Wednesday, February 20, 2008


No trip to Dresden is complete without a cruise down the River Elbe. It was cold on the deck of the steamboat Meissner, and the grumpy captain proved to be a poor tourist guide. But the scenery along the one and half hour long boat ride was something to cherish.
Even at such an early hour, artists had set up their easels on the banks, and were busy at work; hippies lolled about on the sands while sandpipers dodged and darted between their feet and the water; Lovers strolled hand in hand oblivious of the tourists staring at them. Vineyards quilted the hillsides in stripes of green, and high above the level of the river were the three famous castles of Dresden – Albrectburg, Linger Schloss and Schloss Erkberg. From the river, a cable car reached 211 metres high to the castles.
But our destination was the Pilnitz Castle – a beautiful Water Palace that abuts the river. A majestic staircase looms up from the water to the castle, and is decorated with sphinxes. Surrounded by peaceful pavilions, pleasure gardens, lilac courtyards and baroque orangerie, this Water palace was the home of the angelic woman Countess Anna Constansia von Cosel, from 1713 – 1715.
The castle architecture shows a distinct Chinese influence with sloping roofs, decorative chimneys and fa├žade paintings. Behind the Water palace is an exact replica called the Hill Palace, which was built by her son years later. The artifacts, paintings and porcelain displayed in both palaces are priceless.
Constansia loved the gardens. The charmillen that grows there today and stretches on either side of the chestnut avenue, were planted by her. It’s a pity that she could live here only for two years.
Constansia was the youngest mistress of Emperor Freidrich Augustus II. Though he made out that Pilnitz Castle was his gift to his most famous mistress, records show that she had paid 60,000 florins out of her own money for it. She had the misfortune of being the mistress of a whimsical, frivolous megalomaniac, whose unbridled libido and virility earned him the nickname of August the Strong. She fell from grace in 1715, and fled to Brandenberg.
There were several reasons for her banishment. Augustus had taken on a new mistress, and Constansia was cast aside. But a more plausible reason was that she harboured political ambitions. She was critical of his administration, and the ruthless way he imposed burdensome taxes on the common people, to support his extravagances. She also opposed his anti-Protestant stance. The Emperor, who couldn’t brook opposition, soon banished her from his presence.
In certain ways, she resembles Queen Vashti the wife of the Persian king Xerxes, who refused to be treated like a common courtesan. She paid for her strength of character by suffering divorce and banishment.
Countess Cosel was imprisoned in Stolpen Castle from 1716 – 1765. It was a heavy stone prison with no adornments. In the 49 years of her incarceration, all she could see from her windows was Bohemia and a little strip of Switzerland (Sachsische Schweiz) Her tomb in the castle grounds is stark, and reflects the desolation she must have suffered during the best years of her life.
The Countess bore August two children, a son and a daughter. Her son Frederick August Count Cosel built the Hill Palace. Her daughter Augusta Constansia was married at the Pilnitz Castle in 1725, even while Constansia was languishing in the Stolpen prison.
Being mistress to an egocentric temperamental Emperor is surely a very dicey business.

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