One of Germany's grandest homes, baroque-period Ludwigslust Palace, has opened its east wing to tourists at the end of a restoration that has made up for decades of neglect.
In the town of Ludwigslust, in northeastern Germany's scenic state of Mecklenburg-Pomerania, the palace has one of the world's biggest fountains - an artificial waterfall - spanning the wide front courtyard. Its backyard is a huge park with pavilions.
Inside the former residence of Mecklenburg Grand Duke Friedrich Franz I, 18 rooms and halls have been restored and rotting floors in two further halls have been replaced, according to palace director Peter Krohn.
Built between 1772 and 1776, the palace, known as "the little Versailles in Mecklenburg", is a series of magnificent rooms, stuffed with high-value art of the period.
Among the works are wild-animal paintings of French court painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755) which, until now, were on show in the State Museum of Schwerin, the state capital about 30km to the north.
Ivory carvings and the grand duke's collection of clocks, as well as busts by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) - the most successful portrait sculptor of his time - are further attractions in the collection.
The palace is all the more impressive for the model village at its front gate where pretty little houses are lined up like toys beside a wide boulevard. The authoritarian dukes liked their surroundings to be perfect, and built the whole estate from scratch on a greenfield site.
But the biggest surprise in the newly opened wing is a restored gallery of paintings, such as has not existed for the past 150 years.
On the gallery's long wall, which has been restored to its original appearance - a covering of boards painted a greyish-green colour - there are 100 paintings hung closely together, including several by the 17th-century Venetian artist Canaletto.
On the top floor, several guest apartments were restored. During the restoration work, the remains of a beautiful, hand-painted wallpaper were discovered, dating back to the early 19th century, in one of the rooms.
It was decided to call in an artisan painter to create an exact replica wallpaper to cover the entire room - a project that cost €110,000 ($184,000). "To my mind, this is the world's grandest wallpaper," says Krohn.
The restoration chewed fast through government funds, yet only half the needed work on the palace has been completed so far. Major work was needed to replace structural timbers, which had succumbed to dry rot.
Recently, the west wing containing the private quarters of the duchess was closed to the public. Restoration work there is to get under way next year, and Krohn hopes that the west wing will reopen in 2021.
Then the palace, now a state-owned museum of aristocratic pomp, will be ready to welcome the globe's tourists as a well-balanced whole.
Ludwigslust is midway between Berlin and Hamburg, about two-and-a-half hours by train from Berlin.
Ludwigslust Palace is full of surprises. For example many of the wall and ceiling decorations are neither stucco plaster nor wood: they are actually made of papier mache, also known as "Ludwigslust board".
The nearby baroque palace garden (Schlosspark) is worth visiting. It was established in 1730 and stretches over 120ha. It features canals, bridges and 24 fountains.