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Friday, May 22, 2015

Weekend Scenes from Schloss Wolfsgarten, Frankfurt

It has become a bit of a tradition in my family to go on a little outing to the beautiful Schloss Wolfsgarten during the springtime. Schloss Wolfsgarten is a castle just south of Frankfurt and a former hunting lodge of the royal family of the state of Hesse and boasts one of the most stunning castle gardens I have ever laid eyes on. I have visited this place countless times before and even blogged about it once in the early days of my blog, but I always find myself wanting to come back again and again – it really is that special of a place.

Today, Schloss Wolfsgarten is owned by a foundation dedicated to the preservation of the cultural heritage of the former noble House of Hesse and the gardens are only open to the public three times a year: During the weekends of Ascension Day and Pentecost and during a garden exhibition in the fall. As a consequence, my visits tend to not be all that spontaneous, but are rather events that I find myself looking forward to weeks in advance. And this was especially the case this time around as my love for photography had really increased in the two years since my last visit and I was very excited to try to capture the beauty of Wolfsgarten with my newly acquired skills.

Wolfsgarten lies right next to a fairly busy countryside highway, but since it is hidden behind a small patch of forest and with barely a sign at its inconspicious front gate, you would scarcely come to suspect the existence of such a place of tranquility behind the trees. On the weekends when the castle grounds are open, though, the road is lined with so many parking cars that it is practically impossible to miss that there's a special event happening. Upon entering the park, you first walk along a stately alley lined with imposing broadleaf trees that form an almost regal natural entranceway until – suddenly – the castle starts to appear between the greenery.

The castle itself was constructed in the 18th century, but the gardens in their current form were only designed in the beginning of the 20th century and reminded me so much of an English countryside park that I almost felt like I was transported back to one of my favorite countries in Europe. Wolfsgarten is almost more reminscent of a large country estate than a pompous palace, but this lack of grandesse is no blemish, but rather a blessing as the place exudes a pleasant feeling of reservation rather than decadence.

When we left the forest behind us and entered the large meadow on which the castle is situated, I almost expected to catch a glimpse of Elizabeth Bennet walking through the grass – many years of reading Jane Austen and Bronte Sisters novels may have caused my mind to run a bit too wild!

While these sweeping, romantic landscape views were one of my favorite parts of Wolfsgarten, the reason the grounds are opened to the public is actually the bloom of the giant Rhododendrons hedges that grow in one corner of the park. A highlight for anyone passionate about gardening, these aggregation of plants is definitely one of a kind.

With blossoms as big as my head gleaming in different shades of white and purple and the busy buzzing of the bees in your ears, walking through the Rhododendrons plans in an almost surreal experience: And where one moment ago you were amidst a classic English countryside park, you are suddenly transported to a magical wonderland where you would not be surprised if the Cheshire Cat were to make an appearance.

As a child, the Rhododendrons fascinated me immensely and since they never failed to capture my imagination, I couldn't help, but let them take me to a fantastic world full of adventures in my head. As I got older and discovered Vogue and Haute Couture, fairytales were (occasionally) replaced by visions of high fashion shoots, but I still haven't quite conquered the urge to leave the designated paths to get lost in the dense rows of hedges.

Our way through the Rhododendrons eventually lead us to a large pond, the area around which was inspired by East Asian gardening influences. The incorporation of such elements was done relatively understated in Wolfsgarten, but made especially obvious with the Japanese Maple Trees whose artfully bended trunks reminded me of overgrown Bonsai Trees and whose leaves were so incredibly red that they almost looked unreal.

I know that I'm just straight up raving in this post - I promise I will be a little bit more discerning in my next posts - but there are simply so many different facets to Wolfsgarten that are all special and interesting in their own right and the pond was no exception: Despite the fact that this tends to be one of the most crowded places in the park, the scenery is quaint in every sense of the word.

The water of the lake was covered with water lilys and I have vivid memories of springs were there were so many frogs that the air was filled with the sound of their relentless croaking. This time, you were hardpressed to spot one of these animals, but this didn’t take away from the spirit of the place as the colors just as saturated as ever and the view still as quaint as I remembered from previous years.

We started to head back to the castle, but stopped at the adorable little playhouse of young Princess Elizabeth who passed away in 1903 when she was just eight years old. Concepted as a real-life doll house, it’s a remnant of a time long gone like no other and one of the most popular sights in Wolfsgarten. There’s even a tiny cemetery in the backyard of the house where the pugs of the royal family of Hesse continue to be buried.

You can't visit the interior of the castle, but since the allure of Wolfsgarten mostly stems from its garden in comparison with which the buildings pale a little bit, I have never missed this option before. The buildings do have a lovely rustic charm, though, and since I am slowly, but surely discovering what a country girl at heart I am, it was no surprise that I felt myself very drawn to the pretty green window shutters and the walls that were overgrown with greenery.

The relaxed feeling of Wolfsgarten in comparison with other palaces of the same epoch can probably be explained by the fact that it was a hunting lodge back in the day and not the home of the court and therefore rather a place of leisure. It's this air of reservation, though, that makes me appreciate this place so much as it's such a breath of fresh air compared to many other castles you can visit.

Before we left again, we had a quick lunch from the grill - organized by the local voluntary fire brigade and the proceeds of which are donated - and tried some of the produce of the wine-growing estate Prinz von Hessen. I barely know anything about wine - a gap in my foodie education that I'm eager to fill - but I do know enough to say that this is exactly the type of wine I would want to serve my food with. The Riesling Classic in particular was excellent: Refreshingly crisp and dry, but with a hint of sweetness, rather than being overbearing sour.

I know I have been guilty of majorly over-using cliché expressions in this post, but I can't help myself: I really can't think of better words to use to describe Wolfsgarten than magical, unreal and fantastic. Maybe it's the childhood memories that still surge up in my mind when I come to visit now. Maybe it's my never-ending obsession with Jane Austen and the English countryside. But whatever it is that captures my imagination: It is an intimate sort of feeling and any place that manages to conjure up such emotions must be special indeed.


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