Muskau park is the largest and one of the most famous English landscape gardens in Central Europe, stretching along both sides of the river Neiße, which also marks the German–Polish border. In 2004 the Muskau garden was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Creator of this masterpiece garden was the German aristocrat Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau.
Cycling towards Muskau on the Oder-Neiße cycling trail, we decided to read up on Prince Pückler-Muskau and the garden. So far, we had only associated the name of Prince Pückler with Neapolitan ice cream – which is named after him in German: Fürst-Pückler-Eis!
Prince Pückler-Muskau must have been one of the most flamboyant characters of his time. He was a fervent traveller, always on the move, while already planning the next trip. And this was during a time when the cholera was raging in Europe. So, every now and then he had to quarantine for 40 days (!) during his travels.
In the 19th century, he already went to places like Algeria, Egypt, and Sudan and published his adventures in German newspapers. Much to the disapproval of his wife he even brought back a black woman lover from Egypt, whom he had bought on the slave market and set free. Makhbuba later died lonely in the small German town of Muskau.
Prince Pückler and his gardens
Besides travelling, gardening was another passion of the flashy prince. He went to England several times, expressly in order to study landscape architecture with the best gardeners of his time. Due to his expensive lifestyle, Prince Pückler was always broke – even after marrying into the wealthy and influential Hardenberg family. This time in agreement with his wife, the prince also hoped to find a rich second spouse in Britain – but to no avail.
Back in Germany he started to lay out his masterpiece – the Muskau Park in Muskau. As he did not want to wait for trees to grow he perfected a method to transplant huge trees. He even developed a transportation vehicle for this task. Later in life he also established a school of landscape garden management.
All these activities again cost a lot of money. Eventually, Prince Pückler-Muskau had to sell the stately family residence of his mother’s family in Muskau. Instead, they moved to Branitz near Cottbus, where his father’s family came from.
During our cycling tours in 2020 we visited Prince Pückler’s garden in Muskau as well as his garden in Branitz near Cottbus.
Tired from more than two weeks of cycling we decide to tackle the famous garden on foot, although the leaflet we got from the information also lists a cycling route through the vast area. At the heart of the ensemble lies the baroque residence of the Pückler-Muskau family with a large exhibition about the garden. (Unfortunately it was closed due to Corona).
Before we finally lost ourselves in the labyrinth of skilfully planned paths we had a look into the informative and fragrant herb garden. Typical for an English landscape garden, the Muskauer Park features large green open spaces and quite often huge, solitary standing trees. Some of them are still the ones planted by Pückler-Muskau himself. Small artificial streams meander through the garden and via several bridges we cross into neighbouring Poland and back to Germany. Today two thirds of the garden are within Poland. During the walk visitors pass the border posts in black-red-gold and red-white along the river Neiße.
The highest degree of landscape gardening is only achieved where it appears to have become nature again, but in its most noble form.
In another part of the park, west of the town of Muskau, Prince Pückler-Muskau established a spa in the hope of financing his costly hobbies with the revenues. Again, he failed, but his efforts earned the town the name “Bad Muskau” (spa town of Muskau).
Prince Pückler’s Garden in Branitz
After moving to Castle Branitz, Prince Pückler-Muskau began to redesign the garden there as well. He was already 60 years old when he started and had never really lived in his family home. But with the experience from Muskau he was more daring and freer in his endeavours. Like in Muskau, the castle in the centre of the Branitz garden houses an exhibition (again closed due to Corona). In the vast garden area Pückler-Muskau created an artificial landscape par excellence. He dug canals and lakes and fashioned hills with the excavated earth.
Prince Pückler-Muskau himself is buried in a pyramid-shaped structure on an island in the middle of a large lake in the Branitz garden. He had made provisions for his remains to be chemically treated before they were put to the final rest in the so-called sea pyramide. It seems the prince was quite impressed with the Pharaonic sites he had visited in Egypt. And guess what, in antiquity only the Pharao would be buried in a pyramid.
Pückler built another pyramid for his wife that remained empty, however. His wife Lucy is buried on the local protestant graveyard.
Is it worth visiting the gardens of Bad Muskau and Branitz?
We enjoyed our visits to both gardens of Prince Pückler-Muskau in Muskau and Branitz. Although we have only a medium interest in gardening and garden architecture we could appreciate the thoughtful and skilfull layout of both gardens. Reading up on the quirky prince was fun. The ice-cream is still not our favourite.
How to visit the gardens of Bad Muskau and Branitz?
The entrance to Muskau Park is in the centre of the small town of Bad Muskau. The nearest larger train station is Cottbus, from where it takes at least 1:30 h by public bus to Bad Muskau. If you are planning to visit the Polish side of the garden as well, you will need a whole day for the visit. Entrance to the garden is free.
Official Website: Muskauer Park
The Branitz garden lies on the outskirts of Cottbus. The city bus takes about 20 minutes from the main station. To visit the main part of the garden you should allow around 3 hours of time.
NB: We were not sponsored for our garden visits and paid all expenses ourselves.