A Hearty Welcome!
In 2007 the foundation “Stiftung Heiligenberg Jugenheim” was formed which in 2012 took on Heiligenberg Castle with its imposing park shortly after the Hessian teachers’ training college withdrew and vacated the buildings after a period of over 65 years. Since then this gem on the “Bergstrasse” has developed into a crowd-puller. Visitors appreciate the opportunity to combine its amazing historical background in beautiful surroundings with walks through magnificent countryside. The increasing number of private festivities as well as seminars and conferences also underlines the popularity of Heiligenberg Castle.
Heiligenberg was already used as a law court and meeting place in Frankish times (5th – 9th century AD). A convent was established there from ca. 13th to 14th century and until the 15th century, the hundred court was held there once a year under the over 800 year old lime tree. From 1789 onwards Heiligenberg was entrusted the lords von Hausen as administrators of powerful and influential Monastery in Lorsch (UNESCO listed since 1991) which then possessed the estate.
After secularisation in 1803, Heiligenberg fell to Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1810 Grand Duke Ludwig I of Hesse and by Rhine endowed Heiligenberg the then minister of finance and deserving civil servant, August Konrad von Hofmann, in gratitude for having favourably reorganised the state’s finances. Between 1814 and 1816 Hofmann had new buildings erected from plans by Georg Moller, the court planner and architect. These included a new residential manor building, sheds, stables, cellar, laundry and a distillery. He also had orchards and vineyards planted and a 2 km long water pipe laid from a well on Tannenberg.
In 1827 Wilhelmine, Princess of Baden and spouse of the later Grand Duke Ludwig II, acquired the estate and, in 1831, had it converted into her summer residence and place of tranquillity according to further plans by Moller. A stately bedroom with fireplace and stove was installed on the main floor. On the Rhine side of the building there was a covered balcony. With its nine bedrooms, wine cellar, ten horse stables and pigsties, the estate had become quite a princely summer residence.
Since court was held on the Heiligenberg for at least three months of the year, the bakers, butchers, innkeepers and craftsmen in Jugenheim also made a living. Wilhelmine also had a big heart for the poor, the old and the sick. The chronicle of the Jugenheim mountain church mentions that there were no really poor people in Jugenheim at that time.
Grand Duchess Wilhelmine died on 27 January 1836 at the age of only 48 leaving the estate to her youngest children Marie and Alexander. In 1841 Marie became the spouse of the future Russian Tsar, one of the wealthiest men in the world at that time, and relinquished her share, leaving the estate solely to Alexander. Prince Alexander who had followed her to Russia and established a career in the Russian army fell in love with a lady-in-waiting, Julie von Hauke, in the court of his sister, causing a scandal and was forced to leave the country in disgrace. In 1851 he married her and they returned to Heiligenberg Castle where she was soon elevated to lower nobility and given the title of Duchess of Battenberg by the Grand Duke, thus making Heiligenberg Castle the ancestral seat of the Battenberg family (later renamed Mountbatten in Britain). A few years later she was raised in status and given the title of Princess of Battenberg.
Due to Marie’s marital involvement in the Russian court and her eternal love of Heiligenberg, the second half of the 19th century Heiligenberg saw the castle and grounds a popular meeting place of Russian and Hessian dynasties. Until 1910, the Russian tsars Alexander II, Alexander III and Nikolai II regularly visited Heiligenberg Castle for their summer retreat. Their vast empire was ruled from Jugenheim during this time, and European politics and diplomacy took place here.
Heiligenberg estate (castle and park) was finally inherited by the eldest son of Alexander and Julie after her death in 1895. Ludwig (1854 – 1921), who had already emigrated to England and joined the Royal Navy as a teenager, followed an impressive career up to the rank of supreme commander (First Sea Lord) and regularly used Heiligenberg as a summer residence after his marriage to Princess Viktoria von Hessen-Darmstadt (1863 – 1950) in 1884. Towards the end of the First World War Prince Ludwig of Battenberg, Prince Alexander and Princess Julie’s eldest son and First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy (in retirement), was persuaded to drop all German titles and changed the family name to the anglicised Mountbatten, following the recommendation of King George V. In 1920, whilst still living in England, he had to sell the Heiligenberg estate which then fell into private hands. Only a few years later it was finally transferred to the then “Volksstaat Hessen” (People’s State of Hesse). In 1933 a training school for female “Gauführer” was established there. Soon after the Second World War a teachers’ training college was set up at Heiligenberg which remained there for over 65 years before being vacated and left empty for a short while before the foundation “Stiftung Heiligenberg Jugenheim” moved in and started developing the estate as a visitor’s attraction.
The Park of Heiligenberg Castle
The horticultural history of Heiligenberg probably already began with the convent that existed here from the 13th to the 14th century. Agricultural activities were probably carried out for or by the nuns, such as arable farming and viticulture. Orchards, chestnut and walnut trees were also cultivated. This type of farming can be seen later in time, from 1771 to 1788, when the Jugenheim priest Christian Friedrich Lindenmeyer had the slopes terraced and cherry and nut trees planted.
From 1789 onwards Heiligenberg was under the possession of and managed by the Monastery in Lorsch. In 1803 the estate changed hands and fell to Hesse which later awarded it to August Konrad Hofmann (1776 – 1841) who had buildings extended and two ornamental gardens landscaped: A regular garden divided into three terraces on the western slope in front of the main house of the estate – where the terraced garden is still located today, and a small landscaped section around the convent chapel ruins and the court lime tree.
In 1827 Hofmann sold the manor and the surrounding estate to Hereditary Grand Duchess Wilhelmine (1788 – 1836). She acquired the estate as a kind of retreat from the Darmstadt court and as a summer residence and had significant embellishments made, many of which still characterise Heiligenberg Castle and park today.
Wilhelmine, who was a born a princess of Baden drew on the services of the Baden court garden director Johann Michael Zeyher (1770 – 1843) from Schwetzingen for the design of the Rosenhöhe, the Palais gardens and the Herrengarten in Darmstadt as well as the park of the Wolfsgarten hunting lodge in Langen. She hired Zeyher to also design the park at Heiligenberg. Unfortunately there are no documents or letters from his hand concerning this.
Around 1829 she had the impressive terrace with balustrade lined with lime trees built and an open pavilion with a large onion dome (the pavilion was most likely demolished during the Second World War). The original 200-metre-long pergola which originally almost reached the ruins of the convent chapel was also planted during her time. Incidentally, the chapel ruins were actually reconstructed as a folly by order of Wilhelmine.
Under Alexander and his wife Julie, the park of Heiligenberg Castle took on the shape it still has today. Under the guidance of the well-qualified court gardener Johannes Gernet (1831 – 1903), who worked at Heiligenberg from 1851/52 until his death, the park was further landscaped. Precious and rare conifers were of particularly interest. Old incense cedars, Caucasian spruces, impressive sequoias, Spanish and Colorado fir still bear witness today. During this period other parts of the park between the Stettbach and Balkhausen valleys were also embellished with paths, clearings and more trees. Gernet also managed the extensive kitchen and fruit gardens, the produce of which was used to cater for the resident family and their distinguished guests. In 1865/66 the children erected the approx. 8 metre high Golden Cross near the court lime tree in memory of their mother, Grand Duchess Wilhelmine.
Around 1877 the upper part of the castle approach was altered and an embankment built. In the course of the excavation gardener Gernet created the ornamental pond, the surroundings of which were also planted with precious conifers. Under Alexander and Julie the castle was gradually enlarged and extended. Above all the outhouses, stables and farm buildings were shifted outside to the southern end of the kitchen garden.
After the death of Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine in 1888 the area surrounding the Golden Cross was enclosed by ornamental railings, in 1892-94 a mausoleum (now a memorial chapel) was erected close by, by order of Julie for the remains Alexander that were transferred from Darmstadt. After the death of Princess Julie of Battenberg in 1895, a grave was constructed behind the Golden Cross in 1902 where both Julie and Alexander now rest in peace, side by side under the stars. Around 1904 Ludwig and Viktoria had some alterations made to the castle and park. In particular, the top terrace at the castle was enlarged and provided with a retaining wall and the terraced garden was made into a rose garden. Also the “Gärtnervilla” (gardener’s villa) was built to comfortably house head gardener Gernet in the second generation.
After Ludwig had sold the estate in 1920 it was held for about ten years in private hands, during which the park was rather neglected. The then “Volksstaat Hessen” (People’s State of Hesse) acquired the castle and park establishing a training school for female Gauführer. During this time the park was essentially maintained by the Jugenheim forestry office. After the Second World War the Pedagogical Institute was present and maintained the ornamental and kitchen gardens with its own gardeners. In the 1960s the kitchen garden was gradually transformed into an orchard. But already in 1957 the greenhouse was replaced by a gymnasium, only to be demolished, together with the outer farm buildings in the 1980s. The rose garden and pergola were renewed during this time. Today the park and buildings are generally maintained by the state of Hesse with the foundation taking care of the state of repair of all of the buildings on the estate and providing advice as to improving the attraction of the estate to visitors from all over the world. The extensive woodland is looked the Hessian forestry commission with the gardening being given to a subcontractor.