Deer, beavers, adders, kingfishers, tawny owls, Canada geese: with a little luck, you can see all sorts of wildlife in Nymphenburg Palace Park – in the heart of the city! Our author went on safari.
It all began with the triplax lacordairei; this grand zoological title belongs to a specific type of fungus beetle that lives in Nymphenburger Schlosspark. Now, I am neither a zoologist nor am I interested in local insects but I was nonetheless excited to find out that the park was not famous solely for its idyllic setting – featuring fountains, wells, sculptures, romantic bridges and many small castles – but also for rare flora and fauna. The triplax lacordairei is the most notable of these. The palace park is the only place in Germany where it can be found. But what makes this location so right for the beetle? Environment minister Thorsten Glauber says that “palace gardens are biodiversity hotspots.” Time to go for a walk and take a closer look.
There isn’t a cloud in the sky when I meet photographer Frank at the entrance to the park on a July morning. I have prepared for the day by downloading the Nymphenburg Park app, which shows me various routes for experiencing the park: the short route is centred around the symmetrical landscaped gardens close to the palace itself, while the two-hour southern tour takes you further out, to the Löwental (“lion valley”), and the northern tour explores the Pagodenburg Valley, which goes up to the northern wall of the park.
The last time I walked through this park was in November, when a deer and its fawn suddenly appeared before me on one of the paths. Who would have thought you could get so close to them in their natural habitat while being in a palace park?
We start off along the northern tour route and after just a few minutes of walking we find ourselves standing in a copse that is flooded with light. We are in the middle of the palace park, created by landscaper Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell – and yet we feel quite far away in this small, bright grove where meadow grasses sway gently to and fro, shimmering gold in the early sunlight.
Could that rare fungus beetle be scuttling around here somewhere? I’m reminded of something I was told about the Nymphenburger Schlosspark by Rudolf Nützel, the conversationist, as I walked with him through a different wooded area: “The precious mature trees contain both breeding and mulm hollows, which act as habitats for rare animals.” Mulm hollows? I marvelled at the new things I was learning. When a tree suffers a small split caused by a lightning strike, for example, a woodpecker might then expand that gap to create a spot that a tawny owl can happily move into and make its own – and it’s called a mulm hollow. We’ll come back to tawny owls.
I take a few steps into the meadow, soaking up the warmth of the sun and feeling the damp grass between the toes of my sandalled feet, listening to the click of Frank’s camera as I do so. The last time I walked through this park was in November, when a deer and its fawn suddenly appeared before me on one of the paths. I was transfixed, as were all the other walkers, watching the pair while they watched us. Then they both disappeared into the undergrowth as quickly as they had leapt out of it. Who would have thought you could get so close to them in their natural habitat while being in a palace park? And they aren’t the only animals that have a home here:
a total of 17 mammals and 175 bird species live in this park! Among them, to name only a few, are bats, rabbits, foxes, polecats, grass snakes – not to mention the highly endangered Eurasian hobby falcon which often puts in a guest appearance, along with the long-eared owl and the common buzzard that hunts here. On the tour with Nützel we learned that the park is also a haven for small creatures such as the common winter damselfly, the girdled mining bee and the bow-winged grasshopper. It was the first time I had ever heard of the last three, and as I read their names now I feel as though I am looking through a book with the title “The Wondrous World of Animals”. On finding out how many living things crawl, jump, fly and swim around here, I considered investing in a pair of binoculars.
Of course there’s never any guarantee when it comes to animal sightings, which means I’m even more delighted by the richly varied flora to be discovered here. Nützel listed a few plants, some of which I actually recognise as I wander through the woods. I identify horseshoe vetch and rock roses; the hemispherical phyteuma, known as “devil’s claw” in German; meadowsweet and various species of sage.
To a soundtrack of birdsong we strike out for the northernmost point of the route, the Pagodenburg Valley, to discover its idyllic scenes of ponds nestled amid linden trees. If you keep going all the way to the park gate, you can find a distinctive linden tree that has been standing proud for 300 years. From here we head south to the Pagodenburg palace, which is situated near a small lake. We skip the palace today though, instead attempting to do the impossible and get a glimpse of a resident kingfisher. There is actually a pair of kingfishers that lives in Nymphenburg palace park, and which have been spotted by a few keen birdwatchers.
There is actually a pair of kingfishers that lives in Nymphenburg palace park, and which have been spotted by a few keen birdwatchers. With their gorgeous blue and orange plumage and (for the males) striking turquoise highlights, they certainly stand out from other birds.
Although I am a bit better informed about birds than I am about beetles, I’m no expert on that matter either. Still, I do know that kingfishers live close to fresh, healthy bodies of water, which is why they are very rarely seen in industrialised areas. With their gorgeous blue and orange plumage and (for the males) striking turquoise highlights, they certainly stand out from other birds. The species has been endangered on and off in Germany over the years, although the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union has considered the population to be stable since the 1970s. We walk around the lake keeping our eyes open, but fail to spot one gliding over the surface of the water or diving into it.
As we have not had our fill of fresh air and free bird concerts after an hour and a half, we do part of the southern route. We head towards the Badenburg, or bath house, which is home to multiple tawny owls, most notably the much-photographed Kasimir, who lives in a linden tree by the bridge leading to the Badenburg. We search for him high in the canopy for a while – after all, tawny owls are well-camouflaged – and eventually we spot him and give him a wave. He acknowledges us with half-closed eyes and a downright grumpy look.
Rudolf Nützel also talked to our group about the waterfowl at Badenburger See lake: “The inaccessible islands in particular are valuable breeding grounds for birds and an important refuge for wildlife. A beaver’s lodge can be seen on the shore of one of the islands. In addition to grey and Canada geese, you can usually also see small gaggles of barnacle geese here.” Only if you’ve brought binoculars though...
What I like most on this southern side of the park is the atmosphere of the Löwental valley. The app tells me that the valley was created by von Sckell because “the level ground of the baroque palace park was too monotonous.” It was this exact thought that inspired him to landscape the area, sculpting out the ditches and hills that seem so natural as we walk. His landscaping resulted in such features as this soft meadow valley before me, where I experience an incredibly beautiful summer moment. It is bewitchingly loud here, thanks to thousands of male field crickets pouring forth their mating music; as soon as I close my eyes, the sound transports me right back to my last holiday in Italy.
As Frank and I head back onto a shady forest path, deep in conversation, a young deer suddenly jumps out from between the trees. It chews its breakfast serenely, keeping an eye on us as it does so. We stand there together for a while, delighted, and then it disappears once more. And I think: no visit to Nymphenburg palace park without seeing a deer. A personal track record that I like very much.