Thursday 31 May 2012

The Reconstruction of the Hanoverian Royal Palace of Herrenhausen

Schloss Herrerenhausen / The Palace of Herrenhausen, Hannover,
from a coloured Photochrom print circa 1890-1900
[Source : Library of Congress]

Late autumn 2012 will mark an interesting event with an intriguing historical link to the British Royal Family, the completion of the rebuilding (externally at least) of the old Hanoverian Royal Summer Palace of Herrenhausen in Hannover [English spelling Hanover], Germany. But why a link to the British Royal family? Well first a simple history lesson....

King George I of England & Elector of
Brunswick-Lüneburg, Germany.
[Source : Wikipedia]

From 1714 until 1837 The Kingdon of Hannover was joined in a "personal union" with the Kingdom of Great Britain. The first Hanoverian Monarch of Great Britain, King George I, conveniently happened not only to be a Protestant descendant of King James I of Great Britain but also ruler of the then Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hannover). Despite the forced occupation of Hannover as part of "The Kingdom of Westphalia" during the Napoleonic period from 1803 to 1813, English Monarchs continued to rule the Kingdom of Hannover until 1837. From 1816 to 1837 HRH Prince Adolphus, The Duke of Cambridge, acted as Viceroy, representing the English Monarch in Hannover. The succession laws in Hannover forbid a female to inherit the title thus when Queen Victoria ascended the United Kingdom throne the closest male heir, King Ernest Augustus I, inherited the Hanoverian Throne.

The original Herrenhausen Schloss and ornamental gardens,
circa 18th century.
[Source : NDR]

A tinted lithograph of Herrenhausen Schloss, post 1821
[Source : Wikipedia

After the "personal union" with Britain ended in 1837, Hannover kept the British Royal Arms and Standards, only introducing a new Crown but based on the English model. Unfortunately the Kingdom of Hannover only existed until 1866 when the combined military forces of the German Confederation, of which it was a member, failed to defeat the opposing military forces of the Kingdom of Prussia who sought to dominate and rule a united Germany. Had the Confederation succeeded European history may have been very different. Thus, sadly, the Kingdom of Hannover ceased to exist, being annexed and initially ruled by Prussia as the Province of Hannover.

Herrenhausen Schloss (at left) viewed from the air, pre 1943
In the right foreground is the Galerie with the Orangerie at rear.
[Source : NDR

But back to the Palace [or Schloss] of Herrenhausen. The Schloss had originally been built in 1698 but later reconstructed to a classical design by Georg Ludwig Friedrich Laves between 1819 and 1821. Located just three kilometres from the centre of Hannover, Herrenhausen essentially served as a private and tranquil summer residence for the ruling Guelph family, the Leineschloss (the King's principal palace) being right in the centre of Hanover itself.

A map of the Herrenhausen district of Hannover, the location of the
Schloss facing the Grosser Garter is marked in red. The long tree
lined Herrenhauser Allee leading to the Palace can clearly be seen
running diagonally to right bottom, 1900.
[From my own collection]

The long Herrenhauser Allee [avenue], attractively lined with lime trees, served as a formal entrance to the palace and grounds which comprised 120 acres. The "Grosser Garten" (Great Garden) owes much of its aesthetics to Sophia, Electress of Hannover, who commissioned the French gardener Martin Charbonnier to design a formal garden for her. Charbonnier designed a large ornamental baroque style garden laid out in the French style. Within the gardens were later placed statues, both of Hanoverian rulers and copies of statues from antiquity, fountains (one rising to 222 feet), a large "Orangery" (hot house), an open ''Garden Theatre", a "berggarten" (a garden of mountain plants and shrubs), and also the Hanoverian family mausoleum.

Der Saal (Main Hall) in the old Schloss Herrenhausen, taken pre 1943
[Source : Hannoversche Allgemeine]

After the deposing and exile of the Hanoverian Rulers, the Palace of Herrenhausen and Gardens were opened to the public. In an annex to the Palace were the Historical Portraits Galley, the [Hanoverian] Family Museum, the Wagenburg (Carriage Museum), and a Geschirr-Kammer (China Display Room).

The Great Fountain in the Grosser Garten fronting
the old Herrenhausen Schloss, Taken pre 1943
[Source : NDR]

As with many German cities and towns, Hannover suffered badly from allied bombing during World War Two with 90% of the town centre being destroyed. Not only roads, railway junctions and factories were targeted but also residential areas. The British Royal Family had however specifically requested that the Royal Air Force spare Herrenhausen from any damage. But on the 26th July 1943 ninety two American B17 bombers dropped 25,000 incendiary bombs on Hannover, the historic old Palace unfortunately being destroyed in the conflagration. Once alight the Palace, being yellow painted plaster (to imitate stone) on a wooden frame, burnt easily. Only the outside stone staircase, the grotto, and the great cascade in the gardens remained. The adjoining Annex and Orangery were either only partially damaged or survived the bombing and remain intact today.

The burnt out Herrenhausen Schloss in Ruins -
the sad aftermath of the 1943 incendiary bombing.
[Source : Hannoversche Allgemeine]  

The formal Staircase to Herrenhausen Schloss -
the sad aftermath of the 1943 incendiary bombing.
Note the same staircase appearing in the aerial view above.
[Source : Hannoversche Allgemeine

Despite restoration of the extensive gardens by 1966, the grand centrepiece was now sadly missing, creating a "painful gap". At a time when historical reconstructions of buildings and indeed whole precincts are gathering momentum in Germany, the Palace of Herrenhausen is again to take its rightful place fronting the "Grosser Garten" thus restoring the original garden plan. In a mutually beneficial partnership between The Volkwagen Foundation (a non-profit scientific foundation) and the City of Hannover, rebuilding of the Palace is now taking place with completion expected by late 2012. But while the Palace will be rebuilt to its former splendour and true to the designs of the Architect Georg Laves, the original historical interiors will sadly not be reconstructed.

The "new" Schloss Herrenhausen under construction, Feb 2012
[Source : Hannoversche Allgemeine

The Volkswagen Foundation has agreed to completely fund the rebuilding of the Palace, contributing 20 million Euros for the reconstruction project in return for a 99 year lease. Additionally the Foundation will meet the greater part of the running costs by using the convention centre for its own congresses and events. The interior will also include a museum. The Oberbürgermeister [Lord Mayor] of Hannover has however warned against "exaggerated notions", the Palace itself was rather small and that "one should simply not expect too much".

The "new" Schloss Herrenhausen under construction, Feb 2012.
This image clearly shows how the Palace formed, as intended by
the designers, an impressive backdrop to the formal gardens.
[Source : Hannoversche  Allgemeine]  

Partnerships with commercial enterprises to fund the reconstruction of historic buildings is now quite common in Germany, a case in point being the reconstructed Brunswick Royal Palace which houses a shopping centre. There must now be a defined and practical "raison d'être" for reconstructed buildings thus sacrifices need to be made to secure funding and support. Without such partnerships and finding new cultural, official or commercial uses for such buildings rebuilding would usually not have taken place through lack of funding and in some cases even an antagonistic public response (as in the case of the "Prussian" Berlin Royal Palace). The rebuilt Potsdam City Palace (Stadt Schloss) currently under construction will house the Brandenburg State Parliament while the reconstructed Leineschloss (Town Palace) in the Hannover City centre houses the State Parliament of Lower Saxony.

A 2009 painted 'reconstruction' of Der Prunksaal (The Great Hall) of
Herrenhausen Schloss. The original paintings on canvas were removed
before the bombing and survived destruction of the Palace. Compare
this with the original black and white image above.
[Source : Olaf Wöbbeking, Hanover]

While some significant historical rooms could over time - but at very great expense - be included in totally reconstructed buildings this is usually at odds with the efficient use and requirements of private investors and civic entities for funding such ground-up rebuilding projects. Additionally, there appears to be a very strong mindset in Germany against totally reconstructing original interiors in "new" buildings which would now simply serve no logical or useful purpose nor would they in any case be historically authentic. Architects prefer to employ a blend of old and new to reinforce that inspiration is drawn from the past rather than simply recreating it. Therefore we must be content with these newly reconstructed but multi-use heritage buildings which at least externally restores some of the remarkable architecture for which most German Cities were once famous.

A computer animation of the reconstructed
Herrenhausen Schloss with some great views
of the formal gardens.

Meanwhile Hannover is planning to formally celebrate their strong historical links with the British Crown in 2014, being the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian King George I ascending the British Throne. The British Prime Minister has already promised that a member of the British Royal Family will visit Hannover at this time. It is also hoped that Prince Charles will become Patron of the organisation established to oversee the various exhibitions and events planned to mark this unique anniversary.

The existing Galerie alongside the Palace.
[Source : Orangerie Für Haus und Garten]

The existing Orangerie alongside and behind the Palace.
[Source :]

Note : I have primarily used the German form of "Hannover" rather than the traditional English form of "Hanover". I am aware of the different form of spelling but have chosen to use the current [and still identifiable] German form as my blog is not written for English speaking tourists.

Bibliography :

- "Baedeckers Northern Germany", 1900 (from my own collection)
- Wikipedia
- General Internet resources


  1. Super research and super story telling - I appreciate the time and detail. Thank you.

  2. Thanks a lot. Grew up there and from childhood on found it sad that the place with it's gorgeous garden should not be complete and "gone during the war". Great to here (from New Zealand ;-)) that they reconstruct it. If you ever happen to go there - I learned they still have summer nights with Haendel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, actors dressed in historic costumes and the great fountain rising. Regards, Michael

  3. So pleased to hear about the reconstruction of the Herrenhausen Palace. I spent many hours walking through the beautufully cared for gardens as a child and teenagerin the 50's -60's with my grandmother who used tell us what the place was like before the war. The feeling of something missing was however ever present (the original palace building).
    Memories of sliding long the frozen moat in winter and walks through the gardens and climbing onto the stage of the garden theatre in summertime have stayed with me over the years. Looking forward to visiting again in 2017.

    Barbara Buxey
    Melbourne Australia

    1. What wonderful reminiscences Barbara. Hannover is one German City I have not visited - yet. I spent a number of weeks backpacking through Germany some years ago but maybe back next year for a more sedate holiday. Enjoy your holiday and sentimental re-visit of Herrenhausen Gardens. Best wishes, Donald