WOrlitz is sweating. Heat broods over the lake that forms the heart of the Garden Kingdom. The water level in the shallow body of water has dropped by half a meter, and the canals that lead from here to the ponds on the edge of the extensive park are closed to gondola traffic. On the banks, the August wind whips up clouds of dust over the burnt grass. The beeches in front of Wörlitz Castle, whose predecessor Goethe drew during one of his visits, are shedding their leaves, and the skeletons of dead spruce and pine trees protrude from the groups of trees on the other side of the lake. On the rocky island of Stein, the falling water has revealed the foundations. Now you can see that the island does not rest on rocks, but on concrete pillars, which after the turn of the millennium were pulled under their buildings made of boulders and bricks with great effort.
It is the third summer since 2018 that has brought drought to Wörlitz. Before that, in 2002 and 2013, the Garden Kingdom was hit twice by the Elbe flood, in the first case devastating, in the second case moderately. Since then, however, the general weather situation has been pointing to drying out. It is a problem that Leopold III. Friedrich Franz von Anhalt-Dessau, the builder of the park, did not calculate two hundred and fifty years ago. Shortly after work began in Wörlitz, in the spring of 1771, the Elbe flooded the park area near the river meadows. To protect the complex, the prince had a dyke built on which three of the most beautiful buildings in the Garden Kingdom were built, the Pantheon, the Temple of Venus and the Luisenklippe. But he had no idea of the greenhouse effect and the threatening desertification of Central Europe. His Anhalt park paradise is built on reliable rain.
Climate change is exposing the Achilles’ heel of the Wörlitz Garden Kingdom: its size. With an area of 112 hectares, it is one of the largest parks in Europe. A terrain of such proportions cannot be artificially irrigated. That is why every hot summer hits the World Heritage Park in its substance. Hundreds of trees had to be felled in 2018. In addition, the restriction of gondola operation undermines the financial basis of the Dessau-Wörlitz Cultural Foundation, which manages the site. Although a million people visit the park every year, only a fraction of them pay admission to one of the museum castles or buy a ticket for a boat trip. Nevertheless, their contributions are an indispensable part of the foundation’s budget.