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Little Pheasant Castle, Moritzburg

Moritzburg is a small town of around 3000 inhabitants near Dresden, the capital of the land Saxony in the East of Germany. It’s famous for its late Baroque/Rococo castle surrounded by so-called sky lakes, i.e., lakes mainly filled by rain water. Near the castle are a small palace park in the formal French style and an informal palace forest.

Another castle is situated about 1 km away from the main castle, in 1769 the architect Johann Daniel Schade got the assignment to build a summer residence. Its German name is Fasanenschlösschen, literally Little Pheasant Castle. It is indeed little, the basis is a square of only 13,4 x 13,4 m, each side has five bay windows. But it’s well visible standing on a small hill with its pink façade. On the top of the roof are two Chinese figures, one is sitting, the other standing over him holding a parasol. These are replicas, the original figures are now in the neighbouring building, the former kitchen, which houses the till and a small gift shop. When people approached the Pheasant Castle, the sitting Chinese figure used to nod its head in a welcome greeting.

The Pheasant Castle was vandalised after WW2, reconstruction took eleven years and was possible due to an anonymous benefactor who donated generously. It was opened to the public again in 2007. It can be visited from April to October, every day from 10 am to 5 pm, tours start every half hour, and as only ten people are allowed in at a time, reservation is highly recommended. Tours in English can be organised if booked some time in advance. It’s not permitted to visit the castle without a guide.

After paying for the tickets, 5,50 Euro/concession 3,50 Euro, the visitors get a pair of white cotton gloves. Once inside, the guide tells the visitors to put one-size-fits-all felt slippers over their shoes so that the floors of the rooms won’t be scratched. Walking with them is bit slithery, it’s advisable to walk around arm in arm with a partner to support each other.

The first room is the former reception room with period furniture and fitting ornaments on the ceiling. The gloves make sense, if everybody touched the exhibits, there would soon be fingerprints all over the place. The walls are bare, the silk wallpaper (wallsilk?) has still to be produced. The problems are that there’s only one firm which can do it and that there are no remains of the original one to copy. They’re still experimenting.

The following room is the study of Elector Friedrich August III, a great-grandson of Elector August the Strong, a man whose traces you’ll meet everywhere in Saxony. When Friedrich August III was sitting at his desk, he could see the main castle at the end of an axis cutting through the park with a fountain in the foreground. The view is so pretty that one can doubt he did a lot of work there.

A sitting-room, a bedroom and a dressing-room follow. These rooms are also still without wallpaper. The sitting-room is going to get one made of dyed poultry, pheasant and peacock feathers, the bedroom one made of stalks of straw, in both rooms small specimen of what to expect hang on the walls.

All rooms have beautiful tiled ovens which were fuelled from the staircase in order not to dirty the rooms. Strangely, the bedroom has no wardrobe or chests to store things, the explanation is that the castle was rarely used for overnight stays. The bed may have been used for other purposes than sleeping. There was always the big castle with more comfortable bedrooms, but a further reason not to stay overnight may have been the pheasants kept in breeding pens at the base of the castle. If you’ve ever heard the cry of a pheasant, an ugly sound similar to a hoarse cow mooing, you’ll understand that nobody in their right mind must have wanted to sleep near dozens of these birds.

The pheasants were raised to be shot, shooting animals being one of the pastimes of the nobility. In the forest round the castle white deer were kept, white, so that they were easier targets. Deer, boars, even imported bears were chased by hounds through the forest and then into the lakes. If and when they reached the opposite bank exhausted, they were shot by the hunters awaiting them there. Such a hunt is depicted in a huge picture on the wall of the dining-room on the first floor. From the bedroom and from the loo on the first floor (which doesn’t exist any more) one has a pretty view of a lake and a lighthouse.

A lighthouse? Why should a lake of rather small proportions have a lighthouse? Occasionally the Elector staged sea battles on the lake or went for ‘round-the-world’ trips with his guests. They started in Europe, the lighthouse, went into a canal symbolising the Dardanelles, Asia Minor, and then reached the fountain from which they could see the Chinaman on the roof of the castle, the Far East.

If you were a noble person without any real occupation, days could be long. So, what else was there to pass the time? The answer can be found on the first floor. Beside the dining-room is an apartment for guests whose walls are covered with canvas depicting oriental scenes. Turkish, Indian, Chinese, it was all the same then as long as it looked exotic.

One wall shows a different scene, however, namely a peasant family sitting in front of a simple hut round a table above which there are a lot of flies. "So what?", you may think until you learn that occasionally noble people dressed up as poor peasants, went to the villages and whiled away the time catching flies. How perverted can you get?

Should you ever travel through Saxony, pay the only remaining Rococo castle a visit, it’s worth your time and money.

Reservations for guided tours: Tel. 0049 3 52 07 8 73-0

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