War, wealth, and women: a short history of Wilhlemsbad State Park

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.

15 thoughts on “War, wealth, and women: a short history of Wilhlemsbad State Park

  1. What a dark history this amazing public space harbours; it must have been an eye-opening (the opulence inside the “ruins”) and shocking (flea traps!!!) experience.

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  2. How interesting! For the oldest fixed carousel in the world it sure looks amazing! The park also seems pretty nice and I alwasy love so nice ruins! 😊 Despite the fact that Wilhlelm I was clearly not a nice person, it seems like he enjoyed his share of fun! I have always wondered how “parties” were like at the time!

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    1. It is a nice park, the state takes care of it because of the historical value. Are there similar parks in Belgium? Wilhelm sure knows how to live it up. I find it interesting how it tends to be the same things or behavior with rich people even way back.

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      1. I’m not sure about similar parks in Belgium, there is a big one here in Brussels that also has museums and historical buildings, but it seems quite different from the one that you saw! 😊

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    1. It was so surprising to see the inside of the ruins and its secret rooms and grand dome. I was out of words! I have always seen it from the outside and thought so differently. Also, an interesting point: the ruins is directly straight from the castle where the Count lived – so soldiers can immediately tell if the wife is coming!

      Liked by 1 person

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