A long weekend in Hannover 2014

1-4 August 2014

In 1692 the Duchy of Brunswick and Lüneburg (Braunschweig-Lüneburg) had become an Electorate. A few years later the family that ruled the state even received an higher honour. As of 1689 catholics were no longer allowed to sit on the British throne. The dual monarchs Queen Mary II and her husband William III didn’t have children. Left was Mary’s sister Anne, who became Queen in 1702, after William’s death, but died in 1714 without living descendants. Already in 1701 the British parliament signed the “Act of Settlement”, that settled the succession to the throne. Electress Sophie of Hannover, born of the Palatinate (Pfalz), and her descendants were to be the heirs. Sophie was born in 1630 as a daughter of Friedrich V, Elector Palatinate, King of Bohemia from 1619 to 1620 and his wife Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I of Great Britain and Ireland. Sophie however just didn’t live long enough to become Queen herself. She died on 8 June 1714. Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland died on 1 August 1714, just weeks later. Sophie’s son Georg Ludwig, from that date became the new King George I of Great Britain and Ireland. For 123 years Great Britain and Hannover had the same ruler. They had different constitutions, a different language and also the social and economic conditions were not the same. During the personal union however both countries influenced eachother on political, cultural and social level. Following the Congress of Vienna in 1814/1815 Hannover became a Kingdom also. However when in 1837 King William IV died, Queen Victoria started to rule Great Britain. In Hannover female succession was not allowed as long as there were male heirs left, and thus the personal union between the two Kingdoms ended. William’s younger brother became King Ernst August I, and was in 1851 succeeded by his son King Georg V. The Kingdom of Hannover was annexed by Prussia in 1866.

This year the start of the personal union between Great Britain and Hannover is being celebrated in both countries. Where the focus in Great Britain mainly is on the Glorious Georges, the interest in Hannover is deeper. There are five exhibitions in and around Hannover, and even British royals came to Hannover to celebrate. The exhibition “Der Weg zur Krone-Das Königreich Hannover und seine Herrscher”, at Marienburg Castle on 30 April was attended by several Hannover descendants and Prince Michael of Kent, who impressed by partially holding his speech in nearly fluent German. The Duke of York visited Lower Saxony on 3 and 4 June. He among others attended the traditional Embassy Garden Party in honour of the official birthday of his mother Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain at Herrenhausen Castle. He also visited the exhibition “The Hanoverians on Britain’s Throne 1714-1837” in the Lower Saxony State Museum Hannover. The exhibitions are all open until 5 October 2014, so if you have some money and vacation days left, take your chance. Hannover has its own airport and can easily reached by train also. If you don’t know German, some of the exhibition texts are in English, and they also all have audioguides in English and probably also in other languages.

I actually don’t live that far from Hannover, only four hours by train, but it was not until late July that I decided to spend a few days in Hannover, and have a good look at all the exhibitions. I had only been there once for one day, and had visited the Marienburg Castle and Herrenhausen. I thought I could easily visit everything in two and a half to three days, but I must admit I could have done with a bit more time. Surprisingly I found myself a nice and cheap hotel near the main railway station and close to the shopping streets. The weather was a bit too warm during the first two days, and unfortunately rain spoilt my last hours a bit. However I enjoyed my trip tremendously. I only discovered later that I started my four-day trip to Hannover exactly 300 years after the death of Queen Anne and the accession to the throne of King George I.

I started my tour on Friday afternoon, 1 August, at the Historical Museum in Hannover. Luckily for me I have some knowledge of royals and history, as in case you don’t you I recommend you to save this exhibition for later. The centerpiece of the exhibition “A Coach and Two Kingdoms: Hanover and Great Britain 1814-1837” is the Royal State Coach, which was built in 1782 for the Opening of Parliament ceremony in London. After Hannover had been elevated to a Kingdom the coach was brought to Hannover and used in 1821 during the visit of King George IV to his Kingdom on the mainland. The exhibition mainly tells the history of the coach and the new Kingdom of Hannover, and is limited to one big hall. Just before reaching the doors to the exhibition there was a corridor with clothes, and behind that a room with a few royal portraits and items, and a small replica of the Knight’s Hall in the “Leineschloss” in Hannover, which I thought was quite cute. I really would have loved to spend more time in the museum, but there was so much more I needed to see. It would have been interesting to see the exhibition about the Great War, and learn more about the history of Hannover. The museum shop was quite good I thought, with several books on the Hannoverian royals and some other nice souvenirs. Unfortunately no photographing allowed in the exhibition.

I walked all the way from the Historical Museum to Herrenhausen. Not really recommended, surely not when it is warm, as it is about 2,5 kilometers and at Herrenhausen there is a huge garden. However on my way I could at least have a proper look at the “Welfenschloss”. You could also just take the S-Bahn (line 4 or 5), buy yourself a day ticket and jump on and off at the “Welfenschloss”. This huge palace was built on the spot of the Monbrillant Castle between 1857 and 1866. The palace was meant as summer residence for the royal family of Hannover. The facade shows sculptures of the most important rulers of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Hannover. However the annexation of Hannover by the Prussians spoilt all plans. Only in 1879 the building was finished and turned in to the Royal Technical University, nowadays the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University. The chapel on the eastern side of the palace was heavily damaged during bombings in World War II, and afterwards demolished. In front of the palace is a bronze statue of the “Sachsenross” (Saxon Steed), the heralic animal of the Kingdom of Hannover, and nowadays of the federal state of Lower Saxony.

Herrenhausen is absolutely a place you should visit. Especially with nice weather the gardens are absolutely a delight with all its flowers, paths, fountains and statues. I still haven’t seen a lot of it. In the newly rebuilt Herrenhausen Palace, which opened in 2013 after four years of building works, another part of the exhibition “The Hanoverians on Britain’s Throne 1714-1837” was shown. In case you wonder, also the palace was destroyed during the bombings in World War II. One big room with some portraits and documents about the rule of the family in Hannover. The second room mainly showed items related to the representative court life around the turn of the 18th century. Photography allowed in the first two rooms. It is however not allowed in the third and last room showing the unique collection of Reichsgraf Johann Ludwig von Wallmoden-Gimborn (1736-1811), an illegitimate son of King George II, who grew up in England. Part of the impressive collection is on show again in Hannover for the very first time since it was sold at auction in 1818. I was lucky to meet a group with a museum guide who told some very interesting things. Remember to take something to eat with you. Outside the gates is a beer garden with two kiosks mainly selling drinks, “Bratwurst” (sausages), pretzel, some cookies and chips. There is a castle café, but I was probably not lucky, as it was closed because of a reception when I thought of going in in the later afternoon. The museum shop is by far the best of all museums connected to the series of exhibitions.

The superb gardens of Herrenhausen are worth a long visit. The “Grosser Garten” (Great Garden) is a baroque garden that almost remained unchanged since the 17th century. Already in 1638 Duke Georg von Calenberg had a kitchen garden constructed in the village of Höringehusen. After his son Johann Friedrich had taken the throne in 1665, he decided to name the village Herrenhausen. He had his gardener construct a pleasure garden. His son Ernst August’s wife Sophia had the garden reconstructed and enlarged. You pass the gallery and orangery on your way to the entrance of the palace and gardens. The orangery was built between 1720 and 1723, and renewed in the 1820s.

Too modern for the old baroque gardens? Whatever you think of the Grotto in the gardens of Herrenhausen, one thing for sure, it is really a fascinating place. The 330-year-old Grotto was transformed into a place of mystery and magic by the famous Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle, and is actually one of the very last pieces she created before her death in 2002. She was since 2000 a honorary citizen of Hannover. After her death her collaborators finished the Grotto based on her plans.

Opposite of the Herrenhauser Gardens is the lovely “Berggarten” (Mountain Garden), one of the eldest botanical gardens of Germany. Almost as old as the “Grosser Garten” this was the place for exotic plants. The plants come from the four corners of the earth. The first glasshouse was built in 1700. Next to the gardens is nowadays the “Sea Life Hannover” aquarium. Between 1842 and 1847 a mausoleum was built, in which King Ernst August I and his wife Friederike were buried. Outside the mausoleum are the gravestones of Duke Ernst August of Brunswick (1887-1953) and his wife Viktoria Luise née Princess of Prussia (1892-1980).

On my way back to the city center I walked through the Georgengarten (George’s Garden). It was bought in 1768 by Count Johann Ludwig von Wallmoden-Gimborn. The Wallmoden Palace was built between 1781 and 1796 and housed the art collection of the count. King George III bought the place in 1817, and the palace was named Georgenpalais as of 1818. The City of Hannover bought the gardens and palace in 1921. The palace was heavily damaged by bombs in World War II. Restoration took place until the 1970s. Since 1949 the palace is owned by the Wilhelm Busch Society, named after the famous German caricaturist, painter and poet Wilhelm Busch. Now a caricature museum, the Wilhelm-Busch-Museum, at the moment it shows the exhibition “The House of Hanover at the Time of the Personal Union as Reflected in English Caricature”. I must admit I didn’t visit the exhibition, although I certainly would have if I had had more time.

By far the best and biggest of the Hannover exhibitions at the moment was the one in the Lower Saxony State Museum also called “The Hanoverians on Britain’s Throne 1714-1837”. Chronologically you learn about all five Elects and Kings of Hannover who were also Kings of Great Britain and Ireland. Lots of objects show their lives and works, and the exchange of knowledge and art between London and Hannover. From portraits of monarchs and family, furniture, caricatures … it is all there. Shown also is the golden state crown from the Royal Collection, the crown of King George I. It is the first time ever this crown is presented outside Great Britain. Of course the crown is shown without the usual jewels. Take your “Selfie with George” before entering the exhibition. You are not allowed to photograph inside. The museum shop was quite nice and they had a good selection of souvenirs.

I spent part of the afternoon and most of the evening in the town of Celle. Easily to reach by train from Hannover within one hour – yes I of course managed to take the slowest connection – and really a lovely town. It is somewhat of a walk of over a kilometer from the railway station to the Residence Museum in Celle Castle. The exhibition is called “Ready for the Island. The House of Brunswick- Lüneburg on the Path to London”. The exhibition is dedicated to the rise of the family to political power. In the original settings of the historic stately palace rooms a unique insight into the pre-history of the personal union and life at the time is presented. Probably not the best of the exhibitions, but the setting is already worth a visit. The castle was recorded for the first time around 1315 already. The Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg moved their residence from Lüneburg to Celle in 1378 and the building was transformed into a real castle. After 1705 the castle lost its political significance. Between 1772 and 1775 it was once again occupied, by Queen Caroline Mathilde of Denmark who was banished to Celle as a result of her affair with Johann Friedrich Struensee. The poor Queen died here. The castle was occasionally used as a summer residence in the 19th century.

The town itself is very pretty with its half-timbered buildings and parks. If you have time just take a short tour by horse and carriage or with a little train. I managed to visit the “Stadtkirche St. Marien” before it closed its doors. In the 16th and 17th century the Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg were buried in the vault, and there are several impressive monuments in the choir. The vault is open only on Wednesday and Thursday, tours at 4pm. I unfortunately weren’t there on these days. I did visit the French Garden with a monument for Queen Caroline Mathilde of Denmark.

I spent the entire Sunday at the neo-Gothic Marienburg Castle. Travelling there is a bit complicated when you don’t have your own transport. But during the weekends there is a taxi service from the railway station of Nordstemmen, otherwise you have to walk more than two kilometers, partly up hill. There are also busses from Hannover. The castle is a fairytale, and was the present of King Georg V of Hannover in 1857 to his wife Queen Marie, not only for her 39th birthday, but also as a pledge of eternal love. Because he was blind a model of the castle to be built was made, so he could feel what it looked like. It was built on a hill called the Marienberg. Sadly the castle was only finished in 1868, after the end of the Kingdom of Hannover. The royal family had gone into exile, and the Queen already had to leave “My little Eldorado” in 1867, just months after the fall of the monarchy. There are nowadays tours through the castle and to the top of the main tower from where you have a wonderful view. The last tour at the moment takes you through the exhibition about the personal union. The highlight at the end of the exhibition “Der Weg zur Krone-Das Königreich Hannover und seine Herrscher” is the royal crown of the Kingdom of Hannover, together with the sceptre and the bridal crown. It is the first time these items have returned to Hannover. Although lots of things have done to reawake the castle, one thing hasn’t been done (yet). The ticket office and shop are still in a far too small room under the gate. On busy days the place is crowded and they could sell much more products if there was more space.

I spent my last hours in Hannover walking through the city center. Unfortunately halfway, just when I was about to take pictures of the most important buildings, it started raining pretty heavily. In between the rain showers I managed to see something after all. Of course I didn’t miss the Leineschloss, the former residence of the Kings of Hannover. The first palace on the site was built by Duke Georg of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1636. The palace was fully rebuilt between 1816 and 1844. During the World War II the palace, like most buildings in the city center, didn’t survive the aerial bombings. King George I of Great Britain had been buried in the chapel of the Leine Palace, but his remains were moved to the chapel at Herrenhausen after World War II. The palace was rebuilt between 1957 and 1962. Nowadays the palace is the seat of the Landtag of Lower Saxony.

The Wangenheim-Palace is nowadays the seat of the Ministry for Economics, Labour and Transport of Lower Saxony. The neo-classical building was built almost next-door to the Leineschloss between 1829 and 1833 as the private residence of Count Georg von Wangenheim. After the count died the Kingdom of Hannover bought the palace as residence for the Crown Prince. The later King George V lived in the palace for about ten years. The Palace was burnt out during World War II and the interior was completely redesigned after the war.

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