The Palace

> Ewa Pluta


At the turn of the 19th century, opinions about Wrocław were rather unfavourable. Enclosed within a double ring of defensive walls dating back to the Middle Ages, the city was literally choking due to overpopulation and lack of sanitation infrastructure. Visitors were warned that Wrocław was “nothing more than a large, old, and very dirty city … containing nothing that deserved the attention of travellers.” 11 J.Q. Adams, Letters on Silesia, London 1804, pp. 219–229, in Norman Davies, Roger Moorhouse, Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City, Random House 2003, p. 259. ↩︎ Although the first part of this description sounds true enough, the second one must be strongly denied. The quite densely developed city, with many medieval and baroque churches towering above it, boasted a number of presentable edifices worthy of being called palaces. Among them was the classicist seat of the Pachaly family, located in the southern part of the historic Old Town.

In 1679, merchant Johann Pachaly (1660–1733), a son of a pastor from Trzebicko near Milicz, set up a wool, cloth and grain depot in Wrocław. Trade in these commodities helped the Lower Silesian capital to regain economic stability and importance after the hard years of economic losses caused by wars and epidemics. The company owned by the young Johann Pachaly, who was 19 at the time, prospered by selling its wares to Russia, Poland and Austria. After 1720 the business was taken over by Johann’s brother Gideon I Pachaly (1661–1742), a cloth merchant who expanded its scope of activity by including banking. In 1730 Emperor Charles VI ennobled the Pachalys in recognition of their services rendered to the empire, city and trade development. Since that time the family name would include the preposition von while all its official correspondence would be sealed with a coat of arms depicting a stag with silver antlers on a shield and in a jewel.

The Pachaly family quickly marked their presence among the members of Wrocław’s elite. Gideon’s subsequent successors developed the banking activity and earned a considerable fortune in the process. After Silesia became a Prussian province in 1741, the Pachalys rose to important positions in the king’s administration; thanks to successful marriages of their numerous progeny, the family became connected with other important houses. The consolidation of von Pachalys’ position in Wrocław culminated in the construction of a stately family seat. This is when Gideon III von Pachaly (1743–1797), a banker, merchant and royal officer of state who owned the Nowy Dwór (Maria HÖfchen) estate near Wrocław, entered the stage of the family history. Around 1785 he purchased a plot of land in today’s ul. Szajnochy (then – Rossmarkt) from a relative. In spite of some disadvantages, the location was exceptional, especially in terms of prestige. The square, which used to serve as a horse park and market, was situated a stone’s throw away from the Main Square and St. Elisabeth’s Church, which the Pachalys attended and where the deceased members of the family were buried. More importantly, however, the future family seat would be located in very close proximity of the Royal Palace – the most important residence in Wrocław, one of three (alongside Berlin and Konigsberg) official homes of the Hohenzollerns. It seems that in this situation even the stench of the Czarna Oława, a little stream just behind the plot that at the time resembled an open sewage, could not deter Gideon III from implementing his ambitious building plan.

His aspirations were indeed worthy of a grand nobleman. He entrusted the design of his magnificent house to the famous Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732–1808), who is considered to be the most important Silesian architect of the second half of the 18th century, not least because of being in the good graces of the royal family. Gideon III von Pachaly could be proud – the person he was hiring was not only an outstanding architect who used classical forms in architecture, but also the supervisor of the construction department of the royal War and Domain Chamber (in which Gideon III was responsible for tax collection) who oversaw almost all public construction projects in Silesia. Langhans had already received several private commissions, including the grand palaces of the Hatzfelds in Wrocław, the von Saurmas in Samotwór or Maksymilian Mielżyński’s residence in Pawłowice. All of them were constructed in the spirit of early classicism. There is no doubt that among Silesian architects Carl Gotthard Langhans was second to none. Gideon III von Pachaly must have been well aware of it. However, like any architect at that time, Langhans had to take into account the requirements of his client, which in this case were unusual – the palace was going to be the seat of not only the family, but also of their bank. The shape of the plot – long and narrow, surrounded by dense urban fabric – also posed a challenge for the designer. So far he had not been faced with a similar task – his earlier designs were usually for free-standing buildings. However, Langhans’ position of an outstanding designer was well earned and the palace in ul. Szajnochy only confirmed it and solidified his professional standing.

Barely two years after the commencement of the construction – as we learn from the inscription on the facade: “Gideon von Pachaly built this house from scratch, beginning the works on 19 May 1785 and ending in 1787” – Wrocław dwellers could appreciate the impressive residence with a two-bay and thirteen-axis body. The three-storey edifice must have caused surprise and admiration at the same time, especially in comparison with the existing housing development in the city, dominated by renaissance and baroque tenements. The Pachaly palace was among the first projects in Wrocław that had been erected in the new style of classicism. Drawing on classical antiquity, it stood in stark contrast to the lavish architecture of baroque and rococo; by following the Greek orders, dense plans and sparse ornamentation, it tended towards harmony and symmetry in construction. The facade of the palace in Wrocław, with rusticated stone on the ground floor and smooth elevations of the upper storeys, divided by cordon cornice, is a prime example of it. A characteristic element of the palace is its four-column Ionic portico, crowned with a pediment bearing a tympanum decorated with the attributes of crafts. The piano nobile, which is traditionally higher than the other storeys, is highlighted by windows capped with triangular pediments. This floor used to contain stately rooms, which were situated at the front and connected with an enfilade. The back bay of the piano nobile contained the most presentable interior of the palace, which has survived to this day – an oval drawing room with alcoves flanked by Ionic columns and a fireplace in an alcove with hermas, which in a way served as a trademark of reception rooms designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans. The partially reconstructed plafond in the oval room is decorated with a painting depicting Chronos, considered by the ancients to be the personification of time who sees, reveals and levels everything. It was created by Philipp Anton Bartsch (1742–1788), a painter working in Silesia whose works also decorated other aristocratic residences, e.g. the Hatzfeld palace in today’s ul. Wita Stwosza. The lower ground floor of the Pachaly palace contained banking and service rooms; the sizeable carriage house surviving on this level deserves special attention. The architect’s skills are fully visible in his design of the stairwell with winding stairs and oval balustrades which, although squeezed into a narrow bay, serves the function of a spectacular connector between the floors.

In 1810 Carl Ferdinand Langhans (1782–1869), Carl Gotthard Langhans’ son, added a three-axis extension on the western side, decorated with Ionic pilasters on the facade. Inside it there were banking rooms, including a large column hall with a separate entrance on the ground floor. Above it there was a board with the name of the company (G. v. Pachaly’s Enkel) and the year in which it was set up. In 1890 Hermann Wolfram designed a neo-baroque south wing with a stable in the lower ground floor, thus enclosing the internal courtyard of the palace. The small stable is the only surviving example of this kind of room in a residential dwelling in Wrocław today.

Before these changes occurred, however, the residence was visited by a distinguished guest. In August 1790 Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832) came to Wrocław. News about the sojourn of the famous Weimarian quickly spread across the city. After several days he was invited to visit baron Friedrich von Schuckmann (1755–1834), the king’s judge and a financial advisor for Wrocław. As a high-ranking official, Schuckmann used rooms in the palace owned by the tax controller Gideon von Pachaly. The impressive building was only three years old at the time, but it had already become one of the best addresses in the city. It was here, probably during a social gathering, that Goethe was introduced to Henriette Eleonora von Lüttwitz (1769–1799), a baron’s daughter who came from an old Silesian family who enjoyed the king’s trust. Henriette was a beautiful woman, much younger than the famous poet. Caught by her charm, after just a few days Goethe asked for her hand in marriage, and she agreed. The proposal most probably took place in the Pachalys’ palace. Unfortunately, Henriette’s father was not equally enthusiastic about the prospect of his daughter-noblewoman marrying the poet and refused to give his permission. Although Goethe never mentioned his short and tempestuous affair, his resentment is detectable in a letter sent to a friend, in which he called Wrocław “noisy, dirty and stinking” 22,+Johann+Wolfgang/Briefe/1790. ↩︎ and expressed a wish to leave the city as soon as possible.

He was not the only prominent guest who visited the palace. The residence was truly besieged by officials during the war against Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies. Apart from prince Frederick William IV (1795–1861, king of Prussia after 1840), in 1813 the palace was the residence of army commanders, including the famous general Ludwig von Yorck (1759–1830), who fought in many battles and was an outstanding military leader in the Prussian army. To honour him, Beethoven composed Yorckscher Marsch, which is still played during German national events and military ceremonies. The royal family visited the palace at least one more time, in 1818, when Frederick William IV and his entourage, including his younger brother William I (1797–1888, king of Prussia after 1861) came to the residence.

The building, which was “among the finest houses in Wrocław, with a beautiful facade, a sumptuous stairwell, halls and rooms planned by Mr Langhans,” 33 F.A. Zimmermann, Beytrage zur Beschreibung von Schlesien Bd.11 1794, Brieg 1794, p. 307. ↩︎ must have attracted other distinguished guests in the subsequent decades, but their names have been lost in history. The 19th century turned out to be special in the history of the family, for many reasons. Most importantly, it brought some personal changes, so to say, because the Pachalys merged with the Wallenberg family. Members of the two houses married for the first time at the end of the 18th century, when Gideon II von Pachaly’s daughter became the wife of Carl Ducius von Wallenberg (1729–1787). Then in 1802 their son Karl Ducius von Wallenberg (1773–1843) married Juliane Florentine von Pachaly (1785–1841), the daughter of Gideon III and his niece Juliane Caroline von Pachaly (1757–1818). As we see, marriages were concluded between close relatives – Karl Ducius married his cousin (who was the daughter of his nephew and his mother’s first cousin). Although such close proximity may have been frowned upon, it seems that little attention was paid to this fact, all the more so because the union of the Pachalys and the Wallenbergs proved to be long term and very fortunate, especially given that Juliane Florentine was the last descendant of the Pachaly family. It is worth adding that Karl Ducius von Wallenberg was the heir to Maślice estate (nowadays a part of Wrocław), owner of several villages near Wrocław and of the family company, and a shareholder in a number of other companies. He also held a high position among local merchants. In fact, the Wallenbergs had been known in Silesia for generations. It is assumed that the first representative of the family, Christoph I Ducius Wallenberg (1520–?), came here from Milan while serving in the army of emperor Charles V von Habsburg (1500–1558). He did not return to his homeland. His descendants (who were ennobled in the first half of the 18th century) were merchants and tradesmen or officials in the local and royal administration. Karl Ducius von Wallenberg’s son, Gideon I von Wallenberg Pachaly (1817–1869), ultimately sealed the alliance of the two aristocratic families by officially joining their names and coats or arms in 1841. A little later the family acquired another estate in Smolec (Schmolz) and generously provided for it. Some tombstones of the deceased family members can still be found in the local cemetery.

In Imperial Germany (1871–1914), Wrocław, just like the rest of the country, experienced the most intensive growth period. A demographic explosion at the end of the 19th century combined with industrial development permanently changed Wrocław’s cityscape. Companies in the financial sector in particular benefited from the situation. The Lower Silesian capital, with its 82 banks and non-bank financial institutions, could well compete with Berlin for the title of the main financial centre of the empire. Alongside the great banking families of the Eichborns and the Heimanns, the Wallenberg-Pachalys counted among the most important bankers in east Germany.

During these prosperous years, the private life of the family followed its established course. The palace in ul. Szajnochy still combined the functions of a bank and of a residential dwelling, with all the amenities such as a central heating system, a cargo lift or shower cabins. The family typically left it for the summer and moved to the estate in Nowy Dwór to rest outside the tiresome city. Between 1884 and 1922 the palace also housed the consulate of the Kingdom of Sweden. The role of the consul was performed by Gotthard von Wallenberg-Pachaly (1850–1924), who held the position for 43 years! He was succeeded by his son Friedrich von Wallenberg-Pachaly (1878–1965). Running the consulate and the fact that the family had business contacts with entrepreneurs from Sweden leads to a question about whether they may have been related to the famous Swedish Wallenberg family? Gotthard von Wallenberg-Pachaly and his closest relatives were the last owners of the trading company G.v.Pachaly’s Enkel offene Handelsgesellschaft. Gotthard combined the responsibilities connected with running the company with the aforementioned function of the Swedish consul, but he was also a colonel of the Landwehr, chairman of the supervisory board of five companies and member of the board of another three ones. His daughter Clara (1886–1976) remembered that “At 9 o’clock at the latest Father would come to his bank, whose reputation was very good, but which unfortunately had to be sold in 1920.” 44 N. Müller-Wusterwitz, Die Familie von Wallenberg Pachaly und die Firma G. v. Pachaly’s Enkel. Eine Chronik (1679–1989), Aumühle 2018, p. 25. ↩︎ Due to the galloping inflation (which made prices increase literally from hour to hour – sometimes people standing at the beginning of a queue would buy bread at a lower price than those at the end), practically all financial assets of private banks disappeared. The opportunity to increase its holdings was seized by Commerzbank, one of the most powerful banks at the time, which purchased 38 banking institutions, including GvPE GmbH. The family managed to retain control of the palace in ul. Szajnochy, which until 1945 was leased by Commerz und Privat Bank. As its brochure informed, “all kinds of bank transactions” were performed in the branch in ul. Szajnochy. Members of the Wallenberg-Pachaly family moved to other properties, some of which were located in Wrocław. They continued running banking activity, which in 1924 was moved to Berlin, where they served the financial market until 1989.

The Wallenberg-Pachaly palace fortunately survived the siege of the city in 1945. Several weeks after the end of the war activities, it was handed over to the newly established University of Wrocław. In the first years after the war it probably housed a canteen and offices of the university administration, later it was acquired by the University Library. Beyond doubt, it was this decision that saved it from the fate of hundreds of Lower Silesian aristocratic residences, which were abandoned, pillaged and deteriorated for years. Over the course of more than 200 years of its history, the palace in ul. Szajnochy has remained practically unchanged, with many original interior decor elements still surviving. The form of the edifice ranks it among the most outstanding achievements of architecture in Wrocław in the 18th century.


illustration source: Nikolaj Müller-Wusterwitz, Die Familie von Wallenberg Pachaly und die Firma G. v. Pachaly’s Enkel. Eine Chronik (1679–1989), Aumühle 2018