Schwetzingen Palace, November 2008. In late 2008 I undertook my second visit to Germany. I’d recently gotten married and my wife was a Dutch girl whose mother’s side of the family hailed from Deutschland. Living in Brussels, the two of us made the four-hour drive to Wiesental, a small village in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg. Hanging out with Grandma turned out to be much more fun than expected, what with her sublime home-cooked apple strudel and engaging Second World War stories. There was also the ludicrous TV program we all watched that night, where unreasonably blond, blue-eyed men sang accordion-driven songs about their love for the German countryside whilst dancing around trees and stroking deer. But as entertaining as it all was, the weekend’s highlight was our visit to nearby Schwetzingen Palace, an eighteenth century royal residence set amid a complex of beautifully landscaped gardens.
Schwetzingen Palace, November 2008. It was a Sunday afternoon when we arrived and in the two hours or so that we spent wandering around the grounds I remember seeing no more than half a dozen people. Working our way around the lake, it was literally just ourselves and the ducks as we approached the palace mosque.
Schwetzingen Palace, November 2008. The mosque was built in the late seventeen hundreds for the Prince Elector of the Palatinate. Not that it was ever intended for prayer! Rather, it was simply a case of Turkish architecture being fashionable at the time. Prince Carl Theodor also thought its construction would paint him as a cosmopolitan and tolerant ruler.
Schwetzingen Palace, November 2008. The mosque is probably more impressive on the inside, with its grand dome ceiling, oriental colors and shapely stone alcoves and columns. There are also inscriptions in both Arabic and German, although Muslim visitors have complained that the Arabic texts contain all kinds of language errors.
Schwetzingen Palace, November 2008. There is much to see throughout the gardens, including a theatre, a bathhouse, a ruined Roman aqueduct, an aviary and this Temple Of Apollo, accessed via a moss-infested stone staircase. Between the sites, there are are crumbling statues, dramatic sculptures and grand fountains. Even in winter mode the place was utterly beguiling and I could only imagine how lush it would be in the summer. But then the warmer months bring tourists, selfie sticks, screeching kids and ice cream wrappers. As such, I’ll always be grateful that we got the place all to ourselves.