Schwetzingen Bathhouse

Schwetzingen bathhouse is a beautiful building in a private part of the gardens where Carl Theodore would invite his closest guests. Actually, even though the building is named after its big marble bathtub, we are not sure the Prince Elector ever used this very fancy bath in this gracious little building.

The part of the garden where the bathhouse is situated was reserved for the Prince Elector and some of his closest acquaintances.

It is a small private garden inside a bigger garden. A well known musician, Christian Daniel Schubert, wrote in 1773 after a visit to the Prince Electo, that the bathhouse was: ”a small but incredibly tasteful building in the Schwetzingen gardens”, and that Carl Theodore: ”had put aside virtually every item of glamour … and seemed to be quite simply a decent person and a charming participant in society”.

In fact, the Prince Elector was known as a man who loved art and science and who tried to surround himself with all kinds of musicians, painters, sculptors, poets, etc. 

And so, the exquisite details of his bathhouse reflect this: there are Chinese wallpaper in the tearoom, mirrors and landscape murals in the study, marble in the bathroom, taps in the form of serpents’ heads to fill the bathtub with cold and HOT water, etc. Many artists, painters, sculptors, stucco plasterers, cabinet makers and architects worked on this building.

But the overall creator of this little marvel was Nicolas de Pigage, director of Schwetzingen buildings and gardens. He succeeded in integrating real materials such as marble and solid bronze, with fake items such as stucco and bronze-coloured plaster. 

There was also in the western part of the Schwetzingen bathhouse an even more private part: a bedroom or restroom, where Carl Theodore could relax between visits from his guests. 

The gardens surrounding the building were also for his private use and entertainment. It is known that the Palace gardens had been open to the public since early on (the first rules for public visitors were issued in 1787), which is rather unusually egalitarian for the era. So it is understandable that Carl Theodore would have wanted to keep a private area for himself away from the eyes of the commoners.

In this private garden, we also find an amazing trellis with bronze birds sitting on top of it. From their mouths water is shooting. It is a very fanciful fountain reflecting a little-known legend: the bird in the middle of the fountain and on which the other birds are basically spitting is an eagle owl.

In ancient Greek tradition, the eagle owl is the only one that ate his own kind. And thus it is fitting that birds of all other kinds would be spiting on it! 

Another whimsical element of this garden is a pavilion with a diorama called “Perspective” and which is in fact a “trompe-l’oeil” painting or illusion of a countryside landscape. 

It is very well done; once you enter in the tunnel-like grotto, you see at a distance a natural looking landscape with a river crossing it, as if looking at an English garden through a window. The illusion is reinforced by the fact that it is painted using the fresco technique on a slightly curved surface which is open to the sky.

It is all very romantic: one can easily imagine Carl Theodore and his wife walking through the tunnel or grotto decorated with semi-precious stones and shells, looking at this charming countryside scenery.

Because of the historical significance and incredibly good preservation of this exquisite building, it is requested that all guest remove their shoes before entering the premise and put on the provided slippers. 

A guard is there to remind you, should you forget. 

In fact, this guard is more than just a guardian at the door: he can tell you all kinds of little anecdotes about Prince Theodore and his guests that you would not find in the usual guide books … Such as: where is the toilet and how the waste was handled; why were the ladies raising their little finger when drinking tea (a habit that many of us still have today even though we no longer use the little finger as a nose cleaning tool … well most of us anyway …); who were the usual guests; and how the Prince used to ”join in” musical evenings by playing the flute, etc. 

Of course, you need to understand German to appreciate the guard’s stories; otherwise there are guided tours in English and other languages.