The Bright Side of Eastern Germany: Dessau Garden Kingdom

Blooming Green among the Once-gray Gloom
Dessau at a Glance
Name: Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Worlitz
Location: Dessau, Germany
Date of Inscription: 2000
Why You Should Go: The gardens offer a visual lesson on the Age of Enlightenment, plus provide inspiration for green-thumbs, landscape designers, and day-dreamers alike.
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Conjure an image of East Germany and you can't help but think of squat concrete blocks—shades of gray and not a spot of green. The Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Worlitz, however, will change your mind. With its ribbon of trails along the Elbe and Mulde rivers, Bavarian forests, oak meadows, and bursts of flowers, the gardens provide a bright antidote to the outlying cityscape.

The credit of Dessau's garden kingdom goes to Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz von Anhalt Dessau, more an enlightened thinker than a gardener. In the 18th century, the prince was inspired by the progressive theories on nature and humanism, and by industrial and agricultural developments in England. He then converted his cerebral musings into a gorgeous garden.
Using the principle of "usefulness and beauty" as his guide, he planted fruit trees for shade and produce, erected a flood watchtower inspired by the Pantheon, and laid down pleasant paths that link tiny villages, creating an enjoyable commute home. He also threw into the mix bridges, sculptures, temples, orchards, and stone benches—an ideal spot to rest one's feet and contemplate life. Just ask Goethe, who found inspiration amid Franz's Arcadia.

Practically Speaking:
The Garden Realm is in the town of Dessau, about 120 kilometers southwest of Berlin, and extends from Großkühnau in the west, Rehsen in the east, the Elbe in the north, Mosigkau in the southwest and Oranienbaum in the southeast. The gardens encompass a vast network of villages, waterways, parks, and historic homes, including the Gothic House, which holds the prince's royal collection; Oranienbaum, which has the only Chinese garden in Germany; the Schloss Misigkau, which is filled with Dutch and Flemish paintings; and a pair of palaces set in English gardens. The 25 kilometer area, however, has changed drastically since the prince's day. Industry has moved in, including a power station and coal pit, and the Berlin-Munich Autobahn cuts through the region. Yet restoration projects are helping to preserve the aesthetic nature of this unique preserve.

Published: 21 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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