You won’t likely find another German city in the shape of a fan.
Sitting pretty near the Rhine river in southwest Germany, Karlsruhe is known as the “Fächerstadt” (“fan city”) for its very specific shape.
On 17 June 1715, Margrave1 Karl Wilhelm (Charles William) of Baden-Durlach celebrated breaking ground and the first laid stone for his new residence, palace, and seat of power. The story goes that after a vivid dream, Karl Wilhelm decided to build his new home of “rest and relaxation” (“Karls Ruhe”) in the middle of a nearby forest. A planned city would surround the palace, an appropriate symbol for the question of “who ruled whom.” The palace sat at the central hub of 32 “rays” or streets radiating outwards: 9 streets to make up the new city, and 23 for the palace gardens. Emerging from the palace was the “Via Triumphalis,” the north-south central axis road into the city. Karl Wilhelm moved the margraviate seat from nearby Durlach to the “new shiny city” of Karlsruhe upon completion of the new palace in 1718.
In the spring of 1788, Thomas Jefferson, while serving as America’s chief of mission (Minister Plenipotentiary) in France, embarked on a tour of Holland and the Rhine river in what is now Germany. He stayed in “Carlsruh”2 on 15 and 16 April 1788. Impressed by what he saw throughout his trip, he sent a letter and sketches3 to Pierre Charles L’Enfant4 who was charged by George Washington with the design and construction of a new American capital city. Jefferson wrote to L’Enfant on 10 April 1791:
“…in compliance with your request I have examined my papers and found the plans of Frankfort on the Mayne, Carlsruhe, Amsterdam Strasburg, Paris, Orleans, Bordeaux, Lyons, Montpelier, Marseilles, Turin and Milan, which I send in a roll by this post. They are on large and accurate scales, having been procured by me while in those respective cities myself. …”
With copies of European city plans in hand, these plans provided inspiration for L’Enfant’s eventual design for Washington, DC.
What would Thomas Jefferson have seen?
Dated between 1739 and 1779, the following four maps from Stadt Karlsruhe city archives would have been representative of the young city at the time of Thomas Jefferson’s 1788 visit.
Panorama from the Schlossturm (Palace Tower)
Even in the dreary days of late-fall and early-winter, there are sweeping views of the city and surrounding area from the top of the tower; even the tower’s stairs are themselves a highlight of geometry. It’s also important to realize 14 kilometres to the German-French border isn’t far at all.
2 “Notes of a Tour through Holland and the Rhine Valley, 3 March–23 April 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-13-02-0003. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 13, March–7 October 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956, pp. 8–36.]
3 “XII. Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Charles L’Enfant, 10 April 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-20-02-0001-0015. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 20, 1 April–4 August 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982, pp. 86–87.]
4 More about Pierre Charles L’Enfant appears at the US Library of Congress.
5 Wulf Rüskamp wrote this article for the Badische Zeitung (in German).