Hellbrunn and the Wasserspiele (Water Gardens) are best on a hot day- like the day we went. After getting our tickets, we waited a few minutes for a group to form. A Hellbrunn employee leads the Wasserspiele tour, and our guide, when she realised that we all knew English (our group consisted largely of noisy American students, conducted the tour only in English.
Archbishop Markus Sittikus built Schloß Hellbrunn as a pleasure resort between 1612 and 1619. He came here for breaks- and (or so it seems) to play pranks on his acquaintances. The Wasserspiele isn’t just pretty channels, fish-filled pools and grottoes; it’s also trick fountains that squirt water when you’re least expecting it. We were first led to a stone table and stools where Sittikus hosted alfresco meals. Our guide called for volunteers to sit- and get drenched seconds later by water erupting from the stools! Much squealing later, we were led down a gravel pathway, past tiny grottoes, each containing figures performing mechanical tasks. Sittikus had these designed to work by hydraulic power, and 400 years later, they still work. Along the same lines is the impressive Mechanical Theatre, a large model depicting a medieval town. The theatre contains 200 figures, of which 138 move rhythmically when the water flows. In the Crown Grotto, a bronze crown shoots up in the air- and stays there, atop a jet of water. By the time we emerged from the Wasserspiele, we were fascinated, amused- and wet. We dried out with a walk in the park (in one corner stands the pavilion where "I am sixteen going on seventeen" from The Sound of Music was filmed), and then headed for the palace.
We got free audio guides at the Reception, and ascended to the first floor. Though sparsely furnished- they aren’t carpeted of furnished- these rooms reveal much about Sittikus and his love for the unusual. Instead of luxury, there’s exotica here, especially from the animal world. The Bird Room is hung with paintings of rare and exotic birds; similarly, the Fish Room has paintings of rare- or exceptionally large- fish.
On a different note, the Festival Hall is painted with murals depicting a Roman forum. The murals use painted columns and figures to make the room appear larger. Murals (one depicting Sittikus himself) also decorate the Octagonal Room. The domed ceiling of this room, painted a deep orange, is striking, and has an octagonal opening that aids the room’s acoustics.
The palace, though not sumptuous, is small and pleasant. Combined with the Wasserspiele and the surrounding park, it’s a nice place for a visit- maybe even a picnic.
Hellbrunn opens at 9. Closing times vary: it closes at 10 in July and August, at 4.30 in April and October, and at 5.30 in May, June and September. Entry fees differ, too: individuals pay €8.50 per head, although students and senior citizens get discounts, as do groups. To reach Hellbrunn from the city centre, take bus number 25.