Autumn at Bavaria’s Nymphenburg Palace: A Step Back in Time

A Munich resident discovers Bavaria's royal past still echoing through the grand halls of this palace just outside the city.

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Locals enjoying the warm fall weather at the Englisher Garten in Munich, Germany. Photo by Sigi Mueller
Locals enjoying the warm fall weather at the Englisher Garten in Munich, Germany. Photo by München Tourismus/Sigi Mueller

It was almost indiscernible, but the Englischer Garten gave it away. Munich was changing.

Midday still turned tourists and locals alike into sticky-skinned creatures trying to avoid embarrassing sweaty contact on the subway, but on occasion the temperature in the late evenings had dipped such that a shawl or, heaven forbid, a cardigan was called for.

Nonetheless, during the dog days of summer, it was impossible to believe that seasons could turn as they have been doing for the past few millennia. The fallacy revealed itself, however, during a Sunday afternoon jog through the woods of Munich’s largest public park, the Englischer Garten.

Leaves were falling.

Changing leaves at the Englischer Garten in Munich, Germany. Photo by Joerg Lutz
Changing leaves at the Englischer Garten in Munich, Germany. Photo by München Tourismus/F Mueller

Autumn in Munich

At first, I did a double take, worried that some blight had affected the stretch of horse chestnuts, which were strewing their leaves in front of my 11-minute mile. Instead of the disfiguration of the Shakespearean-sounding blotch and bleeding canker, the brown markings seemed to be the normal stigmata of decidual drop. Autumn was coming to Germany.

I panicked. There was still so much to do!

Season-induced FOMO (fear of missing out) pushed up my heart rate and I raced back home faster than my personal best to plan my last week of holiday in Munich. Museums could wait until the rainy weekends of the winter months. I needed to make full use of the sunshine and outdoors of Munich.

Nymphenburg Palace is just 25 minutes by tram from downtown Munich. Photo by J_Lutz
Nymphenburg Palace is just 25 minutes by tram from downtown Munich. Photo by München Tourismus/J_Lutz

One name intersected the Venn diagram beautifully – Schloss Nymphenburg, known in English as Nymphenburg Palace. Where better to spend the last warm days of the season than the summer residence of Bavaria’s historic Wittelsbach line?

With its own tram stop a mere 25 minutes from the city centre, I found myself at the palace quickly. There was a mere five kilometers between the country estate, Schloss Nymphenburg, and the main royal residence in Munich (whose name incidentally adheres to the stereotype of German efficiency by being called the Residenz).

The gardens at Schloss Nymphenburg (Nymphenburg Palace). Photo by Werner Boehm
The gardens at Schloss Nymphenburg (Nymphenburg Palace). Photo by München Tourismus/Werner Boehm

Schloss Nymphenburg

For all its physical proximity, approaching Schloss Nymphenburg from the tree-lined canal, one could  mistakenly think the tram had travelled much further to a different country perhaps, or even a different era altogether.

Such pomp and grandeur is rarely seen these days. For one thing, cities do not have the space to construct wide edifices. For the most part, we build up, not along. With the palace seeming to stretch across the horizon, I struggled to sweep the entirety of the facade into the obligatory panorama shot.

Nymphenburg Palace in Munich
Nymphenburg Palace in Munich. Photo by Himmi Kari

Instead, I chopped the length of French Baroque architecture into a series of disjointed snaps, thereby losing the full impact of its grandeur and symmetry in the name of amateur photography. Even on the small digital viewfinder of my camera, the sumptuous design shone through.

The immaculate white buildings gleamed off the display, the contrast heightened by the rosy triangular rooves of the pavilions. Nymphenburg was more idealized than my childhood imaginings of the perfect dollhouse. However, this was no dollhouse, this was someone’s 490-acre palace.

Or had been.

As I began the tour of the main building, my initial awe at the frescoes and furnishings wore off to something I did not expect to feel amongst such opulence. I felt pity.

Nymphenburg was impressive, but it was also empty. For all its grand history, the great rooms were uninhabited, devoid of its former royal occupants and their associated events. Even on a sunny afternoon, the inner chambers had only a few lethargic tourists circulating, attention split between the last possessions of a royal dynasty and the prospect of ice cream after the tour.

The ornate interiort at Schloss Nymphenburg in Muniich. Photo by Vittorio Sciosia
The ornate interiort at Schloss Nymphenburg in Muniich. Photo by München Tourismus/Vittorio Sciosia

Bavarian Royal Past

Navigating my way around the floor plan, I hastily took in the features of the former royal apartments. Here was a room in which the Queen Consort of Bavaria once received guests and there was the room that the Swan King, Ludwig II, was born in. Bereft of the full furnishings of those times, the momentous events seemed abstract concepts to me. I contented myself by looking at the pretty wallpaper instead.

Finishing my tour of the main building, I decided to fulfil my cultural duty and postpone my stroll through the manicured gardens until after a walk through the Marstallmuseum, a side wing of the palace filled with royal equipage.

I saw it more as an obligation rather than a pleasure, seeing as I had little interest in carriages, but as soon as I stepped into the dim passages of the museum, I was forced to change my view. Here, objects from fairytales were manifested. Stretching down the entire length of the converted stables were giant baubles of splendour and gold. There was so much gold.

The Swan King, Ludwig II, was born in Nymphenburg Palace. Photo by Vittorio Sciosia
The Swan King, Ludwig II, was born in Nymphenburg Palace. Photo by München Tourismus/Vittorio Sciosia

I had never seen a royal carriage before, shunning the crowds of U.K. royal pageants in favour of viewing the spectacle with a cup of tea in front of the telly. Even if I had gone to Harry and Meghan’s procession through Windsor earlier this year, I doubt their carriage could match the outrageous gilt of the Wittelsbach’s. It was glittering, insane indulgence of a like not seen since the days of absolute European monarchism.

And those days were over.

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