The industrial southern fringes of Cologne seem an unlikely setting for an outburst of fantasy, frivolity and surrealism, yet all are on display in copious quantities in the otherwise unassuming commuter-belt town of BRÜHL, home to one of Germany’s most magnificent palaces and one of Europe’s best theme-parks, as well as a museum devoted to the Dadaist artist, Max Ernst.
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It was in 1725 that the elector and archbishop of Cologne, Clemens August, first commissioned a new palace on the ruins of a medieval moated palace, but the results – by Westphalian builder Johann Conrad Schlaun – were judged insufficiently fabulous for a member of the Wittelsbach dynasty, and so the Bavarian court architect François de Cuvilliés was commissioned to vamp things up. The result is Schloss Augustusburg, a Rococo Xanadu of extraordinary panache that is one of Germany’s most magnificent palaces and, since 1984, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The moment you see the breathtakingly lavish, ceremonial Treppenhaus (staircase) by Balthasar Neumann with its frothy rocailles and vivid stucco marble effects, you’ll understand why this was Clemens August’s favourite residence, for as you ascend the staircase the sheer exuberance of the design becomes apparent, even as you try to decide precisely how far over the top it all is. Napoleon, who visited in 1804, is said to have remarked that it was a pity the Schloss wasn’t on wheels so he could take it with him. The dizzying reception rooms at the top of the staircase continue in a similar vein.
The gardens and Jagdschloss Falkenlust
The gardens, with their parterres and fountains, offer an outdoor equivalent to the indoor excess. An avenue leads across the park to the little lodge of Jagdschloss Falkenlust (same hours as Schloss) which, though smaller in scale, is similar in spirit, and for which you don’t have to join a tour. Clemens August used it for entertaining and for trysts with his mistresses.