* Prices may differ from that shown
It has taken me 42 years to see the most important sights the town of Ludwigsburg has to offer. This is surprising considering that it is only about 50 km away from where I live. It's 12 km north of Stuttgart, the capital of the land Baden-Württemberg.
When I was sent to Stuttgart for my teacher training course, I befriended a fellow-trainee who lived in Stuttgart. She and her boyfriend showed me around a bit. I was 26 years old then. I felt grown-up but obviously didn't convey this impression to others. When we went to Ludwigsburg, they only took me to the fairy-tale garden (Märchengarten) behind the Palace the town is famous for. We didn't see the town proper and didn't visit the Palace.
Visitors can look at 30 scenes from fairy tales, legends and folk tales. If you've always wanted to know where the Frog Prince lives or what Sleeping Beauty looks like, here are the answers. Some figures can move their limbs and move around in their tiny habitat. There's also a small tower. If you stand in front of it and shout, "Rapunzel, let your hair down", a long plait comes gliding out of a window at the top. Of course, you can also shout, say, "Booh!" and the plait will appear. The little ones don't know this, the grown-ups know that only the noise level is important (to put it unscientifically).*
Many years later I visited the Palace together with a coach full of 16-to-18-year-old students (it wasn't my idea, I only accompanied them). One half were Italians from our twin town in Apulia, the other half were their German hosts. A mixed pleasure. This was due to their behaviour. The weather was bad, they were tired and hung over from their parties and grumpy because they had to look at things they weren't interested in. We had a guide who only spoke German, so everything had to be translated which took its time. When she said that the Palace had 452 (!) rooms, the students turned pale. "!x%$3!! (Fill in expletives), are we going to see them all?" No, only about 40. Why would anyone need 452 rooms? What for? For whom? I bet, the royal family never entered all of them. If you're interested in architecture and the history of art, then the Residential Palace of Ludwigsburg can be recommended. Built in the 18th century, it's one of Europe's most impressive and extensive Baroque complexes. It served as a residence for the Dukes and Kings of Württemberg.
It wasn't destroyed during World War II. Three different styles can be discerned today: Baroque, the prevailing one, Rococo and Empire. The Palace theatre (Europe's oldest preserved theatre) and its stage machinery from 1758 are still operational. It's pretty and cosy. I'd like to see a play there, but it's too far away to go there for an evening performance. The Palace also contains three museum
- the Baroque Galley presenting Baroque paintings from the State Gallery's collection in Stuttgart
- the Porcelain Museum
- the Baroque Fashion Museum presenting clothes from 1750 to 1820
I haven't seen them (yet). If we had included them in our visit, the students would have started a revolution. We also left out the gardens, but it was the wrong season for them anyway.
Last year I decided to spend more time in Ludwigsburg and stroll through the town centre to finally get an impression of the place. I waited until September when the Pumpkin Exhibition in the Palace Gardens was on. It started on 31st August and ran until 4th November. More of it later.
Walking from the train station to the Palace takes about a quarter of an hour. I passed the town hall and walked into the yard behind it. A 'just married' couple was coming out of the back door. Their guests were waiting outside clapping and whooping. They had prepared a tandem bike for them with a rope at the back to which they'd tied empty tins which made a lot of noise when the couple was cycling round the yard. I hadn't seen something like that before and found it quite funny.
More or less opposite the town hall is a street leading to the market square lined by pretty shops and cafés. The market square is flanked on two sides by a Protestant church (bigger) and a Catholic church (smaller). In the middle is a fountain. It's extremely large for a town of only 88.000 inhabitants. The Tourist Information Office is also on the Market square. I went there and asked the woman inside why it was so large, it looked as if it was made for an army to exercise. Surprise! This is just what it had been planned for. Ludwigsburg is a relatively young town. It was planned at the beginning of the 18th century when Duke Eberhard Ludwig of Württemberg had had his Palace built. In the beginning he only wanted a 'Lust Palace'. 452 rooms to satisfy his lust! The mind boggles. Yet later he had the idea to have a town built nearby to show off his absolutistic power.
In 1812, the Württembergish army was raised in Ludwigsburg for Napoleon's Russian campaign. (Of the 15.800 Württemberg soldiers who served, just a few hundred returned). In 1921, Ludwigsburg became the largest garrison in southwest Germany. In 1956 the tradition of the German garrison town was taken up again by the Bundeswehr, Germany's federal armed forces. The market square is also used for civilian and peaceful events, though. For example, you can find the Christmas Market there.
Now off to the Palace! One has to pay an entrance fee to get into the 'Blooming Baroque' - that's the name for the area in front of and behind the Palace and the Fairy Tale Garden. I won't mention the prices here because prices tend to change, don't they?
The garden in front of the Palace is laid out in the French pattern, i.e., with symmetrical geometrical flower beds. According to the seasons there are always flowers in bloom. Behind the Palace the garden is more a park in the English style. This is where I was heading to see the aforementioned Pumpkin Exhibition. Since the year 2000 there has been an annual Pumpkin Exhibition, the biggest worldwide, organised by the Swiss firm Jucker Farmart. They organise one in Switzerland with a special theme which they then show in Ludwigsburg the following year. The pumpkins are grown in the surroundings of Ludwigsburg. "How many?" you may want to know. About 150 tons = 450.000 pumpkins!
What is done with them? Behind the Palace the garden inclines slightly into a valley. From the top the visitors can see the whole site. I was there on a wonderful, sunny late summer day. The colours! Ranging from white over yellow, orange, red to purple. Simply dazzling. The theme last year was Switzerland. Besides large flat boxes in which colourful pumpkins were lying just looking attractive - in one box they were arranged in the shape of the Swiss flag - there were Switzerland related wooden structures onto which pumpkins were pinned. For example, the top of the Matterhorn, maybe the best known Swiss mountain because of its shape (Think of the chocolate Toblerone). A man in traditional costume blowing the typical Swiss wind instrument, the alphorn. Heidi and her grandfather sitting in front of their hut. Many cows, down to the teats covered with fitting pumpkins. Kitsch, but fun.
Besides this, there was a cottage where one could buy products made with pumpkins and pumpkin related souvenirs. I had already bought a small paper bag full of freshly roasted pumpkin seeds at a stall on the way down. Delicious! When I reached the cottage, I had finished them and bought a box to take home. There were also: pumpkin marmalade, pumpkin chutney, pumpkin oil, pumpkin champers - to name but a few products. Onto the outside walls of the cottage shelves were fastened on which pumpkins were lying each belonging to a different kind with names and a mention where in the world they come from originally. At the end of the exhibition area there was another cottage serving as a restaurant with tables and benches inside and outside. Many tasty pumpkin dishes were on offer. I was sad that I couldn't eat them all. A tasty soup filled me up too much.
During the time of the exhibition several events take place. One of them is the weighing of pumpkins in order to find the world champion. The current record is 762 kg (!). Another one is the Pumpkin Regatta: People are sitting in hollowed out pumpkins and paddle across the artificial lake in front of the Palace. It must be hard to move forward in a straight line because, naturally, the pumpkins have no keel.
Last year the topic the Jucker Farmart firm exhibited in Switzerland were the Olympic Games, so they'll be seen in Ludwigsburg this year. I forgot to ask what they do with all the pumpkins once the exhibition is over. I'm thinking of going to Ludwigsburg again this summer to ask this question.
*Once my husband and I took key rings to Sardinia as gifts for his nieces which emit a sound when one whistles. Good if you don't remember where you've put your key. Yet, one day I visited the Cathedral of Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, with one of the girls during a service and when the organ started to play, her key ring responded!