ROUTE 5

From Kassel to Bad Muskau

Our fifth route through the Wonders of World Heritage focuses on the unique gardens and parks created by landscape artists and architects. In addition to the gardens on this picturesque route from central to eastern Germany, we'll be taking a look at the Classical Weimar of Goethe and Schiller and the modern Weimar of the Bauhaus architects.

Our tour begins in Kassel at Bergpark Wilhemshöhe. The local aristocratic rulers of Kassel spent the entire 18th century creating one of Europe's biggest man-made mountain parks. They constructed the now-famous water features and an English landscape garden with a neo-classical palace. At the highest point of the park, the Hercules monument towers over the entire venue. Built to reflect classical ideals of antiquity, it is the landmark for the city of Kassel today.

Antiquity also influenced two men in Weimar, our second stop. The town of Thuringia was made famous by its association with the fathers of modern German literature: Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who created some of the greatest classics of world literature here in Weimar around the turn of the 19th century. Goethe's "Faust" and Schiller's "Maria Stuart" were just two of the works penned here. Both writers idealized Greco-Roman antiquity, which they saw as the ultimate paradigm - the great unity of truth, goodness and beauty. Their works were crafted to edify people by these values.

The places where Goethe and Schiller created these works were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, under the name Classical Weimar. The Duchess Anna Amalia Library, the City Palace and the Park on the Ilm all belong to this site. In the park, you can stroll along winding paths, among venerable trees and expansive green lawns, until you reach the Roman House. This is just opposite Goethe's Garden House, where the author lived - out of wedlock - with Christiane Vulpius for many years.

The Bauhaus sites, which were listed as part of Weimar's World Heritage Site in 1996, are located not far from the park. Architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus school of architecture and design in 1919. The main university building, the art school, and the Haus am Horn are all impressive examples of the style of architecture known the world over as Bauhaus.

Two hours from Weimar are the Gardens of Dessau-Wörlitz. This early Neoclassical work of landscape art has been a World Heritage Site since 2000. The seven parks with their six palaces are beautiful to ramble through, or you can take a boot ride on Lake Wörlitz. Garden architect Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff designed the Gardens for Duke Leopold III of Anhalt-Dessau. There is always something to discover - whether it's a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Venus, or a lesson in the history of bridge building: the park features every type of bridge from the basic tree trunk crossing to the cast iron structure. Another highlight is Wörlitz Palace, built in 1769, regarded as the earliest example of Neoclassical architecture in Europe. Guided by Enlightenment principles, the duke wanted to elevate the spirit and taste of his people. Today you can even spend the night in some of these historic park buildings. Goethe himself said of the Garden of Dessau-Wörlitz, "Now it's infinitely beautiful here."

Equally beautiful and famous the world over are the palaces and parks of Potsdam and Berlin. Potsdam boasts the jewel of these – the Sanssouci Palace and Park. Sanssouci means "without cares," and was born of King Frederick II's desire for a private country retreat. Frederick the Great had the palace built as a summer residence in 1745, making Sanssouci the oldest of the palaces and parks of Potsdam and Berlin, which were declared part of the World Heritage Site in 1990, 1992 and 1999 - accumulating a surface area of 500 hectares. The New Palace (Neues Palais), the Babelsberg Palace and Park, the Church of the Redeemer in the village of Sacrow, the Glienicke Palace, and the Pfaueninsel ("Peacock Island"), are all part of this World Heritage Site. Many landscape architects left their marks here over the years, but the most famous of them was Peter Josef Lenné, who administered the royal gardens of Prussia for nearly half a century from 1818 onwards!

A good two hours' drive south-east of Potsdam is Bad Muskau, where Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau created the Muskauer Parkin 1815, the largest "English garden" style landscaped park in central Europe. Prince Pückler based his design on the Neoclassical ideal of a garden as a personal paradise, interpreting this as a park that simulates a natural landscape. While cycling, walking or rowing through the park, you'll find native trees, scattered flowers, and long vistas that make you forget you're in a landscaped garden. Muskauer Park has been a World Heritage Site since 2004. As only a third of it is on German territory, the other two-thirds being in Poland, it is one of the few cross-border World Heritage Sites.