Rich Rooms with wall coverings and stucco in the Munich Residence.

A visit to the Residence

You'll be left agog!

How does a canary-yellow bathroom become part of the Munich city palace? It was created during the 1960s for stately guests. Whether its prominent visitors – including the likes of Charles De Gaulle or Queen Elisabeth II – happened to indulge in a refreshing foot bath following a strenuous visit to the city, will probably remain a mystery within the castle walls forever. But before we get to the bathroom's history, we must first shed some light on the splendour of the Electoral Bed.

Dukes, Electors and Kings: From the late Middle Ages onwards, Bavaria's rulers directed the destinies of their subjects from the Residence. When taking a leisurely stroll through the expansive rooms, the question inevitably arises as to how the inhabitants at that time may have felt in these rather cool rooms – comfort was certainly not part of the design requirements for a castle apartment. One of the most impressive rooms owes its origins to Elector Karl Albrecht (1697 to 1745), who commissioned the creation of the so-called "Reiche Zimmer" (Rich Rooms), which were built between 1730 and 1733 by the architect François Cuvilliés.

At the time, the ceremonial pomp associated with the court of Versailles was regarded as the epitome of perfection for European princely courts. There was no privacy here – these days, it is the contestants we see on TV in the Big Brother container that enjoy a similar experience. The Bourbons, especially the Sun King Louis XIV, always dined in front of an audience; even the births of future rulers were considered public events. Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising then that the "Lever" and "Coucher" vestiture rituals performed in the morning and the evening for the King and Queen, were a matter of state interest in the presence of the court.

There was no privacy at the court of Versailles – these days, it is the contestants we see on TV in the Big Brother container that enjoy a similar experience.

However, it was Karl Albrecht who preventing things from reaching this point in Bavaria: Although he had his Rich Rooms furnished to accommodate a sumptuous stately bedroom, in keeping with the French fashion, he never laid to sleep in the larger-than-life bed. Fitted out with luxury Parisian furniture and precious textiles, the rooms were not spaces for living as we know today – they served to showcase a ruler's power, thereby underpinning the Wittelsbacher's claim to imperial dignity.

It is all the more astonishing that, during the sixties and seventies, personalities with anything but a Bavarian ancestry were permitted to retire to these sacred halls of southern German history. Curia Cardinal Gustavo Testa, for example, was given the Elector’s Bed in 1960 during the Eucharistic World Congress.

Sometimes, however, such stately accommodation also served a practical purpose: The French statesman Charles de Gaulle, for example, proved something of a challenge for diplomatic protocol during his state visit in 1962, given his height of 1.95 m. For the five nights he spent on German soil, beds of an adequate length – greater than two metres – had to be found to accommodate the man's height. While Bonn and Hamburg were reliant on custom-made products, Bavaria's government had a much smarter solution in store and, in honour of the statesman's stay, simply prepared the huge, sumptuous bed in the Residence.

In contrast to Baroque rulers, who preferred a dry wash, state visitors did indeed require more modern sanitation standards, which is why a bathroom was built for them. Fitted with bright yellow tiles, which at that time were all the rage, it strikes a peculiar contrast to the brocade-clad walls of the bedroom, which is why it is not open to visitors.

In contrast to Baroque rulers, who preferred a dry wash, state visitors did indeed require more modern sanitation standards, which is why a bathroom was built for them.

Queen Elisabeth II was also to enjoy the amenities on offer at the aristocratic Residence during her state visit in 1965. On the fourth day of her visit to Germany, the Queen and her husband moved into the stately bedroom, but just for a few hours, in order to change and relax. Relax? In these rooms? Well, given that you would do well to find more experienced palace dwellers than Elizabeth and Philip anywhere in the world, the two of them may have been able to take five and relax, albeit in this rather chilly atmosphere.

Two years later, the Shah of Persia, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his wife Farah really did spend the night on the Elector’s couch. The arrival of Queen Silvia of Sweden in March 1979 marked the end of putting up state guests at the Residence. There was a rumour circulating in Munich that she was not entirely at ease at night with the spacious rooms, which led her to flee after just one night's stay and move to the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. Officially, however, it was said that the move was simply a change in the nature of the visit, from a formal engagement to a private one. In view of the significant effort involved, following Queen Silvia's visit the decision was made not to accommodate any more state guests at the Residence.

And anyway, the state guests who followed in later years were probably able to get over the fact that they did not enjoy the chance to spend the night in a Wittelsbach bed.

 

Text: Eveline Heinrich; Photos: Frank Stolle

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