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A Walk Down the Garden Path in Weimar’s Park an der Ilm

Park an der Ilm, Weimar, Germany’s landscape park is an idyllic legacy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as an invaluable part of the city’s cultural heritage.

Largely unchanged for almost two hundred years, the garden remains a relaxing place to take a stroll and take in the picturesque scenes. Designed under the influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as a retreat for Duke Carl August II, the site is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Classical Weimar. A walk through the park is a walk through Weimar’s history.

Baroque remnants

Nature! The spectacle of nature is always new, for she is always renewing her spectators.

— Goethe

Baroque Roots

Just a few steps from the Stadtschloss, or the city castle, is the Park an der Ilm. Once the site of an older baroque castle garden, Duke Carl August II transformed it into a landscape park in the late eighteenth century. Today, the northeast corner of the park retains some remnants of baroque garden design such as straight, wide paths lined with equally spaced trees. Nature in Baroque gardens was supposed to bend to the will of an all-powerful sovereign. However, this rigidity fell out of fashion by the mid-eighteenth century.  Soft lines, idealized natural scenes, and architectural follies replaced the baroque style. The old baroque paths invite visitors in to explore the rest of the landscape park.

Winding paths and swathes of trees

No one feels himself easy in a garden which does not look like the open country.

—  Goethe

Model Wilderness

Landscape gardens throughout Europe have long been tranquil spaces. Park an der Ilm is no exception. As in the eighteenth century, the park continues to impress visitors. The park’s tidy swathes of trees frame meadows and the placid River Ilm. Moreover, fanciful ruins, designed to surprise and delight viewers anchor the backdrops of picturesque scenes. Park an der Ilm’s relationship to nature is a complicated one. Ideal nature is the park’s aesthetic goal, but untamed nature spoils the views. Periods of neglect in the twentieth century left the trees and bushes a little too shabby, but beginning in the 1970s the park underwent extensive restoration work. In 1998, the park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The battle against nature is a constant chore for the park’s gardeners. Keeping the idyllic scenery authentic takes an enormous amount of work. Gardeners plan for generations, not seasons — after all, two-hundred thirty years is nothing in a tree’s lifetime. When quaint views are obscured by encroaching branches, someone has to trim them back to a specific shape and document the change. In keeping with original methods, park officials employ a flock of grazing sheep to and tame the forest margins. Keeping an ideal view is a huge undertaking.

Sham Ruin, Shakespeare Monument

Sham Ruins

Influenced by the groomed grounds of English Country estates, such as Bleinham Palace and Stourhead, the rage for landscape parks swept across Europe in the middle of the eighteenth century.  One common feature of landscape parks from the period is a fascination with artificial ruins. Idealized plantings of trees and sham ruins drew the gaze of onlookers. Park an der Ilm’s  features invite people into a three dimensional “painting.” Since its inception, the park has been open to the public. For the eighteenth century, this public access was a radical and free-thinking innovation.

Neo-Gothic facade of the Tempelherrenhaus

Gothic Scenery

As the trail rises from the open countryside of the meadows on the Ilm, the trees on the embankment change to dark groves of old conifers. The dark forest sets the gloomy mood. An imposing ruin serves as a gateway to a Gothic scene. Like the park’s trees and plants, the architectural features also pose unique preservation challenges. Folly ruins are not complete buildings and do not benefit from the stability of a structure. In order to preserve the original design of the garden, they often rely on buttresses as well as metal reinforcement. In order to achieve a ruin aesthetic, structurally necessary elements are often missing for example, arches often lack capstones. This accomplishes the look but requires constant maintenance to protect.

Near the artificial ruin is the authentic ruin of the Tempelherrenhaus. Never intended to be a ruin, the hollow facade of the building blends seamlessly with the style of the nearby artificial ruin. Once the site of a nineteenth century neo-gothic reception hall, WWII bombing raids destroyed the building. Originally an orangery, the building was redesigned for concerts and receptions. The Tempelherrenhaus’ tower was one of the last buildings added to the park before Carl August II’s death in 1828. Now seemingly always part of the garden design, its proximity to the artificial ruins only adds to the scene’s original intent.

Rear view of Tempelherrenhaus

Enjoy the Walk

Vital to understanding the cultural heritage of Weimar is a short walk through Park an der Ilm. Take in the idyllic scenes and experience the history of one of the best-preserved eighteenth century landscape gardens in Europe.

2 Comments

  1. Good job! That is a very interesting article!

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