification of 1989/90 saved the Garden Kingdom. In the mid-1990s, extensive restoration work began on Schloss Wörlitz, which has continued to the present day; since 2017, all floors have been open to the public again. Construction work on the Gothic House and the Orangery Oranienbaum began at the same time as work on the palace. The Luisium, on the other hand, was completed in 1998. The island of Stein, which had been closed for many years, was reopened in 2005. The reconstruction of the Solitude succeeded with the persevering commitment of the Rotarians and was completed in 2012. All building and monument conservation measures are based on the state of the garden empire around 1800.

Wörlitz, Gothic house (entire gothic house: 1773-1813; Construction on the canal side: 1773/74) by Building on the canal side: Friedrich Wilhelm von ErdmannsdorffState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Wörlitz, Gothic house, second entrance room (Second half of the 18th century) by under Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-DessauState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Oranienbaum, Orangerie (1812/1818) by Carlo Ignazio PozziState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

But not only the building fabric was renewed, also the property expanded. In 1994 the Kulturstiftung Dessau-Wörlitz took over the Sieglitzer Berg; in 1997 the castle and garden of Großkühnau and Mosigkau. In 2000 the Gartenreich was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO, underscoring its uniqueness as a world heritage site.

Luisium, entrance room (1774/1778) by Friedrich Wilhelm von ErdmannsdorffState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Luisium, library, detail (1774/1778) by Friedrich Wilhelm von ErdmannsdorffState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

In order to preserve the unique cultural landscape for the future, the Foundation is financially supported by the Federal Government, the state governments and the EU. Furthermore, the “Gesellschaft der Freunde des Dessau-Wörlitzer Gartenreiches” (Society of Friends of the Dessau-Wörlitz Gartenreich), founded in 1994, provides financial and non-material support.

Wörlitz, Floratempel inside (1796/1798) by Johann FischerState Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the history of the Gartenreich has been consistently and scientifically researched. By 2018, 42 catalogues and writings had been published, as well as four inventory catalogues.

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