Around the world, there are towers, arches, and monuments that honor important statesman, war battles, and, well, anything a country or region deems important. In the Bavarian town of Kelheim, Liberation Hall (or Befreiungshalle in German) honors the victory over Napoleon during the Wars of Liberation in 1813. The massive round building sits overlooking the town and the surrounding Danube River Valley. Needless to say, the Befreiungshalle in Kelheim leaves a big impression.
Brief History of Befreiungshalle Kelheim
King Ludwig I of Bavaria is responsible for the building. On the king’s orders, in 1842, architect Friedrich von Gärtner began work on the project. (You may already be familiar with Gärtner from his work on Munich monuments like the Feldherrnhalle or the Siegestor.) The spot chosen for the Wars of Liberation memorial was the Michelsberg hill overlooking Kelheim. The hill was already home to ruins thought to be that of a Celtic fort. More than twenty years after work began, in 1863, with the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Nations nearing, Leo von Klenze took over the project and saw it to completion. (Klenze also left his mark on, among other things, the nearby Walhalla memorial as well as Munich‘s Monopteros temples in both Englischer Garten and Nymphenburg Palace.)
Visiting Befreiungshalle Kelheim
And what a memorial the Liberation Hall is! The building is a combination of levels, like a fantastic layer cake. First, ringing the mid-section of the exterior of the completely round building, are eighteen statues. Each female statue is holding the name of a different German tribe from the battle. (At this time, Germany was not a single unified nation-state but a confederation of independent states.) Above these statues is a ring of Doric columns holding up the top level which is, ultimately, decorated with stone statues of armor casting a 360-degree view over the region. Perhaps they are even keeping watch.
From afar, the building is striking for its pale color set above the lush green of the trees overlooking the river. But on closer inspection, it’s clear that the exterior has a brick-like pattern of pale colors: tans, yellows, and reds. But these are not bricks at all but a fantastic and complex pattern that has been painted onto the building itself.
Inside Liberation Hall Kelheim
Inside of the Befreiungshalle Kelheim, visitors are met by 34 larger-than-life marble angels (Goddesses of Victory). The golden shield sits between about half of the goddesses. The women each place a hand on a golden shield, creating an unending ring around the perimeter of the interior. Sculptor Ludwig Schwanthaler is responsible for these goddesses. And a lot of thought went into these statues. Each goddess is subtly different and unique from each of her companions.
What is especially interesting is that Schwanthaler intended to use marble from the Tyrol region. However, he was only able to do so for six of the goddesses. The sheer size of each piece of marble made it a difficult order to fill. Instead, he had to “settle” for Carrara marble for the remaining statues. (Schwanthaler’s work may be familiar as he is responsible for, among other works, Munich’s remarkable Bavaria statue as well as a Mozart monument in nearby Salzburg, Austria.) The 17 shields that stand between the goddesses are said to be made using the remains of bronze weapons that had been melted down.
A visit to Kelheim’s Liberation Hall is especially worthwhile because there’s more to see than what you see at first glance. After you examine the goddesses from below, you can see them from behind and above. The layer cake of a building allows visitors to walk the ring behind the statues and then progressively move upward.
The upper floors provide an especially wonderful way to admire the building. In particular, you get a better look at the mosaic tile floor. In the center of the mosaic, it reads “May the Germans never forget what made necessary the War of Liberation and by what means they won.” And above, you can get a closer look at the ornately decorated domed ceiling. By the time you reach the top of the Befreiungshalle, you can get a completely different view altogether: a view over the town of Kelheim and the Danube River Valley. The building’s exterior walkway at the very top is open for a visit. It’s quite breathtaking.
Tips for Visiting Kelheim Liberation Hall
There is a fee for visiting the interior of the building. If you also plan to visit Walhalla and Prunn Castle, you can save by buying a combination ticket. Alternatively, one of my top tips for saving money traveling in Bavaria is the Bavarian Palace Department’s pass. If you’ll be visiting a significant number of palaces and gardens under the care of the Bavarian Palace Department, you can buy a two-week or one year pass that allows unlimited admission.
Looking for more information on the history and details of the building? Audio guides are also available for a fee inside of the memorial.
If you can’t make it in person, the Bavarian Palace Department has a pretty neat virtual tour of the building that you can enjoy from the comfort of your computer.
The Befreiungshalle in Kelheim makes a great stop if you’re also planning a visit to nearby attractions like Kloster Weltenburg or Walhalla. (I saw all three on my visit to the area and it was very doable.)
The Liberation Hall is a roughly 20-minute walk from the Kelheim Altstadt. If the walk is a bit much for you, there’s also a tram, the Ludwigsbahn. The tram operates between the area, too. Or, if you’re driving, there’s a parking lot that drivers can use, for a fee, just outside of the hall.
With public transit, Saal an der Donau and Regensburg Hauptbahnhof are the nearest Deutsche Bahn stations. From there, you can take a bus for the rest of the way.
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All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.