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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Blog: Mathildenhöhe

Germany is working towards a 2020 nomination for the Artists' Colony Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt. This is a Gesamtkunstwerk of buildings, gardens and works of art, created during the years 1901-1914 over the course of four exhibitions. The art-loving Hessian Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig was the patron for the notable Jugendstil artists that were part of this community.

Entrance to the museum, former artists' atelier

I had never been to Darmstadt before, and I visited it for a night and a morning on my return from the Ice Age Art Caves. My first impression was that of a rather dull city. It is large enough though to have its cosmopolitan edges – I ate at a Peruvian restaurant on Saturday and a Persian one on Sunday right after visiting Mathildenhöhe (the recommended Shiraz which is within walking distance). To find a site like the Artists’ Colony in a city like this still is a real surprise.

Mathildenhöhe is signposted all over Darmstadt. It’s a small quarter just northeast of the city center. The core consists of a block with the Wedding Tower and the Exhibition Building, with the emblematic Russian Orthodox Chapel and the Platanenhain (sycamore grove) in front of it. Around this cluster lie a number of houses created for and by the artists. It has the general atmosphere of a public park, and many locals were also out for a Sunday stroll. People also were entering the Russian Chapel to pray. The chapel has no direct link to the Artists' Colony but it greatly adds to the ensemble. I wonder how they will handle it in the nomination.

Russian Chapel in Darmstadt

The Wedding Tower is the main landmark of the area. For Darmstadt residents it is still possible to marry at this location. I went up to the top floor but it is not really worth it.

I was just whiling my time away (also did a double loop around the sycamore grove), as the Museum “Künstlerkolonie” only opens at 11 am. This museum is the best introduction to the works of interior decoration of this group of artists. The museum is located in the former Ernst Ludwig House, which was built as a common atelier. The house has a wonderfully opulent entrance (see first photo above), although one now enters the museum from the back. Unfortunately none of the artists’ houses are open to visitors, so this is your best bet to see their furnishings. The number of exhibits at the museum isn't huge. I know my Art History friends would love what's on display, but I found the whole setting a bit cold and stiff.

Jugendstil pottery

The main Exhibition building is under construction at the moment. Banners at the surrounding fences display the text “Welterbe werden!” - their undeniable goal is the upcoming World Heritage nomination. When the renovations are ready and a glossy yet thorough nomination file has been written, this will be a shoo-in for World Heritage status. There’s a coherent story to tell, and most of the original buildings are still there although there was heavy damage in World War II. And for us World Heritage Travellers it is a much more worthwhile site to visit than the similar Stoclet Palace, which seems to remain off-limits indefinitely.

Published 19 August 2017

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