Meet my second favourite place in my hometown of Hannover in Germany – the Herrenhausen Gardens.
I remember visiting these gardens throughout my childhood with my family. As kids we would try to get to the middle of the gardens, marked by the large fountain, as quickly as we could; we would try to outrun each other, invariably tripping over our own feet, scrambling back up and trying to catch up with the others.
This place is special to me in so many different ways; not only do I love the Big Garden with all its different water features and ornate gardens, but I love the Berggarden with its different hot houses, planted gardens and lovely old trees. I could spend a lifetime wandering around these gardens, admiring the plants, the trees, and watch the animals that make this their home.
In the days of my childhood these gardens were free to enter, but as nearly everywhere these days, you now have to pay an entry fee. The best value is an All-in-One ticket, which will get you into the Big Garden, the palace museum and the Berggarden over the road – and all that for the princely sum of 8 Euros. Get your ticket at the little souvenir shop and he on over to the entrance of the gardens.
The Big Garden was originally laid out in 1666 as a fruit garden and only in 1680, when Electorate Ernst August came to the throne of Hannover did it take the present shape under the guidance of his wife Electress Sophie. Sophie grew up in Holland and this is where she acquired her love for kitchen and ornamental gardens, which she implemented here in Herrenhausen. She also visited Versailles where she discovered the Baroque form of gardening, and where Louis XIV tried to impress her with the water fountains. Despite later saying that the numerous water features of Versailles had not impressed her, I cannot help but feel that the water features of Herrenhausen were perhaps inspired by her visit to Versailles.
The Big Garden became the place for extravagant festivities of court society; gondola rides on the Graft (canal), Venetian nights and Masked Balls, to name but a few. Herrenhausen became the stage of European high politics and a meeting place for artists, poets, writers and scientists. It was in the great ball room where Sophie danced with Tsar Peter the Great, the composer Handel composed and played here, and the polymath Leibniz pondered on philosophy and science whilst walking the gardens.
The Herrenhausen Palace was the summer residence of the House of Hannover, who ruled Great Britain from 1714 for 123 years. It is a fairly understated building, not at all what you would imagine a royal palace to look like. During World War II it was totally destroyed and later rebuild in accordance with the original plans. These days only a couple of wings are open to the public, in which the palace museum is now housed. During our visit there was a special exhibition on the 300-year anniversary of the House of Hannover ascending to the British Throne, which, as you can tell from the fact that we had visited another exhibit for the same occasion at Marienburg Castle during our Hannover visit, is a rather popular occasion celebrated this year. The remainder of the palace is closed to the general public and is a convention center, and access is only allowed if you are part of a special event taking place at the center. In my mind, it’s a shame that the palace is not accessible to the general public and that it has not been restored and used as a museum to tell the story of the House of Hannover. A convention center just doesn’t sit that well with me I must admit.
At the center of the garden stands the big fountain, which was built in the 17th century. In 1720 the fountain’s jet reached a height of 35m, and in 1856, with the help of a water wheel driven pump, this was increased to 67m. Today, with a motor driven pump and still wind conditions the fountain can reach a height of 72m. The closer you get the wetter you get if the wind is blowing and on a hot summers day this is a favourite place to cool down and for the kids to splash their hands in the water.
The Big Garden is also home to an open air theater stage, a hedge theatre and in the summer various different plays, concerts and festivals are put on here.
What about the Berggarden? Well, I shall save that for another post in order to do it justice.
So, if you happen to find yourself in Hannover during your travels, be sure to put Herrenhausen Gardens on your must-see list whilst you are there