The Tulip Girls

If you look at a map of Karlsruhe, Germany, you will see that there are streets radiating out from the Palace in all directions. Actually the back ones radiate out through the woods and the front ones through the city.

It was all planned this way by the Margrave Karl Wilhelm of Baden-Durlach (1679 – 1738), who claimed to have had a vision in a dream that showed him how his new palace and city should be laid out. Originally his palace was smaller and was mainly intended as a weekend and holiday retreat for the Margrave (to get away from his virtuous wife), hence the name Karlsruhe, which means roughly Charlie’s rest and relaxation place.

Museum entrance / A room in the museum

 

Throne of His Highness the Margrave

The Margrave’s Palace is now the main venue of the Baden State Museum (Badisches Landesmuseum). This is a large museum of art and culture from prehistoric times up to the present, with emphasis on the history of the German South-West in the 16th through 19th centuries. In various parts of the museum there are rooms that have been reconstructed to show how people used to live in this area in earlier centuries. Also on display is the throne of His Highness the Margrave Karl Wilhelm, who was the absolute ruler of this small corner of Germany from 1709 until his death in 1738.

The Palace Tower

Admission to the museum includes access to the Palace Tower, where you can get good views of Karlsruhe and the Palace Gardens.

Where the Tulip Girls used to live

Three quarters of the way up the tower you come to one of the rooms where the Tulip Girls used to live. Here you are greeted by a sign saying you have already climbed up 121 steps and have only 37 more to get to the top.

Originally there were 24 rooms for the Tulip Girls, who were young women from Karlsruhe and vicinity. The Margrave had about sixty of them on the payroll every year between 1717 and 1733. This is documented in the payroll records kept by the palace administration during that period.

The Margrave’s horticultural, musical and amorous interests were all dealt with by the Tulip Girls, who were charged with caring for his collection of tulips imported at great expense from Holland. A tulip bulb at that time could cost as much as 40 Gulden, which was twice as much as a washerwoman could expect to earn in an entire year. The Margrave once journeyed to Holland himself to buy bulbs, and he also employed painters to paint pictures of the best tulips that bloomed in the palace gardens in the spring.

When the Tulip Girls weren’t tending tulips, they were expected to sing in the many concerts and operas that the Margrave put on in the palace for himself and his courtiers.

Inevitably there were rumors that the Tulip Girls also had certain other duties in the palace. Reportedly some of them had illegitimate children named Carl or Carlina who were cared for in the palace at the Margrave’s expense.

Not everyone was amused by the Margrave and his Tulip Girls. His wife complained in a private letter about “Carl’s ridiculous harem”, and several German dramatists of the 18th century wrote bourgeois tragedies about upright young women who were driven to suicide by the lust of the local rulers. The best known of these tragedies are Emilia Galotti by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729 – 1781) and Kabale und Liebe by Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805). The latter was later turned into an opera called Luisa Miller (which I have seen several times in Frankfurt and once in Lyon) by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901). 

Sylvia the Tulip Girl by Toni Peter Kleinhans

Sylvia the Tulip Girl is an entertaining and no doubt somewhat idealized novel about one of the Tulip Girls who was employed in the Karlsruhe palace in the year 1729.

The author was a Karlsruhe journalist and screenplay writer who was taken prisoner by the French at the end of the Second World War. He wrote his novel about the Tulip Girls to pass the time while he was a prisoner of war, but it was not published until many years later when it appeared in thirty installments in a local newspaper, the Badischen Neusten Nachrichten, prior to being published as a book in 1991.

The one anecdote I have found about the author Toni Peter Kleinhans (1912-1996) concerns his brief imprisonment by the Gestapo in the 1930s, before the beginning of the Second World War. At the time he was a young man writing screenplays for a film production company in Munich. Repeatedly the company received instructions from the Nazis’ Reichsfilmkammer detailing all the things that were forbidden to be shown or said in German films. One day Kleinhans made the mistake of saying that to save paper and postage it would be simpler just to take a postage stamp and write on the back of it the things that were allowed. For this utterance, which in normal times would have been regarded merely as a lame joke, he was arrested by the Gestapo and spent five days in prison.

Statue of the Grand Duke Karl Friedrich

This statue in front of the palace in Karlsruhe shows Karl Friedrich, who was the grandson of Margrave Karl Wilhelm. Karl Friedrich became Margrave of Baden-Durlach on his grandfather’s death in 1738, and later became the Grand Duke when the two parts of Baden were reunited (by inheritance) in 1771.

My photos in this post are from 2006 and 2014. I revised the text in 2017.

4 thoughts on “The Tulip Girls”

  1. Very interesting. I didn’t get the chance to go inside on my one visit (to date) to Karlsruhe – which incidentally was I believe the occasion of our first meeting, when you joined me and Ingrid at a cafe near here during our explorations of the city at the 10th anniversary VT Euromeet, my first 🙂

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