The Green Baron, Bavaria and Bhutan

A land of fairy-tale castles and wooded hillsides, Bavaria sits in the south-east corner of Germany, bordering the Czech Republic and Austria. It is famed for its traditional lederhosen (leather shorts), Weißwurst (white sausage) and the Romantic Road, a route stretching from Wurzburg in the north to Füssen in the south, taking in enough turrets, towers and narrow medieval streets along the way to last a lifetime. Stray just a few kilometres east, however, and you can discover a completely different dimension to Bavaria, with the peaceful elegance of Schloss Dennenlohe and its garden and landscape park.

23163

The baroque mansion house at Dennenlohe was built in 1734, and sits in an extensive twenty-six hectares of landscaped garden. It was bought, along with the rest of the 400 hectare estate, by the current owner’s ancestor, Johann Gottlieb Freiherr von Süsskind in 1825  – he actually bought seven Schlosses, one for each of his seven children (he was a banker, enough said). Since that time some form of private garden has always existed at Dennenlohe, its character evolving from formal French parterre into more relaxed English-style country garden. But it wasn’t until 1978 that the current vision – part botanical garden, part landscape park and part family space – started to take shape.

Schloss Dennenlohe (Dennenlohe House, Dennenlohe Castle).

Robert Freiherr von Süsskind, or the Green Baron, as he is known locally, took over the running of Schloss Dennenlohe after his father died. With the estate already in capable hands and a healthy distaste for office life, he and his wife Sabine looked to the garden. ‘I had to find something to start here as a profession,’ he explains. ‘Working in an office for the next forty years, that is not my world! So I said, “Ok, we’ll start this garden”.’

A sizeable lake had already been excavated by his father, with the spoil from the dig forming banks around the edge and a series of small islands. These Robert has connected with bridges, each one with its own character, from geometric Chinese to flowing Art Nouveau modelled on the bridge in Monet’s garden at Giverny.

The water garden was one of the first areas Robert and Sabine developed, and initially the ground was full of nettle and reeds. ‘It was horrible work to cut the reed, and then pull them out by hand,’ remembers Robert. ‘But we never use pesticides: you never know how they will affect the garden long-term. Globally we are losing so many plants and birds, and we don’t know why, so it must be something we are doing wrong.’

To combat the ever-encroaching reeds, Robert decided to plant densely with rhododendrons, which did surprisingly well in the predominantly clay-based soil, provided they were given some peat to add acidity. ‘It took me more than two months to prepare the planting holes,’ he explains. ‘The lake froze over during the winter and I was able to take the wheelbarrow over the ice to add the peat into the holes before planting in the spring.’

23180

Today bold splashes of colour from these are complemented by the more peaceful greens of surrounding trees, expanses of clear water, and narrow pathways which snake and curl between the islands via bridges and boardwalks. This is a deliberate design construct: ‘We never make a straight path,’ says Robert. ‘Bad things go straight, good things are curving.’

As the garden has evolved and expanded, more diverse garden environments and styles have been introduced, including American prairie meadow, bamboo island, English rose garden, grassy amphitheatre, and even Germany’s largest artificial swamp. ‘It is a joint project with a botanic garden in Erlangen, near Nuremberg,’ explains Sabine. ‘It provides two hectares of extra space and habitat for bog plants which are on the endangered list.’

23203

Alongside this very serious aim, Dennenlohe also projects a playfulness seldom seen in large gardens. Giant giraffe-like chair sculptures prance, classical Ionic columns reach skywards, and stone cairns stand precariously on summits of man-made mounds of earth and stone. This sense of innocent enjoyment may have its roots in Robert’s own childhood: ‘One of my first memories is passing through beds of feathery asparagus ferns in my grandmother’s garden and feeling them on my skin,’ he recalls. ‘It was like a magic tunnel for a small boy!’

The crowning glory of the landscape park is a scaled-down, but authentic, Bhutan Temple, its materials all imported from Bhutan itself. Bhutan is the only country to recognise Gross National Happiness, in the form of a governmental index which is used to measure the collective well-being of its population.

23204

This underlines the philosophy here at Dennenlohe: not only to give nature a helping hand with the preservation of species, and to make a beautiful garden, but also to provide the opportunity for people to come and enjoy it. Sabine has been pleased and surprised by the garden’s popularity, and in particular by its broad appeal. ‘Last year we had a lot of families,’ she says, ‘and the children really liked it. A ten-year-old boy told me, “I never saw such a nice garden, so beautiful! We could run over the stepping stones and the bridges, and through the grasses. It was one of the nicest, happiest days of my life.” ’

See my website www.anniegaphotography.co.uk for more images or contact me for licensing. All words and images ©Annie Green-Armytage. You are welcome to re-blog and link-share on social media with full accreditation; no other reproduction of any kind permitted without written permission.

 

Prague – the world’s prettiest city?

Pickled camembert and drowned-person-sausage. It may not sound like a promising start to a week in Prague, but if you factor in the beer that went with it, sitting right on the waterside in what must be one of the world’s prettiest cities, then the picture gets a lot brighter.

22803
A female minstrel plays on Charles Bridge, as the sun rises. Prague Castle and Malá Strana in the background.

I was in Prague for a meditation seminar, with a group of around forty people from places as far-flung as Canada, Brazil, and New Zealand. This in itself was a fascinating prospect, but as it was my first time in the city, I was also determined to do my share of sightseeing. On the first evening we had some free time, so I ventured out on the public transport system to meet some Czech friends in the Old Town.

23136
Charles Bridge in the early morning light with towers and domes of Prague Old Town behind it.

The Old Town has been flourishing since the fourteenth century, and its architecture reflects this. I found it impossible to move around Prague without my mouth periodically dropping open in awe. From the intricacies of the Astronomical Clock with its hourly parade of apostles, to the monumental Baroque-Rococo buildings with their lavish decoration and gilded name signs, Prague is a feast of photogenic architecture, dominated by the iconic St Vitus’ Cathedral and Prague Castle ever-present on the skyline.

Having failed pitifully at navigating the public transport system, I finally arrived at the Charles Bridge (built in 1357 by Bohemia’s most celebrated monarch, Charles IV) and my friends Michaela and Jerry, waiting patiently, took me across the river into the Kampa district. There we found the John Lennon Wall, a gloriously anarchic tag-fest, which has developed since the1980s as a symbol of peace and protest – it became a rallying point for dissent under the Communist regime. A living thing, it is constantly changing as new graffiti overwrites the old.

AnnieGreenArmytage3_StreetLife

During the rest of the week, I enjoyed odd moments exploring the centre of the city, particularly in Malá Strana (Lesser Town), situated below the Castle and venue for many of our seminars. Quieter than the more popular areas, it nevertheless contains the lofty St Nikolas’ Church, as well as narrow cobbled streets, open squares and hidden gardens.

23140
Visitors in the Valdštejnsky Palace (Wallenstein Palace) gardens in Mala Strana.

A guided walking tour was also organised by our hosts, led by Zdeněk, a young Czech with flowing hair and a very large umbrella. An assistant minister for one of the local churches, he is also a professional tour guide, and apparently possessed of infinite patience as he shepherded a huge group of chattering, middle-aged individuals with very varied walking abilities around the steep cobbled streets. Herding cats would have been a lot more straightforward.

He regaled us with many historical stories: established by Prince Wenceslas (of Good King Wenceslas fame) in the early 10th century, Prague became the capital of Bohemia under Charles IV in the 14th century. It thrived, and continued as the capital until, according to Zdeněk, it lost out to arch-rival Vienna a couple of hundred years later. Further expansion was then prohibited, for fear it would become larger than the new capital. For this reason, so we were told, the existing city was preserved almost unchanged until relatively recently. (I became less confident in his historical accuracy when he also told us that Mozart and Casanova once partied together in a house in Malá Strana. This seemed unlikely given that Casanova was thirty-one when Mozart was born.)

Preservation makes the city sound like a museum, stuck in time, but nothing could be further from the truth. Its vibrant heart is its people: in cafes, on the streets, strolling with families in the gardens on Petrín Hill, or relaxing on the mid-river island of Střelecký.

23145
Couple kissing on the Radniční stairs, in the Castle district, flanked by St John and St Joseph. I’m sure they would have approved.

I found them genuinely friendly and welcoming, with an undercurrent of stoicism born of recent history. During a lecture by Professor Ivana Noble, of Prague’s Charles University, she spoke of a people who, until very recently (1989) were forced to adopt two personalities, one for public consumption and one reserved for trusted friends and family. It is difficult to comprehend how that must impact on the way people live and love, and carry on their daily lives. I felt privileged, in all senses of the word, to be among them.

The sausage, by the way, is utopenec, a Bohemian delicacy, and according to my Czech friend Jerry, it does translates literally as ‘drowned person sausage’. I want to believe it.

22767
Beer, bread and ‘drowned person sausage’ (utopenci, utopenec). A Czech delicacy, along with pickled camembert cheese.
See my website www.anniegaphotography.co.uk for more images or contact me for licensing. All words and images ©Annie Green-Armytage. You are welcome to re-blog and link-share on social media with full accreditation; no other reproduction of any kind permitted without written permission.