Monday, 27 November 2017

The Palace At Dark

The beautiful palace of my home town has featured many times on my blog already. For (outside and inside) pictures and information, simply click on the label "Ludwigsburg" (red arrow in the screenshot) or type "Ludwigsburg palace" (or just "palace", or "Ludwigsburg") in the search box (blue arrow).

I've known it well from early childhood, and when I was a little girl, I often fantasised about hiding somewhere during a guided tour (the state rooms are only accessible with tours, while some others have been turned into museums where one can wander more or less freely) and then come out at night to explore the palace on my own.
What never featured in my daydreams was that a) of course my parents would never allow me to lurk behind while on a guided tour, and b) the tour guides usually unlock and lock doors for their groups at regular intervals - so my radius of exploring would have been very limited anyway, if I had managed to stay behind in the first place, which is highly unlikely.

Still, the desire to be inside those wonderful rooms after regular hours remained, and last week, that is just what we did!

My parents, my sister and I joined a special "after dark" tour. The aim was to show people what it used to be like at the time when the palace was a busy place where up to 1,800 servants worked (and most of them lived), plus the duke (and later king) with his family and guests (and their servants).

Electricity arrived at the state rooms rather late, and until today, there is no proper heating except for in office or museum rooms.
Our tour guide was an elderly gentleman, a retired electrician. He told us that from Day One of his apprenticeship in April 1953, he worked at the palace, and it has not let him go even now in his retirement. You could tell there was a man who loved his subject, and was very well able to transmit this to the group.

We walked through 28 rooms, big and small ones, servants' quarters as well as the throne rooms, all by the dim light of yellowish bulbs mimicking candle light. (No real candles were lit - too dangerous!).

Our guide explained that they knew from old documents how many candles were used on average; household accounts were meticulously kept in places like this. For everyday use, tallow candles were standard. They did not burn very brightly but were comparatively cheap and easy to come by. For festive occasions, white candles were in order. Only in churches and palaces would you find white candles, and even then, only for special occasions. They were made of a substance gained from whales, and of course there are no whales anywhere near Ludwigsburg - whale hunting was dangerous, and its products had to travel far and were very expensive accordingly.

From the old documents, they knew just how many candles were lit in, say, the stately dining room for a big dinner, and how many were allowed in the servants' quarters. In closely controlled tests, they lit exactly the number of white or tallow candles, and measured the brightness of light in each instance. Now you all know that the measure for brightness is lux.

Wikipedia (and our tour guide) tells us how many lux the average living rooms have nowadays, with our electric lamps: around 70, and 80 in an average kitchen. Offices are more or less standardly lit at 500 lux, and sales rooms at 1,000 (I am not kidding you).
Now what do you think the festive lighting at the palace managed to produce, lux-wise?
20! No more than that. And in the servants' rooms and everywhere else apart from the most important rooms? 2 (in words: two!) lux.

He showed us how little light that is by turning off most of the bulbs (which, by the way, are kitchen oven bulbs - those were the only ones matching their criteria, and they found that out after extensively testing nearly 20 different light sources). Believe me, it was VERY little light. After dark in those days, anything that involved seeing properly, such as cleaning, mending, reading, writing or needlework, simply could not be done. No wonder people went to bed early, and rose early, too, to make use of as much daylight as possible!

It was a fascinating glimpse (!) into the "good old times" (which weren't all that good, as we all know), and we enjoyed the tour very much.

My sister took the photos with her mobile phone, and I have her kind permission to show them here.


  1. Meike, this is fascinating! It was a great read for my hurried breakfast this morning.

    1. I hope you weren't late because of me :-)
      By the way I usually read blogs with my morning coffee and muesli, too; it is such a nice way to start the day during the week, when I am on my own.

  2. It is a really fascinating insight into Palace life as it was.
    I imagine the reality of living in such a vast place was that it was cold, dark and rather creepy, especially at night.
    They must have longed for the long summer days and evenings.
    That being said it is a spectacular building and I've always enjoyed reading about the grounds on your blog so it's nice to see the inside. :)

    1. And yet, by all that we know, people were eager to find work at the palace; it was a question of prestige, and being at least fed and sheltered (and paid, even if just a little), as opposed to farming, which was not so well regarded and often kept people in dirt and poverty all their lives.

      Thank you - it really is a spectacular building, inside and out :-)

  3. I was once in Kensington Palace after closing time and it really was a thrill so I can imagine how lovely this tour was! I think that when people had to do things that involved close work after dark in the old days, they would have a candle close by, and sometimes if they were rich enough a magnifier. When electricity came in, some folk thought it would be bad for the eyes because nature never intended us to see such brightness all year round!

    1. I didn't know that about the introduction of electric light, Jenny, thank you for that little gem of information! I once read about the time when steam engines were built and the first locomotives were tried out in public, many believed those who'd ride at such enormous speed would go insane or die on the spot, because our bodies were not made for anything faster than a fast horse.

  4. I am sure that must have been a fascinating tour. Life was certainly different when we had so little artificial light. I wonder whether people had less insomnia than now.

    1. That's an interesting point, Kristi. For those of us who have to get up during the night to go to the bathroom, the advice often given is to use as little light as possible, in order to fall asleep again soon.

  5. Were you not tempted to hide somewhere and spend the night in the castle? I love this post and thank your sister for us for the photos. Wish I could see "your" castle!
    LUX- thanks for letting me learn something new!
    Oddly enough, I just spoke with my Dad last night and he was speaking of not having electricity in his home until he returned from Germany after his army service.
    Also, there was no electricity in his school as he was growing up!

    1. Funny that your Dad was on about a similar topic around the same time when I posted this :-)
      No, I was not so tempted this time... I was making sure that my Dad was well and able to keep up with the group. He is not as good on his feet as he used to be, and walking the whole tour was a challenge for him. Still, he enjoyed it very much, and I'm glad he was there with us!