This article was previously published on My Vacation Source.
If there is one thing Madrid doesn’t lack – it’s bars. The neighborhood of Malasaña alone contains one bar per seven people; so going out on a pub-crawl in the Spanish capital requires minimal effort. But what if you want to do something a little different? Like walking in Hemingway’s footsteps, while eating and drinking along the way.
Hemingway described Madrid as “the most Spanish of all cities.” He arrived in the early 1920s and maintained a presence in the city up until the 50s, only leaving Spain during the Axis allied 1940s. Hemingway’s long-term residency in Madrid means that you can pretty much walk into any bar in the centre dating the pre-1950s with some connection to the writer. There is even the urban legend of a displayed placard outside a restaurant that says, “Hemingway never ate here.”
For those who like to fuel up before a night of drinking, why not enjoy a meal at El Sobrino de Botín, just off Plaza Mayor? With claims of being the “oldest restaurant in the world,” El Sobrino de Botín is also featured in the final scenes of the “Sun Also Rises.” This antique dining establishment offers a three-course menu including garlic soup and suckling pig. While this classic set menu may not cater to everyone’s tastes, there is also a la carte menu available.
If the suckling pig offered at El Sobrino de Botín seems a bit on the heavy side, or you’re partial to tapas, Spanish snack food, then you can have a bite to eat at the next port of call – Cervecería Alemana. The American writer’s old haunt can be found at end of the Plaza Santa Ana, and according to Hemingway, supposedly, serves the “best beer in Spain.” Cervecería Alemana can be described as a German beer hall meets a Spanish tapas bar, with its wooden beams and white walls combined with the noise and chaos you can only find in Spain.
They serve a variety of international beers, but the house beer is most excellent. Served in a white mug that matches the head, it echoes the bready wheat beers from Germany, while still maintaining a light taste. This bar is an even mix of tourists and locals, with grumpy waiters rushing around taking forever to note your food order. This manages to work as part of tavern’s charm, though. Hemingway frequented the Cervecería Alemana often, so much so, that he “owned” the small marble table right next to the window. Although the current owners claim that Hemingway was intensely disliked by the proprietors in his time.
The next stop on the agenda is the hidden bar of La Venencia. Only a five-minute walk from the popular Plaza Santa Ana, Calle Echegaray is quiet and can even seem a little abandoned at night. Keep walking down until you come to a pair of wooden shutter-like doors that mark the entrance to the bar. Back in the 30s, Republican soldiers and sympathisers during the Spanish Civil War used to meet here. As a war correspondent, Hemingway would hang out here for news on the front.
If sherry isn’t your thing then La Venencia won’t be for you – because, apart from tap water, that’s all they serve. Good news for sherry lovers though, is that they have five different varieties from the barrel, available full or half bottle sized or even by the glass. If you’re still after something to munch, you can find tapas that perfectly accompanies sherry at very low prices.
La Venencia is covered with vintage posters and the walls are yellowed with cigarette stains. The bottles on the top shelf haven’t been dusted since, well, when Hemingway was last there, most probably – but it’s part of its appeal. Mostly locals crowd the bar, and you can still see the sign from the Civil War that says “Don’t spit on the floor.” Not only that, La Venencia has maintained some of its republican traditions from Hemingway’s time, such as the rule about no photographs – a safety precaution against Fascist spies, and no tipping. The latter might sound strange, but these were socialists and workers.
From the gritty Republican hangout of La Venencia, Hemingway also found himself in the elegant and fashionable Taberna Chicote, now appropriately renamed Museo Chicote. Situated on the Gran Vía, considered the height of modernity back in the early 1930s with its grand, art deco buildings and lively theatres, Taberna Chicote proved to be popular with international journalists at the time. Hemingway wasn’t the only famous face to have passed through this chic bar. Its former customers included Grace Kelly, Orson Wells, Laurence Olivier and even Salvador Dalí. Nowadays, thanks to its legendary reputation, Museo Chicote still offers a variety of classic cocktails at not unreasonable prices. It marks the perfect end to the Hemingway pub-crawl – sitting in its classy, art deco setting almost transports you back to the glittering 30s with a cocktail in the hand.
While three bars hardly constitutes a pub-crawl, the combination of foamy beer, sherry from the barrel and classic cocktails is a lethal mix that Hemingway would be proud of. As long the tapas and tap water keep flowing, there is no reason why not to make the most of this trip down Hemingway’s memory lane. So grab a copy of the “Sun Also Rises” and have a drink with Hemingway!
El Sobrino de Botin
Calle de los Cuccilleros 17
Tel: 0034-913664217 (Reservation recommended)
Plaza Santa Ana 6
Calle Echegaray 7
Gran Via 12
Only a few days left to see this stunning exhibition (finishes on the 13th of January 2013). Go while you still can! Originally published on Kunstpedia.
Running away to escape his Parisian demons, Paul Gauguin sought refuge in his very own paradise lost in the exotic surroundings of Martinique, Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. Through Gauguin’s voyage to primitive lands and an explosion of colour, modern art finally received the revitalising injection it desperately needed under the stagnant European skies.
Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid, the exhibition “Gauguin and the Voyage to the Exotic” follows the artist’s journey to Tahiti, exploring his artistic transition into primitive and authentic worlds where his palette experienced an explosion of colour and expression. However, the carefully curated exhibition by Paloma Alarcó at the Thyssen-Bornemisza goes beyond Gauguin’s Tahitian landscapes, but analyses the effect the French artist had on the world of modern art exploring the effect primitivism and colonialism had on movements such as the expressionists, fauvists and on abstract art.
The display at the Thyssen-Bormemisza is split into three themes with eight overall sections. Firstly, Gauguin is studied as a figure in his own right and introduces his seduction by the virginal and unspoiled lands of the tropics. As an artist, Gauguin’s paintings from the South Seas are among some of the most sensual and alluring images that can be found in modern art, not to mention the influence his work exerted on artists like Matisse, Kandinsky and many others. The exhibition also examines Gauguin’s voyage into the exotic as a means to escape civilisation. This is a key turning point, not only in the artistic and personal career of Paul Gauguin, but within the context of avant-garde’s primitivist revival, linking into the final theme: the modern concept and its treatment of the exotic by linking back to ethnography.
The invitation to the exotic didn’t begin with Gauguin, the French artist Eugène Delacroix sought inspiration on the shores of North Africa, where his orientalist depictions of Arab women and scenes from Algerian life were to inspire wanderlust in a young Gauguin. A sensually exotic scene by Delacroix of “Women of Algiers in their Apartment (Femmes d’Alger dans leur intérieur)” painted in 1849 opens the exhibition, with Gauguin’s Tahitian scene “Parau api (What’s New?)”, mirrored besides it. Looking at the paintings side-by-side, we observe the impact Delacroix’s North African paintings had on Gauguin. “Parau api (What’s New?)”, depicts a pair of women reclining on a canary yellow backdrop, whose poses mimic the Algerian women in Delacroix’s scene.
Before Gauguin’s iconic Tahiti, there was Martinique. While Gauguin’s time in the Caribbean was brief, its effect on his artistic development was intense. Martinique was the first time the artist used the tropics as his muse, where the landscape and the local people would forever modify his pictorial language.
In Gauguin’s Martinique paintings, his form is still underdeveloped when compared with his later Tahitian works. The composition of the artist’s paintings from his Caribbean period drew from Cézanne, with their long and oblique brushstrokes, bestowing his paintings not with the clear brilliance of his later works, but with a vibrant, if not rough, texture in his canvases.
His painting, “Coming and Going, Martinique” from 1887 is a good example of this style. We see the effect the exotic had on the artist’s work, yet his palette is dulled and less daring than his later paintings, but it marks the beginning of a new era for Gauguin. When he travelled to Martinique, Gauguin was accompanied by his friend Charles Laval, whose work is displayed side-by-side in the exhibition. We can see in Laval’s Martinique landscapes that he shared Gauguin’s decorative brushstroke application.
Gauguin’s time in Tahiti was the creative peak of the artist’s life. His time on the South Pacific island allowed him to focus on the rich local culture and the brilliant nature that surrounded him, bringing out a synthesist style that was based on large areas of brilliant colour. In Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings, colour conveys meaning, as Gauguin begins to treat his palette as form of emotional expression. It’s not only his thoughts and feelings that are communicated on canvas through the bright colours, but they are also rich in symbolic content.
The display showcases some striking examples of Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings, most notably, “Mata Mua (In Olden Times),” “Two Tahitian Women,” “Matamoe, Death. Landscape with Peacocks.” His paintings are nostalgic, depicting a “Paradise Lost” of an innocent and ancient world dying in the advent of colonialism.
However, it’s not just the outside world that darkened Gauguin’s own tropical paradise. Gauguin was suffering from late stage syphilis, which caused deterioration in both his mental and physical health, transforming his paintings into darker and more sinister compositions – blurring the boundaries between his Tahitian paradise and personal hell.
Up until now, the exhibition mostly focussed on Gauguin’s own travels and creative development. “Beneath the Palm Trees,” commences an examination of the artists who found inspiration in Gauguin’s exotic journeys. The theme of the jungle became a new source for the avant-garde artists to tap into, giving modern art the desperate injection of new ideas it needed after a crisis that wasn’t just aesthetic, but a moral and political one also.
Gauguin played a crucial role in the transformation of modern art. If we examine Gauguin’s own interpretation of symbolism, whose analogy married art to the dream world, Gauguin manages to transport that into a self-contained fantasy. By combining the primitive and savage worlds of the South Pacific with his own symbolist ideals, Gauguin grew creatively as an artist through his relationship with untamed nature, and whether their inspirations were real or imaginary, many artists followed suit.
The wild and the savage offered a path to innocence that appealed to the artists of the early 20th century, where childish regression became mirrored in contemporary art. Gauguin’s exotic resonated to an obvious extent with artists like Rousseau and Matisse, among others, but Picasso found artistic companionship with the exotic and childish primitivism. Picasso might have found inspiration through African art or the primitivist paintings of the Georgian painter Niko Pirosmani, but he still searched for this child like innocence from outside of his own cultural sphere in the same manner as Gauguin.
Artists whose work clearly show direct influence from Gauguin are seen in the exhibition, Henri Rousseau’s “Tropical Landscape: An American Indian struggling with a gorilla,” echoes the symbolist landscapes from Gauguin’s Tahitian scenes, Emil Nolde’s palette is a tribute to the bold colours of the French emigré artist, and Ernest Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Müller’s nudes evoke the exotic sensuality of Gauguin’s paintings of Tahitian women.
Ethnography became a popularised trend in the early 20th century, as more artists discovered a new way of viewing the world thanks to Gauguin’s contribution to modern art. The French fauves and the German expressionists grew from Gauguin’s artistic gaze to seek out the different and the “Other.”
To fauvism, expressionism and Russian primitivism, Gauguin will remain the artist who set out into the wild in search of a new vision, who became a canon to a whole new generation of artists, whether they took to the exotic in ethnographic museums or went on their own voyages. We can see his influence in displayed works by Mikhail Larionov’s “Blue Nude,” Henri Manguin’s “The Prints” or Kirchner’s nudes.
Many avant-gardes explored countries closer to home, such as North Africa, in search of a new pictorial language of light and colour. Kandinsky’s oil paintings are early works that are uncharacteristic of the abstract artist, but show a growing interest in space, colour and form inspired by Tunisian scenes, although we begin to see the brilliant use abstract forms combined with colour that take shape in his later works. The same is seen in the paintings by Paul Klee and August Macke, whose abstract forms a far from Gauguin’s symbolist paintings, but attribute their palette and exotic themes to the artist.
The exhibition concludes with Matisse and F.W. Murnau’s journey to Tahiti. Matisse’s bright, brilliant colours and primitive lines stem from Gauguin’s influence, but in 1930, Matisse also sought inspiration in Polynesia, coinciding with the production of the film by the German expressionist director F.W. Murnau, “Taboo: A story of the South Seas.” Matisse’s journey to Tahiti was for pleasure, and while he painted and drew landscapes and portraits of the actors from Murnau’s film, Tahiti moved his work into an alternative view of the island. Matisse’s perspective is different, and his Tahitian paintings lack that same raw creativity Gauguin found in his lost piece of paradise.
Gauguin escaped civilisation, throwing himself into the Tahitian world that impacted art in a way that was no longer sophisticated or decadent. It consumed him, inside and out, and left a huge mark on the art that secured his succession and artistic legacy.
Eastbourne is one of the iconic British seaside resorts you'll find scattered along the East Sussex coastline. For a long time, I never really understood the appeal of my hometown* as a holiday destination. Eastbourne is Brighton's frumpy sister and is dubbed by many as "God's Waiting Room" due to the large number of old peoples' homes.
While going home to Eastbourne doesn't fill me with excitement after having lived in Budapest, Frankfurt, Madrid and Tbilisi, slowly I'm beginning to see the quirky appeal of this little seaside resort.
The town is undoubtedly picturesque, with its Edwardian architecture and sea views. This is classic "Sussex by the Sea" territory: it's antique, and it's not the fashionable, up-dated version you'll find in Brighton. People flock to the shingled beaches at the first ray of sunlight with a box of takeaway fish and chips, while predatory seagulls shriek in the air plotting their culinary burglary.
My personal impression of Eastbourne is its grittier, chav laden side of inebriated girls tottering around in miniskirts or the drug dealers who sit on the street corners in the residential areas behind the seafront. However, after taking a stroll along the seafront on a very sunny New Years Day allowed me to gain new appreciation for the town. Away from the derelict back streets you'll find a town that's full of old fashioned charm.
Often I've had to bite my tongue from laughing at the signpost "The Sunshine Coast Welcomes You." It's always raining when I pass it, but statistics show that Eastbourne has a track record for the highest levels of sunlight in the UK (although, I think another town has stolen Eastbourne's sunshine crown now). This is a bit depressing when you think about it, especially since it's already dark by 3 p.m. in December.
On the rare occasion when the sun is out, Eastbourne is very pleasant. Walks along the seafront are refreshing. There are plenty of cafés along the beach, which make for a nice spot for a coffee with a sea view or if you're looking for something more traditional, you can enjoy a cream tea on the pier.
For the more adventurous walker, there is a picturesque hike up to Beachy Head. This is famous for being one of the top suicide spots in the world, but the white cliffs around Beachy Head offer some of the most stunning coastal views in the UK.
Despite Eastbourne's unfashionable image, you'd be surprised at the number of celebrities who've passed through the town. Apparently, John Malkovich even owns a hotel here and has been spotted on the seafront a few times.
Eastbourne has had its fair share of famous visitors and residents. Charles Dickens performed amateur dramatics at the Lamb Theatre in the 1830s, and Communist Manifesto authors Marx and Engles spent a lot of time in the area as well. Engels even had his ashes scattered from nearby Beachy Head. There is even a legend that Debussy found inspiration for "La Mer" here.
Other famous residents have included The Graduate author Charles Webb, sci-fi writer Angela Carter, occultist Alistair Crowley, comedian Eddie Izzard, Tommy Cooper and many more.
Some even say that John Cleese came up Fawlty Towers after a terrible holiday in Eastbourne.
Eastbourne Bandstand is one of the town's iconic postcard features, sporting a turquoise blue dome designed with a fusion of oriental and neoclassical design.
We saw a placard next to the bandstand commemorating one of the musicians who had gone down on the Titanic. He was member of the quartet that continued to play as the ship sank. It sent chills down my spine, since my Hungarian great-grandfather missed his connection in Hamburg to catch the "unsinkable" ship. He sailed to New York on the Carpathian - the ship which picked up the survivors.
Eastbourne is a curious box of contradictions that has many surprises to give. Parts of it might be run down and even dodgy, but the rest is a picture postcard resort of classic British seaside charm. There must be something in its sea air to continuously attract curious and famous characters.
*The closest I have to a hometown.
Innovation, Contradiction and Modernity - Encountering the 30s with the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid
This article was previously published on Kunstpedia. The exhibition is running until the 7th of January 2013, so you have a few days to still catch it.
The volatile decade of the 1930s saw the rise of totalitarian regimes and the advent of the Great Depression, while advances in film and photography offered artists the opportunity to explore new art forms and medias of communications. It’s impossible generalise the 1930s, since as an era it’s represented by eclecticism and contradiction, where art became a complex debate between totalitarianism and individualism; realism versus abstraction; and where nationalism took on international collaboration.
The 1930s inherited the artistic fever for experimentation from the previous decades of the 1910s and 20s, however the 30s can be viewed as a time when avant-garde and modernity went their own separate ways under the imposed political and economic climate.
The Modern was perceived as individualistic and went against the collective identity imposed by the dictatorships in Europe. Yet, the rise of new advances in photography, publishing and poster art gave artists the chance to break away from the status quo, inspiring innovation and continued experimentation in the world of art. Debates rose up on abstraction and realism, while surrealism expanded on an international basis. The “isms” blended together in an international melting pot where artists like Pablo Picasso took a playful approach to combining styles.
The exhibition on display at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid takes us on a journey back to the 1930s. Like its era, the exhibition is eclectic and extreme, revisiting this fascinating time through the innovation and creativity that gave birth to abstraction, surrealism and new forms of expression through photography and film, while acknowledging the influence the era’s politics. Artists of the 1930s showed the world they had the ability to challenge, aggravate and provoke the conventional order.
We’re introduced to the artistic scope of the 1930s through the channel of realism, a broad artistic movement that encapsulated the “New Vision” through to the rise of social realism.
Realism became an artistic device used to communicate en masse with the public. It expressed a desire to reach out to broad audiences, resulting in increased eclectic depictions of the style from the photographic impressions like Josep de Togores’s “Group around the Guitar. L’Ametlla de Vallés,” to those with a more experimental edge like Antonio Berni’s “New Chicago Athletic Club” or Philip Guston’s “Mother and Child”.
Realism sought to bring art into a public sphere, and despite its name, it refers to an orientation in art rather than an aesthetic connection to reality. Naturalism, a style used to convey “realistic” forms in art as seen in the 19th century, is not a branch of realism. Whether seen in the canvases of the exhibition or in photographs of realist murals from Mexico or the Soviet Union, we see that realism isn’t an aesthetic concept, but rather an ideological one that expresses “true values” such as a social preoccupation with daily life in the interwar-war period.
Pursuing the experimental spirit of modernity of the prior decades, the perseverance of abstraction in the 1930s as a form of creative research and expression transformed this innovative art form into a conversation on utopian reflection, form and even politics. Abstraction not only challenged perspectives on the use of form and colour in art, but also considered dimensional space by playing with textures and solid objects imposed on canvas.
Laszló Moholy-Nagy’s “AL6 Construction” is a three dimensional composition of oil on aluminium. The forms in Moholy-Nagy’s abstract construction demonstrate interplay of texture and depth; circles of oil paints are contrasted against circular holes, whose depth is emphasised by the aluminium sheet that’s offset from the background.
Abstraction in the 30s also became a play of form and colour, sometimes with a regression to childlike naivety as seen in the canvases of Joan Miró to the carefully crafted compositions of Wassily Kandinsky.
“Succession” by Kandinsky, demonstrates the artist’s fascination with geometry and colour, where his forms display a mathematical progression of pictorial music as the notes explode into colour on the canvas. Paul Klee’s “Halme (Straw)” also imitates a musical language through paint in his own position on abstraction.
While Europe saw the imposition of realism by authoritarian regimes, that considered abstraction as “bourgeois” and “individualistic,” a transatlantic dialogue between European abstract artists, such as Moholy-Nagy and Kandinsky, and artists in the United States was taking place. Across the Atlantic, abstraction was embraced as a visual language not only for private experimentation, but also for public commission, and even though many critics and members of the public favoured realism abstraction grew in popularity, flavouring modern art for decades to come.
While surrealism met with significant criticism and even disdain from art critics such as Clement Greenberg in the US, the movement exploded at an international level in the 1930s. While it began as an underground movement with left wing politics, thanks to Salvador Dalí surrealism was ushered into the mainstream and would leave a lasting impact on modern art and popular culture.
Through an expanding print and media culture, surrealism embraced modern technology with an ever-growing medium of surrealist photography with artists such as Man Ray. Surrealism was also fused to other movements such as abstraction or even realism, as seen in the works of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.
Picasso’s “Le Sauvetage,” whose unique perception propelled the artist beyond the cubist styles of his earlier career into his own individual brand of surrealism, whereas Miró’s “Deux Baigneuses [Two Bathers]” is a marriage between surrealist composition and abstract style.
On display, you’ll find “pure” surrealist works, such as Salvador Dalí’s “Sketch for the work ‘The Invisible Man’,” and “Surrealist Composition, Fraud in the Garden,” by Yves Tanguy, whose distorted forms and elongated shadows on a deserted plane expresses the classical aesthetics of surrealist painting.
While print photography and film reeled in the world of the avant-garde in the 1920s, in the 1930s this new and exciting medium became the gateway to the masses for many artists. While the 1930s saw works of experimental photography rise up in the art world, especially in surrealist circles, many photographers such as Man Ray entered the mainstream by working with fashion magazines like Vogue.
Photography served not only as an artistic medium for design and propaganda, but captured the spirit of the decade through themes of applied psychology and the search for non-traditional forms. Many artists turned to the art of the photomontage and photocollage as an alternative form of expression to connect with the public.
The display at the Reina Sofia also discusses the use of public space and exhibitions in the 30s. The dictatorships of the totalitarian regimes that dominated European politics acknowledged the importance of art and culture. The theatrical and monumental dominated the European landscape where buildings and public spaces took on a new symbolic meaning; they became an opportunity to inspire ceremony and nationalism among the people.
The rise of new technologies also changed the way space was used, with the rise of the science and art of projecting light onto a building to creative light shows. But it was not only illumination that gave exhibitions multimedia feel, sound and film also became an important part of the display.
The exhibition spaces of the 1930s saw the rise of world fairs and large-scale exhibition halls, where the exhibitions played to local political and economic climates.
Exhibitions became a marriage between fiction and fantasy, and like the spirit of the 1930s were full of contradictions and extremes. Themes of hand made versus the machine; miniature versus the monumental; industrial versus the primitive; individual versus the collective and democratic versus totalitarianism. Through paintings, murals, tapestries, posters and postcards, we can see through the Reina Sofia “Encounters with the 1930s” how the exhibitions of the decade merged the larger than life with the everyday world.
One factor crucial in a conversation on the 1930s, especially in Spain, is the effect of the Civil War. The exhibition is structured round Picasso’s iconic “Guernica” painting, which celebrates its 75th anniversary. Spanish artists were active participants in the creative world of the 1930s, and with the rise of the Civil War many artists were exiled either by choice or by force.
The Civil War’s influence on art manifested in different ways. Many artists used realism an idiom to document the events and horrors of the war, through realism many artists could include an emotional dimension into their paintings that photography could not, turning these works into historical archives.
Although, the use of art to record horrific acts of war wasn’t limited to realism. Picasso’s “Guernica” conveyed the atrocities of war through stylised form, yet the symbolic and emotional effect the painting has immortalised the tragedy and the horror that took place in the small Basque village of Guernica.
The Civil War turned many artists towards the concept of violence as a narrative, some drew stimulus from the conflict, while others joined ranks to do something about the war, inspiring a huge cultural and creative production in Europe and America, both by Spanish exiles and their supporters.
To summarise the impact the 1930s had on art is futile, it’s a complex decade that spawned some of the most innovative works of the 20th century. Fully understanding art of the 1930s is one that will require a lifetime of study, but the exhibition leaves you with an impression, a feel for a time when the world was on the edge between war, economic depression, new technology and globalisation.
I would like to offer a very special thank you to Milena Ruiz and the staff at the Reina Sofia Museum for their help in preparing this article.
References: Exhibition Catalogue: Encounter with the 30s, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and La Fabrica (2012)
The German city of Darmstadt rarely makes it onto the tourist route. This is understandable, since from a afar it just looks like your average German industrial town, but upon closer inspection you'll find it's rich in cultural curiosities and sites.
I used to work at the particle accelerator (GSI) located nearby, so I know Darmstadt pretty well. While I lived in Frankfurt, I often travelled to Darmstadt since all my friends from work lived there, which meant I went out in Darmstadt more than in Frankfurt. Even when I moved to Spain, I returned to GSI and Darmstadt on a regular basis for my work, and until I gave up my career in physics, I made at least one or two trips a year.
Darmstadt is a fascinating city and it has most certainly earned its title as "the City of Art and Science."
With two particle accelerators (GSI and the recently constructed FAIR on the same grounds), the German site for the European Space Agency, the industrial centre of the German pharmaceutical industry (with big companies such as Merck basing their main plants here), it's easy to see why Darmstadt has earned it's scientific wings. Not to mention the city has a chemical element named after it: Darmstadtium (atomic number 110, which was discovered in GSI in 1994).
On the arts side, Darmstadt is also home to the former Artists' Colony, Mathildenhöhe. Artists from the German Jugendstil movement both lived and worked in this community. The artists were financed by patrons while they worked together with other members of the collective. Darmstadt Artists' Colony is not just a movement in the history of German Jugendstil, but it also refers to the modernist buildings left behind. From the exhibition hall to the houses artists houses, Mathildenhöhe's modernist architecture has put Darmstadt on Europe's map of art nouveau cities.
Darmstadt's avant-garde doesn't stop there. Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser's Waldpirale is also hidden away in this small, industrial city.
Darmstadt might have earned its title as the city of art and culture, so what specifically should you see?
If you're staying in nearby Frankfurt, then Darmstadt is just a short train ride away. If you're looking to get out of the city and away from Mainhatten's high-rises, it makes a nice escape. Or, if you're travelling down towards Heidelberg, Darmstadt is a great place to break the journey.
Visiting the center of Darmstadt will take you to the area surrounding Luisenplatz. This is the largest square in the city, and it's also the central hub for any public transportation. You'll find many shops and restaurants in this pedestrianised area, but it's also easy to navigate the city from here.
Many of the monuments are walking distance from Luisenplatz, such as the ducal palace of Darmstadt. This was once the palatial residence of the counts of Hesse-Darmstadt, and then the Grand Dukes of Hesse.
The palace's look stems from its 18th century refurbishment and additions, but the castle itself actually dates back to the 13th century.
Opposite the square is the historic Marktplatz. Facing the front of the ducal palace is the old town hall, which now houses a tavern. The "Ratzkeller" (link in German) serves its own beer (there is a brewery in the basement) and traditional food from the Hessen region. It sports a cosy atmosphere and bags of character, not to mention the high quality food and delicious selection of wheat beers.
The Artists' Colony in Mathildenhöhe is a little out of town, but worth a visit. Here you'll find the iconic five fingered "wedding tower" which has become a symbol of the city. In addition, there is a Russian chapel and a number of the artists' houses in the Jugendstil style.
The colony was founded at the end of the 19th century by the Grand Duke of Hesse, Ernest Ludwig. Mathildenhöhe was created by Ludwig to promote the art scene of the Hessen region, helping to combine trade and art so it would act as an economic stimulus for the land. Artists housed in the colony sought to develop the modern and avant-garde into a way of living and construction.
As a result, Ernest Ludwig brought many of Germany's top Jugendstil artists to live in Darmstadt, such as Peter Behrens, Paul Bürck, Hans Christiansen, Rudolf Bosselt, and more.
A short walk from Mathildenhöhe is Hundertwasser's surreal Walspirale. Hidden away between allotments, concrete block apartments and an Aldi supermarket, this is hardly a prime location.
The Hundertwasser House in Vienna is famous, and always full of tourists. When I visited the Austrian capital it was marked on my list of key things I had to do while I was there. The Hundertwasser House was stunning, a modern-day rival to the modernist buildings of Barcelona, yet the Waldspirale in Darmstadt is even more spectacular. It's downfall is that it's hidden away in Darmstadt's uglier outlying neighbourhoods.
Darmstadt is an attractive destination for those looking to immerse themselves in the German countryside. The nearby Bergstrasse (part of the larger Odenwald), a chain of low mountains that run between Darmstadt and Heidelberg, offers stunning hikes. The rolling mountains of the Odenwald are rich in woodlands, vineyards and are dotted with historic, ruined and romantic castles. The most famous, Castle Frankenstein, is located in Darmstadt's suburbs.
Legend has it Mary Shelly drew inspiration for her novel Frankenstein after a trip to the to the region. Whether this is true or not is another matter.
Looking beneath the surface, Darmstadt has a lot to offer any traveller interested in science, art history or even Gothic literature.
Find more information about Darmstadt here!
Jennifer is a freelance writer specialising in art, travel & culture. This blog is a melange of her published articles and independent thoughts.