Würzburg Residence: Debate on parking and World Heritage – Bavaria

The Franconian tongue has the term “Neigschmeggder” ready for newcomers, and according to local criteria one could certainly apply it to Michael Ehlers. He comes from the Lower Rhine, speaks more like Hanns Dieter Hüsch than Erwin Pelzig, has felt at home in Würzburg for decades, but not as a classic local. And so, he says, he always had a vague feeling of being unfamiliar at Residenzplatz. What superlatives have you already heard about this magnificent piece of a building, “most beautiful residence in southern Germany” is almost unobtrusive. And then this hair-raising sheet of metal in front of the world heritage site, hundreds of vehicles, arranged like a legion?

The irritation about this accompanied Ehlers over the years. She was there 35 years ago when he moved to the Schöne am Main, she accompanied him in 2009 when Unesco denied the Dresdeners their world heritage title (and suddenly some looked anxiously to Würzburg) and she is there today when Ehlers of the Old Main Bridge to the town hall and from there past the cathedral to the residence. You have seen Balthasar Neumann’s work a hundred times, know and read everything about it – when you stand in front of this filigree colossus, the “most beautiful vicarage in Europe” (Napoleon), you catch your breath.

And always for two reasons: Because this sight is so incredibly uplifting. And the parking lot in front of it so incomprehensibly disdainful.

People from the Lower Rhine don’t tend to boast, says Ehlers it was “amazement”, which prompted him to create a small work: the video of a vision that turns a parking lot into something similar to a park. His little film is less than two and a half minutes long, you pass the residence in an imaginary vehicle, listen to a Bach suite and look at a square that is not even particularly picturesque, but without cars.

When it gets dark, Mozart, the little night music, sounds. You can hear it again and again there, at the Mozart Festival, but then on the other, the unreally beautiful side of this palace. It’s only 145 seconds of film, but after that at the latest you’ll think the view of this large parking lot is one of the most bizarre views in the republic.

Unesco award: Würzburg's Residenzplatz, surrounded by traffic, has been used as a car park since the 1950s.

The Würzburg Residenzplatz, surrounded by traffic, has been used as a car park since the 1950s.


Anyone who speaks to Jürgen Weber, 77, hears a chuckle. He’s happy, really happy, says the former mayor, when someone “looks at it from the outside” again. Weber was the head of town hall for twelve years until 2002, and he calls Residenzplatz a “life theme that I failed with.”

Weber remembers good discussions with the Free State, the owner of the castle and parking lot, and that the Gordian knot was almost cut in his day. “And then came the reunion.” German unity? Weber laughs again. A replacement underground car park was previously available as an air raid shelter for emergencies, but nobody has wanted to spend money on it since 1990. Experts also warned of difficult hydrogeological conditions in the vicinity of the castle. In the end, the place stayed the way it is. And actually always was in the memory of the people of Würzburg.

Which is also the reason why everyone in Würzburg remained calm in 2009 when Unesco withdrew the World Heritage title from the people of Dresden because of a new bridge. Of course, hundreds of bodies should spoil a baroque representative building at least as much as a bridge spoils the view over the cultural landscape of a river valley. In fact, the Bavarian Palace Administration explains in a statement, changes to the “Residenzplatz, building and residence garden” would have to be reported and could “in the worst case” even endanger the World Heritage status.

Only: legionary sheet metal has stood on this square since the 1950s, but the Würzburg World Heritage title only dates back to 1981, when the residence was the third site in Germany to be honored with it, the first non-sacred building.

Unesco award: This is what it looked like before the residence in 1974.  Above right: the Würzburg Fortress.

This is how it looked before the residence in 1974. Above right: the Würzburg Fortress.

(Photo: Bavarian Palace Department)

In addition, the free area in front of the castle was used even more intensively as a public car park 40 years ago, emphasizes the Free State – which can only mean that it “is not fundamentally in conflict with the World Heritage Site”. Especially since “joint efforts” by the palace administration and the monument conservators at Icomos meant that “only about 370” vehicles could be parked in front of the world heritage site today. In addition, since then “sightlines” have been kept free. And by the way, “parking with buses” is “not permitted” at all.

Now jokers could also celebrate that articulated lorries that have not found a parking space on the nearby A 3 are also not allowed to spread out in front of the world heritage site. But Christoph Pitz doesn’t feel like laughing when he thinks about the Residenzplatz. As an art historian, he spent part of his studies in World Heritage in the 1980s, and numerous university events took place there. The fact that he always parked his car on “partially still historic pavement” – pavement that “decays a little more every day” – certainly gave him food for thought even then. He would now welcome a new debate all the more.

The designer Ehlers, 69, at least initiated it online. He says he’s happy about the “approval” he’s been given, especially since the city will be forced to rethink traffic in the long run. Ehlers lives above the valley basin on the Main, where it is “sometimes up to seven degrees colder in the summer” than in the city center, he found. As beautiful as Würzburg is, climate change is affecting the city to the core. Whether you can still afford to lure cars into the center is questionable.

So far, however, the reactions of city politicians to his vision have been manageable. What can be explained: the city manages the residence car park, but this is on behalf of the state and the Free State is responsible. And where parking is the responsibility of the city itself, auto skeptics have recently taken a serious hit. Fees for the traditionally free large “Talavera” car park on the Main? Rejected by the majority of the people of Würzburg in a referendum.