The Fürstenlager is a place for active deceleration. The world seems to become quieter and time to pass more slowly when you go to the Hessian state park near Bensheim-Auerbach: at the bottom of a valley basin lies a pretty ensemble of buildings framed by steep slopes of forest, meadows and vineyards. Nestled in the natural topography of the Odenwald at the transition to the Upper Rhine Plain, it cannot be called anything other than idyllic. This is how the princes who once used it to escape courtly constraints may have found it.
Dry Spring Prevents Swimming
It all started with a thwarted ‘bathing’ operation. A spring with red, fatty liquid had been found and was expected to cure many ailments. Hordes of people flocked to it, but it was quickly silted up again in 1739. Many years later, when it attracted the interest of the landgraves, a lucrative spa was to be established and the first pavilions were built. But the plans fell through and the mineral content of the “Good Well” was too low anyway. It remained a drinking cure.
The Princes “Camp” at the Summer Retreat
A first visit to the spa by the Hesse-Darmstadt hereditary prince Louis (1753-1830) and his wife Luise (1761-1829) in 1783 steered them in a different direction. They enjoyed the grounds with the “Gesundbrunnen” fountain and kept coming back for recreation. When Louis became reigning Landgrave (later Grand Duke Louis I of Hesse and by Rhine), they had existing buildings in the “little village” extended and more “leisure houses” built by 1795. Removed from the residential city, the couple was not looking for a place to play shepherd games in the absolutist manner. The cute complex was a real home for them and some court staff, a summer residence without ostentation.
English Model for Garden Design
At the same time, nature in the elongated Roßbach valley changed into an early landscape garden. It became - in the taste of the time - sensitively sentimental with many staffage buildings and monuments. Court gardener Carl Ludwig Geiger chose this design because it made it possible to incorporate the existing farmers’ fields, (orchard) meadows and vineyards into the park via meandering paths. With this characteristic feature, as well as through the prince’s own agriculture in the Fürstenlager, the beautiful area moulted into an “ornamental farm” in the English garden fashion.
Fantastic views towards the Odenwald and the Rhine Plain
Those who stroll in the narrow valley and walk up the steep slopes on serpentine paths take a deep breath. The paths lead to original or reconstructed park architecture and memorial sites such as the hermitage designed as a bark house in the far east, to the Temple of Friendship above the meadow Herrenwiese, to the grotto and the Luise Monument on the northern ridge or to the teahouse on the southern slope with its incomparable distant view of the Rhine plain. Most of the staffages were intended to stimulate inwardness.