Near our flat is a beautiful and enormous park called Wilhelmsbad, a state-managed park with a lush forest, antique carousel, historic buildings, ruins, and a well. Or so I thought.
Last Monday, Markus and I were treated to a quick history lesson that revealed the juicy, dark origins of Wilhelmsbad. For some unknown reason, this day was special. The family-friendly park I knew will never be the same.
For starters, the normally shuttered carousel with colorful horses and carriages was operating, a queue announcing the surprise in front. I knew it was a really old structure, but I did not know that the Wilhelmsbad Carousel is the oldest preserved fixed carousel in the world. Very cool, right?
The wooden floor made a distinct noise as it went round and round, slowly, but I guess pleasurably, judging by the faces of the guests. It is all mechanized now, of course, but animals pulled it from below historically.
Then, Markus’ parents told us the ruins at the park were open, too. It has been a rarity since the pandemic, I have never seen it open before, and this is even the first time Markus is able to go inside, and he lived here most of his life! I have always been curious what was inside this old castle and had my assumptions based on other similar buildings we previously visited, but I have never been so wrong!
Inside the perpetually locked entrance is a pleasure palace, elegant and colorful, with a grand domed hall to boot. It was only an artificial ruin built to satisfy the whims of Wilhelm I von Hessen-Kassel, the Count of Hanau.
He was a wealthy arms dealer, literally. He supplied Hessian soldiers to both England and USA, benefiting from wars fought in other lands. He also thought his wife Princess Karoline of Denmark was ugly and he blamed her for all his womanizing.
And so the artifical ruin in Wilhelmsbad came to be as his weekend residence for debauchery, and the surrounding park and spa complex a playground to boost his status.
Wilhelmsbad was where the high society gathered at the time, the entire park built around a spring with supposedly and questionably healing powers. Not very many from the aristocracy bathed at this time though, so much so that they had to use flea egg traps – egg-like structures hidden inside clothes to collect fleas that live on the body. Yikes!
The park and spa complex is one of the oldest English landscaped parks in the world. Apart from the forest, spring, ruins, and carousel, Wilhelmsbad also has a comedy house, hermitage, rock passages, devil’s bridge, snail mountain, and playground, all to keep the rich and famous of those days entertained. Think an exclusive wonderland where Jay-Z, the Russian oligarchs, and the Pussy Cat dolls would spend a weekend or two partying.
Today, Wilhelmsbad is a public park enjoyed by everybody.