Sunday, April 9, 2017

Schweriner Schloss

When a bad Monday is followed by a worse Tuesday and on Wednesday you decide to be in a good mood because you would otherwise be totally mad with the world in general and yourself in particular, it is time for a spontaneous castle adventure. And so I visited the Schweriner Schloss just yesterday. Three hours on the train going there and another three hours back isn't too bad for this stunner of a palace, often nicknamed the "Neuschwanstein of the North". 
Today the seat of the state parliament of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the palace used to be the residence of the Dukes of Mecklenburg and Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Originally Slavic princes of the Obotrite tribes, the family was established by Pribislav of Mecklenburg, who converted to Christianity and was made Lord of Mecklenburg by Duke Heinrich the Lion, his father's enemy, in 1167. The family had owned a fortress standing in place of today's Schweriner Schloss since at least 973. Though he was made 'Lord' by Heinrich the Lion, Pribislav still lost the fortress, which was given as a fiefdom to Gunzelin von Hagen instead.
It returned to the descendants of Niklot, Pribislav's father whose statue adorns the main facade of today's Schloss, in 1358. Originally a fortress, damaged and rebuilt numerous times over the years, growing prosperity and the elevation to Dukes of Mecklenburg, made room for the need of a more representative castle. Thus, changes were made to the fortress during the late Gothic era to turn it into more of a residence. Located on an island on the main of the city's many lakes, the Schweriner See, the Schloss doesn't only lie in a strategic but also very scenic location giving a great view over the area.
During the 16th century, the building faced important changes and was turned into a proper residential palace. The defensive functionality of the fortress was replaced with ornamentation and concessions to comfort. The facade was adorned with terracotta panels, a regular feature of Renaissance-style architecture in this part of Germany. The changes were commissioned by Duke Johann Albrecht I, who also erected the palace's chapels of few years later. 
The chapel, which unfortunately isn't continuously open to visitors as it adjoins the parliament and is thus in its security zone, was the first Protestant church in the state of Mecklenburg. It was built by architect Christoph Haubitz and its architecture inspired by churches in Torgau and Dresden. The Venetian Renaissance gate, its gable showing the carrying of the cross, was made by Hans Walther, a sculptor from Dresden.
While its function as a fortress had been abandoned, the ducal residence needed additional defences in addition to its location on an island. And so some time in the middle of the 16th century bastions were established to the north-west, south-west and south-east. It is believed that they were built by the same Italian architects who, under Francesco a Bornau, also designed the Festung Dömitz, which I have visited but never properly covered on here so that's still on the never-ending list of places to share with you. The bastions were later modified several times and are still standing today.
While the Schweriner Schloss had undergone various changes to make it more residential over the previous centuries, the Dukes of Mecklenburg didn't seem to have been all that happy with it. Before the Thirty Years' War, architect Ghert Evert Piloot was commissioned to draw up plans to completely rebuild the palace in the style of the Dutch Renaissance. In 1617, work began under his supervision, but soon ceased because of the war. Piloot's plans were still partially realised between 1635 and 1643: the house above the palatial kitchen and that above the chapel were razed and given Dutch Renaissance style façades.
A good one hundred years later, in 1764 to be exact, the ducal court left Schwerin to move to Schloss Ludwigslust, another place on my list of palaces to see! In 1837, the ducal residence moved back to Schwerin. In the meantime, the Schloss had suffered during the years of abandonment and the building was thus in a relatively bad condition upon the return of the court to Schwerin. In addition, The reigning Grand Duke Paul Friedrich I disliked the individual buildings' varying times of origin and the thus differing architectural styles associated with it.
Paul Friedrich thus decided to erect a new residence for him and his successors. Court architect Georg Adolf Demmler was asked to draw up plans for a new palace opposite this old one at the Alter Garten. However, the Grand Duke unexpectedly died in 1842 and his son Friedrich Franz II, at the time only 19, decided to halt the works in favour of substantial renovations of the Schweriner Schloss.
Again, Demmler was asked to draw up plans. However, the reconstruction efforts weren't smooth sailing by any means. While the young Grand Duke intended a complete reconstruction of the historic site, the court architect was able to convince him to leave the outer appearance of the building built during the 16th and 17th century facing the lake. Still, as Demmler's plans couldn't satisfy the Grand Duke's visions, Friedrich Franz asked Dresden-architect Gottfried Semper - you know, the one from the Semper Opera - to draw up plans. While Semper's plans were praised, they were never carried out and instead Demmler came up with new plans taking inspiration from Semper and recent travels to the Loire region in France, specifically the Château de Chambord.
Demmler carried out the works until 1851, when he left the services of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg. Friedrich August Stüler took over his position and changed some of the plans. It was Stüler who added the equestrian statue of Niklot, ancestor of the House of Mecklenburg, to the facade facing the city as well as the prominent cupola featuring a golden roof. Architect Heinrich Strack was chosen to support Stüler for the interior design (with the Throne Room clearly being the star of the show), while most of the work was carried out by craftsmen from Schwerin and Berlin. The inauguration of the new Schweriner Schloss was celebrated in May 1857. Composer Friedrich von Flotow created the opera "Johann Albrecht" for the occasion, as one does when moving into a new house (not).
About one third of the Schloss was destroyed during the night from December 14 to 15, 1913, when a large fire broke out. To this day, it is not known what the cause of the fire was. When revolution swapped Germany in 1918 and the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, as well as all other monarchs, had to abdicate, only the exterior of the palace was already reconstructed. A year later, the Schloss came into the possession of the state and museums as well as office of various institutions opened starting in 1921. During the Nazi era, a kindergarten also called the Schloss its home and towards the end of World War II, it became a military hospital. 
After the war, the Soviet Military Administration in Germany took offices in the palace and starting in 1948, the plenary assembly room for the state parliament was built. In 1952, however, the German Democratic Republic (a.k.a. East Germany) dissolved all state parliaments and the building was subsequently multifariously used until German reunification in 1990. To save the palace from further deterioration, 25 companies from in and around Kiel, the capital of the neighbouring federal state of Schleswig-Holstein (in West Germany), donated half a million Deutsche Mark to carry out urgent renovation works. In fall of 1990, the state parliament once again took up its seat at the Schloss and further renovation works have basically been carried out ever since.

Good to know:
The Schweriner Schloss is on the shortlist to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is open to visitors Tuesday to Sundays between 10am to 6pm from April 15 to October 14 and closes an hour earlier during the rest of the year. There are special opening hours on public holidays. Admission per adult is 8.50 euros. For more information, have a look here.

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