Sunday, 18 September 2016


A week ahead of the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Hessen—the first German constituency at that level to be formally reconstituted after World War II as the chief staging-grounds of the American-occupied sector—I was able to arrange (or rather happened upon) a tour of the formal ducal residence that hosts the state parliament (Hessischer Landtag), just removed from the Rathaus and main market square of Wiesbaden, the capital.

Click on any image to enlarge it.
The city will commemorate the occasion by opening all of its ministries on 24 September to the public but it was a privilege to have a guided tour that rather tidily tied together the idea of accessibility, image and engagement on the part of the represented. The entrance, facing the people’s Rathaus, is very much in keeping with the Baroque style of the city’s other royal structures—and was the duke’s (later created grand duke of Nassau-Orange) winter-quarters, the summer palace being a few kilometres down a grand avenue on the bank of the Rhein in Schloss Biebrich.
Just off the central stairwell (Treppenhaus), there was a greenhouse of sorts whose walls were still decorated with a lush jungle motif—distinct from the icy snow-flake theme that subtly adorned the rest of the palace in the ceilings and in the parquet of the floors (I am thinking that people were just beginning to study wintery precipitation under the loop) that once held exotic plants. Now the space only held busts of past Hessian minister-presidents, but having been elevated, the grand-duke took up new addresses and his botanical collection went to Frankfurt am Main to seed the area that’s now known as the Palmengarten.
Another legacy of the royal family was the unexpected premature death of the Duchess Katharina, his Russian wife, caused the grieving Duke to build the Orthodox chapel on the Neroberg as tribute (more on this place to come). This routine of upstairs and downstairs and quite a few of strategically-placed mirrors were designed to make this rather modestly-sized castle appear as large as other great houses in Europe for visiting dignitaries, and we were participants in another carefully arranged diplomatic nudge by being invited, unusually for any historic tour, to sit on the furniture.

In these representational chambers, the love-seats (so called Causeusen) were angled to make opponents to face each other askance and so more relaxed—other sofas had extra wings for advisors. I felt out of my class as a political boffin as others in the group recognised the dance-hall and balconies as places or receiving honours and momentous addresses.
The great hall hosted the first sessions of the state parliament in 1946 and marked the point of transition into the modern addition, refurbished in 2008 in order to make the work of government more transparent and rather a fish-bowl with passers-by able to catch a glimpse or more of the proceedings with windows ringing the gallery of the plenary chamber. The ceiling and seating layout reminded me of the convention held at the Paulus Kirche of Frankfurt (see link above) held in Frankfurt that established the Weimar Republic. I wonder what more insider-secrets await with the open-house event next week.