Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Behind the Scenes... the Museum is the title of a book by Kate Atkinson, a book I have read years ago and liked very much. But don't worry, this post is not yet another boring book review. It is about a guided tour behind the scenes at Ludwigsburg Palace where I went on the 3rd of July (that shows you how far behind I am with blogging, only very slowly catching up with things).

Now, I've been to guided tours inside the palace many times (it is the only way you are allowed to go in, never just wandering around on your own) and could guide a group through the state rooms myself. But I've not been to most of the servants' quarters before, nor to the kitchen, the cellars or the attic. I had been looking forward to this tour very much, and was not disappointed!

Our first stop was the kitchen in the basement. It must have looked quite different back then, with a lot more in the rooms that are nearly empty now:

Imagine the working conditions down here, with nearly no windows for air and daylight, keeping the fire going at all times, people rushing in and out, providing meals for the court and its numerous servants non-stop!

We went upstairs to the only servants' room I had seen before, because it is usually briefly shown during the standard guided tour. Our guide, who was very good and very knowledgeable, showed us the heating system, a maze of tiny corridors behind the state rooms. Often, the space behind the stoves was so confined that only the smallest and slightest of servants (i. e. children) could manage the task. No servant had to be seen or heard from the main rooms by the noble ladies and gentlemen there; it was all done through the back, from the other side of the wall.

The metal stove you see above in the corner was a luxury only the quarters for the higher-ranking servants boasted.
The room below was where those higher ranking servants would wait until the bell above the cupboard would ring, calling them to their master or mistress. There was no window in this room - no air, no daylight, just a few smelly tallow candles (wax was too expensive and reserved for the state rooms).

The wallpaper here shows that this was no ordinary room. It was the king's dressing room, the walls being lined with wardrobes and the wooden scales in one corner.

The higher-ranking servants slept close to their masters, so that they would be quickly available at all times. Their bedrooms were hidden behind the state rooms, on a low floor built just below the ceiling of the main rooms. Again, no windows gave access to air and daylight - the only windows there went to the main corridors and of course were never to be opened while any lady or gentleman would walk past below.

Some of those upstairs rooms still hold equipment put there for air raids during WWII. The picture below shows a wall chart explaining what to do in case of fire, which was the main concern for this historical building:

Our group had reached the attic by now, and the perspective from the windows up here was very different from how I had seen the palace and its grounds before:

Our guide explained that the palace roof actually consists of two roofs, one built behind the other. From down below, you will always only see one roof, and not suspect that there are two. This was originally done for two reasons: stability and fire safety. The oldest part of the palace had a flat roof, because it was to resemble an Italian palace of Rennaissance style, so fashionable at the time when it was built (1704). But as the palace was growing larger and larger and new styles were adopted (plus the problem of keeping a flat roof dry in the changing seasons of southern Germany), what is called a mansard roof was built. Here is a plan, showing the two roofs with a narrow gap between them:

 The narrow gap has to be crossed if you want to enter the attic, as we did:

Huge old beams (all the original ones!) make the attic smell a mixture of dust and wood.

After climbing down many flights of stairs, we were lead into the wine cellar, where a huge barrel was one of Ludwigsburg's earliest tourist attractions. It is big enough for a whole group of people sitting in there, but we were only able to see it from the outside.

The fountain on the wall is supposed to be Bacchus. He can pee water... or wine. This was the king's idea of fun, offering his guests cups of "Bachhus pee" or having unsuspecting visitors splashed (I hope with water only!) when walking past the fountain.

It was very cold in the cellar, even on a hot day like this, and I think we were all happy to be up and out in the sun again. The tour had lasted 1 1/2 hours but seemed mere minutes - it was fascinating and interesting, and I could have taken loads more pictures, had it not been for our group being "in the way" and difficult lighting conditions most of the time.

Definitely something to do again!


  1. I thought that Behind the Scenes at the Museum was a rather strange book but I've certainly enjoyed the rest of Kate Atkinson's books. As for the tour of the castle I absolutely love old buildings like that and although I would have to say that one learns a lot more in a guided tour I rather prefer to wander around with my own thoughts. Your photos give a splendid idea of what it's like and would definitely ensure I went if I was in Ludwigsburg

    1. Graham, of those of Kate Atkinson's books I have read, I found "Behind the Scenes" the least strange one. There are still one or two I haven't read yet.
      Of course I'd love to wander around the palace on my own, but it is not possible, and I must say that our guide was really very good. You could tell he loves the building and its history, and loves finding out more all the time; it's not just a rattling off of dates and names with him.

  2. Hello Meike,

    We should have loved to have joined this tour behind the scenes at the Palace. It all looks most intriguing and wonderful that you were allowed entry into so many usually hidden from view places.

    The servants did seem to have had a very poor time of it and their plight could be replicated the length and breadth of Europe in the 'finest' houses of the day. And yet, whole generations of families were 'in service' for decades. It must have been that the alternatives were even worse.

    1. Hello Jane and Lance,
      It was great to be allowed those glimpses of "secret" places! Next time I'll visit the state rooms, I'll know what lies behind those walls, above those ceilings and below those floors.
      Yes, being a servant there at least meant a safe roof over your heads, regular meals and proper clothing - something not always available to children from large, poor peasant families. The money wasn't much, but there was even less to be earned in most people's home villages.

  3. Hi Meike,

    Looks like it was a very interesting and well done tour. I can certainly see why you'd want to go back. It makes me thankful that I wasn't a servant!

    1. Hi Mary, I wouldn't have liked to be a servant, either, but neither would I have wanted to be one of the aristocratic residents at the palace - nearly impossible to keep really warm in winter, no such thing as personal hygiene, and having to eat meals for show rather than for taste and health, while observing court protocol every second of your life.