If you want to get to know the first real landscape park in the German-speaking area, you have to visit the Wörlitz Park near Wittenberg and Dessau. Because there a sovereign with brains and energy has not wasted his fortune on armaments, but has turned his whole principality into a garden. This is how the Dessau – Wörlitz Garden Estate came into being, which has now enjoyed the status of a world cultural heritage site for over 20 years.
A garden for everyone – the Wörlitz Park
The creator of this design work was the humanistic Prince Leopold Friedrich Franz von Anhalt – Dessau, who worked in the spirit of the Enlightenment. After the death of his parents, he became sovereign at the age of 18 in 1758. And he immediately began, under the influence of the English and Italian garden art, with the transformation of his country. He was supported by his friend and advisor Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff.
The Wörlitz Park is only a small part of the parks and the landscape design activities that more or less still perceptibly shape the view throughout the Principality. The reformer was not only concerned with beautiful gardens, but also with fundamental redesign, creative thinking and educational work for his subjects, with agricultural renovations, educational projects and a wider spectrum of artistic influences.
Thus the Wörlitz Park, designed from 1764 onwards, was open to all „state children“ from the very beginning in large parts – including the palace. In the vicinity of the park, experiments in horticulture and field farming were undertaken, new breeds of animals were partly purchased and farmers were given further training.
Playful collection of architectural styles and garden design elements
With bridges and crank – ferries from island to island
Today the park is a varied area with the lake, islands, canals and various buildings. You can walk along the winding paths or take a gondola ride on the canals through the park. Bridges of various kinds, from stylish stone bridges to a „Hornzacken“ bridge, which is supposed to remind you of a split oak trunk, to a swinging chain bridge or a floating bridge, always offer new sights and creative associations. In several places there are no bridges, but ferries, which are pulled across the canals by employees using a crank winch.
Botanical and Avi-Faunistic exciting niches
For guests interested in botany, the Wörlitz Park offers a rich display of a wide variety of plants – some native, some exotic, up to large old trees. Because of this and because of the watercourses, the Wörlitz Park is chilly and shady even at high temperatures over large parts, so that a visit is possible and recommendable even in the middle of summer.
Also for ornithologists or at least bird lovers there are interesting observation possibilities depending on the seasons. Above the open areas and the lake, kites – red as well as black and kestrels – hunt. In between, house martins and barn swallows play and the swifts provide dramatic acoustics with their penetrating cries. The richly structured park landscape provides both ground-nesting birds and the secret hedge species with sufficient opportunities for breeding and food sources. And the water surfaces, including the nearby Elbe, give terns and black-headed gulls room for flying tricks.
In the old tree population there are certainly enough caves for various cave breeders including bats.
The Wörlitz park landscape is strongly structured by man and subject to a strict care regime, but still varied enough to provide enough habitat for a wide variety of creatures.
Some of the buildings of the Wörlitz Park in detail
Even before you enter the park itself, you will notice the gatehouse, which houses the restaurant „Zum Eichenkranz“ (The oak wreath). This was built from the beginning in 1785-87 as a visitors‘ restaurant for Wörlitz and the park. The front on the city side is recognizable as a half-timbered building, while on the park side a „gothic“ facade design was chosen.
Main road or through „Neumark’s garden“?
Behind it, a path turns right into the park, towards the manor house and the gondola station, while the road continues straight ahead. This leads over the Friederiken Bridge, which is named after the Prussian Princess Friedrike. On the right hand side you can already see the South Sea Pavilion and behind it the library pavilion. In the first of these is the South Sea Collection, which Prince Friedrich received from the explorer Georg Forster in 1775.
At the library pavilion, which is clad with lawn iron ore stones, there is another passage – up the stairs – into the park. If you are good on foot and want to escape the main hustle and bustle at the „Eichenkranz“ – entrance, you can pass through here on a short way to the labyrinth or through „Neumarks Garten“ with the ferry to the Rose Island. The names Neumark’s Garden as well as the larger Schoch’s Garden to the north are derived from the main gardeners responsible for these parts and, in the case of Schoch, a large part of the park.
First evidence of German classicism
The manor house was built 1769 – 1773 by Erdmannsdorff. It is a formative founding building of German classicism. The entrance front is defined by a columned porch with a triangular gable. From different directions in the park you can see the manor house over and over again over lines of sight.
The „English seat“ behind it with a view of the Nymphaeum was created before the manor house in 1764/65 and is considered the first classicist building in Wörlitz. Its model was a building in Stourhead in southern England.
With the Roman Portunus temple in front of its eyes the synagogue was built. A separately accessible ritual bath is located under the prayer room. The interior decoration was destroyed during the Reichspogrom night (Night of Broken Glass). A complete destruction of the building was prevented by the garden director at that time.
Early warning for art and nature
At the Agnes Canal stands the „warning altar“ created in 1800, which is seen as an early symbol of nature and monument protection. The clear statement is engraved as an inscription around the column: „Wanderer, respect nature and art and protect their works„.
The Gothic House was originally a residential and working house for the gardeners, but was also used by the prince for occasional stays and to house various collections. It is said that the prince lived here for some time with the gardener’s daughter Luise Schoch. With each extension of the house, various styles from Europe, from Venice to English Tudor Gothic and Wroclaw with a loan from the town hall tower were incorporated.
Practically vis-a-vis you can see the Flora-Temple (temple of flowers). This was modelled on another southern English building, the casino building in Wilton and was used as a music pavilion. It houses an antique sculpture and was painted with floral motifs by the court painter Johann Fischer. The forester’s house, the garden inspector’s house and the palm house are also located in the same area.
Adventure scenery for young and old in the Wörlitz Park
The northern area around the Venus temple is especially exciting for younger visitors. You can get there via a swinging chain bridge, which is suspended between two artificial „rock walls“. The buildings are clad with quarry stone. From the chain bridge to the Venusian temple there is a wide footpath, but on the right and left you will get an insight into a kind of „underworld“. The whole thing is called the „Romantic Game“. You can get to this lowered part via the exit left of the Chain Bridge or right under the Temple of Flora, past the Luisenklippe. I advise you to take the flashlight with you! Partly the way leads you over dark corridors in the „living and sleeping room“ as well as to the „hermit’s bed place“.
The sandstone rotunda of the Temple of Venus is a copy of the Venus Medici and is a reference point for many lines of sight in the Wörlitz Park. Here the Elbe dyke forms the end of the park. Integrated into the dike are walking paths, but also several buildings, such as the „Monument“ and further east the „Pantheon„.
The monument, built between 1801 and 1805, is also a building covered with quarry stone. On the original viewing platform, a granite column from Rome was erected. Relief pictures of Anhalt princely ancestors are hung inside.
Along the Elbe dyke
Below the Elbe dyke on the Agnes Canal, Erdmannsdorff erected the „Golden Urn“ in 1769 in memory of the deceased first daughter of the princely family. From there, both the synagogue and the church can be seen practically side by side by means of sight lines, which is understood to be an intended sign of the Prince’s religious tolerance.
I would not like to leave unmentioned the buildings of the „Italian landscape„, especially the artificial rock island „Der Stein„. In this area, the experiences of stays in Italy such as the Gulf of Naples, Roman baths, gladiator school and amphitheatre, among other things, were incorporated into the garden design. The stone itself is crowned with a replica of the volcano Vesuvius and was illuminated like an active volcano on special occasions in the early years…
Visit tips for the Wörlitz Park
The parks are very extensive and can hardly be surveyed down to the last corner in one day. Use one of the offered guided tours to learn more about this time of enlightenment, the progressive attitude of the prince and his comrades-in-arms and to be able to classify the manifold connections to other „celebrities“ of this time.
A visit to the park is also possible on several days with free admission. Only the use of the ferries will cost you a small contribution (1€, reduced 50Ct.)
By visiting other places of the Dessau – Wörlitz Garden Estate, the Oranienbaum manor house and Lutherstadt Wittenberg, where the reformer Martin Luther initiated the Reformation, you can quickly extend your stay in this region to several days. In the flat landscape, the bicycle is a very good means of transport, especially since the Elbe Cycle Path makes the area easily accessible. The Elbe riverbank region also has a lot to offer in terms of landscape – the whole area belongs to the Elbe River Landscape Biosphere Reserve.
Journey to the Dessau Wörlitz Garden Estate
To Wörlitz by train and bike
The journey is very well possible by train*. With a combination of train and bike ride, you will have the best experience possibilities in the Elbe region. Dessau Central Station is served by many trains from Potsdam, Magdeburg, Halle (Saale) and Leipzig.
Dessau – Wörlitz railway
During the season, the historical Dessau – Wörlitz Railway operates on certain days and times with rail buses (double-decker vehicles and partly railcars). Operators are the Dessau public utility company. In former times there was a Wörlitz station in Dessau, about 400m away from the main station. However, this is now part of the Federal Environment Agency based in Dessau. Now the rail buses to Wörlitz run from platform 1 of Dessau main station.
Some special trips are also offered on the route. There is a stopover in Oranienbaum, so that the manor house and the orangery can be visited there. For certain events, special trips to the Ferropolis adventure landscape and concert arena are sometimes offered. (In Ferropolis, the huge steel excavators of the old open-cast coal mines form an impressive backdrop.) For this purpose a part of the former mine railways of the opencast mine Gräfenhainichen was reactivated.
Arrival by train via Wittenberg
An alternative train journey* is possible via the Lutherstadt Wittenberg station. You can, for example, travel to Wittenberg, follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther and the Reformation and then cycle along the Elbe to the Dessau – Wörlitz Garden Estate. You plan your departure at the end of Dessau – or the other way round in west-east direction.
By car to Wörlitz
By car or a rental car*, take the A9 motorway to the Dessau Süd exit. In eastern direction it is only a few kilometres to Oranienbaum and then about 6 km to Wörlitz. You can reach Wittenberg from Wörlitz or Oranienbaum via country roads to the east.
Gastronomy in Wörlitz
Within the park the supply is limited to a small snack – offer. Considering the size of the area, I recommend you to pack at least a few „Bemmen“ and something to drink (if your Saxon knowledge is not that advanced, just translate „Bemmen“ with „sandwiches“).
But in front of the park there are several possibilities on different levels. The „Eichenkranz“ – „oak wreath“ is only one of them, maybe the most original one from the beginning. Vis – a vis you find „Zum Grünen Baum“ – „the green tree“ (restaurant, otherwise there are in the warm season a lot of green trees).
And the open-air restaurant, which in GDR times served the masses of visitors at long garden tables as if on an assembly line, still exists. However, it has now been slimmed down and geared to fewer visitors, but with a greater variety of offers. I have childhood memories of warm, sunny summer days, where after a good 2 hours drive with the Trabant- Car „Trabbi“ we looked for places at these tables under big shady trees and then one of us had to occupy these places, if the others would have queued at the buffet and would have chased for refreshments before visiting the park.
Those who prefer to eat cheaply today take a few steps further into the city – diagonally left of the street an Asia-Döner snack bar supplies the economy foxes.
Accommodation at Wörlitzer Park
The Pension am Park* directly in Wörlitz is a cosy little accommodation for two guests each. It is located in an old half-timbered house at the market and just 300m away from the manor house. Parking facilities are available on the street. During the warm season, a pair of storks in the nest behind the house provides entertainment.
Double and single rooms are available in the „Hauenden Schwein“ in Wörlitz*. This is an old inn. Holidays with dog are possible on request. Breakfast is included. The park and manor house in Wörlitz are about 500m away.
If you would like to take a stroll in the garden and take a refreshing dip in the pool, then the Wörlitz Ringhotel Zum Stein* is your address. Sauna and loungers, Roman baths and spa treatments as well as indoor and outdoor pool can round off your day. Rooms are available from single to family rooms. Bicycles can be rented, the park and manor house in Wörlitz are about 1.2 km away.
The „Elbterrassen im Wörlitzer Winkel*“ are about 4 km away from the park, but are located directly on the Elbe. So you can already enjoy the calming view of the gently flowing river at breakfast. From single rooms to 4-bed family rooms there are various room sizes. You can also eat on site in the restaurant. Bicycles for exploring the surroundings are available on request.
(Cycling) hiking maps and literature about the Garden Estate and Wörlitz Park
Cycling and hiking maps
As a cycling and hiking map for the region, we recommend the german edition Lutherstadt Wittenberg und Umgebung* from the A.Barthel Verlag. With a scale of 1:50,000 it is just right to find enough details, but not to „get off the map“ in a few hours by bike. In addition to Wittenberg and the Garden Estate between Wörlitz and Oranienbaum, it contains the Hoher Fläming, another very beautiful natural landscape as a supplement (Hoher Fläming Nature Park in southern Brandenburg).
Wörlitz Park – and Garden Estate – Literature
There is a lot of literature about Dessau – Wörlitz Garden Estate and the Wörlitz Park in German and partly in English. Understandable with 20 years of world cultural heritage and a lot of 200 years of park and garden landscape. Here is a selection:
The Garden Grounds of Woerlitz in the Dessau-Woerlitz Garden Realm* is a small booklet with an overview of the facilities of Wörlitz and their history.
A illustrated book „Das Dessau-Wörlitzer Gartenreich – Ein Paradies für das Diesseits„* (The Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Estate – A Paradise for this World) scores particularly well with its pictures from different seasons. Photographer Peter Kühn collected over many years his picture motives in the whole area of the Garden Estate, from Wörlitz Park to manor house and orangery Oranienbaum, Mosigkau, Luisium, Georgium and Großkühnau and can invite the viewer to experience the paradisiacal character of this landscape. Anyone who has looked at this book will want to come back again and again – no matter what time of year it is.
The Dessau/Worlitz: Architectural Guide* is more a reference book on architecture with an overview of over 120 buildings and objects. This book leads through the many and varied facilities from the time of the Prince of Anhalt- Dessau, but also gives an insight into the later developments with the Bauhaus and the new buildings from the socialist era in the war-torn city of Dessau.
Reference to advertising
Some links in this article are marked with *. These are so-called affiliate links. If you click on the link and buy or book something in the connected shop, I will get a small commission to build this blog. Nothing will be more expensive for you, because the commission has already been taken into account in the pricing.