The Rabbit Lake is located in the north-western part of Augustenborg Forest. It has survived from the original “pleasure forest”, which formed part of the Augustenborg Palace grounds. The site is described by the German garden theorist C.C.L. Hirschfeld, who wrote the following in his famous five-volume work “Theorie der Gartenkunst” (volume 4 from 1782):
”In one corner of the Forest under high oaks and beeches stands a wooden open temple, the dome rests on eight Ionic columns, and there are ten feet between the columns. At the bottom, there is a balustrade, and on the inside there are benches. The temple stands on a mound, so that it provides a view of the forest from all sides. There is a little water at the foot of the temple, and a bridge leads over to it. The nearby trees are reflected in the water and animated by the wind, it spreads the reflection of the playful movements up onto the ceiling of the dome, which is painted with clouds that seem to move as from the breath of nature.”
Hirschfeld’s description is confirmed by a map commissioned by the Duke in 1796. The map shows an opening in the forest where you can see a lake. According to the map, the site is called the “Oval”, and a round temple is seen on the island and a bridge leading over to it.
According to Hirschfeld, the dome was painted on the inside with clouds forming a sky. As mentioned, the size was ten feet between the eight columns, and since Hirschfeld used “Dresdner Fuß” (28.3 cm) it is equivalent to an area of approx. 42 square meters. This is a considerable size and probably a lot larger than the current island.
The temple island was used for several purposes, for example as a music pavilion or band stand. It is known with certainty that the head of the court orchestra, Christian Rudolph Ebeling from Storegade 13, played concerts in the small clearings in the forest and in the gardens. The temple on the island with its arched bridge probably formed a romantic setting for these concerts, but also for other activities in connection with strolls in the Forest.
There was also another temple in the Palace grounds. It was the same size or bigger and stood by the water roughly where the promenade meets the harbour today. The presence of two relatively large temples tell us something about the prosperity and status of the dukes at that time.
The name “Rabbit Lake” or “Rabbit Island” comes from the daughter of Duke Frederick Christian I, Princess Louise. She was very interested in angora rabbits, which she kept in aviaries around the White Mansion. Over time, her interest, and perhaps also the population of rabbits, grew. In the early 1800s, the Temple Island was transformed into a Rabbit Island at her request. It was a convenient place where the rabbits could not run away and, at the same time, were protected from predators. It is thought that the temple functioned as a rabbit aviary. Presumably there must have been a good gate with a lock.
What happened to the temple after the escape of the ducal family in 1848 is not known, but when a survey was conducted in 1861, the temple was gone. At that time, the lake and the island had a diameter of 48 and 17 metres, respectively.
As the only lake in Augustenborg Forest, the Rabbit Lake is an important habitat for amphibians, aquatic insects, birds and various mammals. Unfortunately, the lake and its shores gradually became so overgrown, making it a poor environment for the wildlife. Fallen branches, twigs, and leaves as well as a thick layer of duckweeds suffocated most of life in the lake. The locals have long wished for a clean-up of the lake.
In 2018, the local development forum (Hertugbyens Udviklingsforum) formed a collaboration with the local branch of the Danish Society for Nature Conservation in order to carry out a clean-up. Thanks to a financial grant from Sønderborg Municipality, the excavators were able to start emptying the lake of water and fallen material in December 2020. The shores of the lake were also cleared, so that now not only can the many visitors to the Forest once again enjoy the walk all the way round it but the amphibians, aquatic insects and other wildlife can also flourish again.
If you follow the path to the west, you come to the Third Avenue, which leads to the Bathing Huts.