What do Kassel and Leipzig have in common?
In the early 1950s, both cities held architectural competitions to see who could design the best new modern opera house. Both of these competitions were won by architect Hans Scharoun (1893-1972) -- but neither of his proposed buildings was actually built.
Leipzig at least had a good excuse. Stalin was still alive at the time and nobody in the Soviet sphere of influence was willing to risk his wrath by building something they knew he would disapprove of.
But Kassel had no such excuse. It was safely located on the west side of the border, and there was no dictator to tell them what not to do. They were perfectly free to build an outstanding new opera house according to Scharoun's plans.
They actually did start building in October 1954, but stopped shortly thereafter (for reasons that are hard to fathom at this late date) and put up a mediocre substitute building instead. This one was opened in 1959 and was used for 45 years until 2004, when it had to be closed for safety and technical reasons. So now it is a construction site, but is scheduled to be re-opened at the end of 2006.
Whether or not it will look any better when it re-opens I don't know, but at least it won't be a firetrap any more, and will have modern stage machinery and larger workshops.
To get an idea of the sort of buildings Scharoun was designing in the 1950s, take a tour of his magnificent Philharmonie concert hall in Berlin.
The Documenta is a HUGE modern art exhibition that is held in Kassel every five years.
The next one, Documenta 13, will be from June 9 to September 16, 2012, so mark your calendars everybody.
The "Documenta Hall" in this photo is only a small part of the actual Documenta, which manages to pre-empt just about every conceivable exhibition space in Kassel.
If you like the Internet and enjoy the Frankfurt Book Fair, you are bound to LOVE the Documenta.
Of the thousands of modern art works that are put on display here every five years, roughly 96% are pure rubbish in my notoriously inartistic opinion, but the show is so huge that you can spend several enjoyable days just taking in the 4% that appeals to you.
And you may well find that your 4% is not the same as my 4%.
It's not a good idea to go to the Documenta with an artist, by the way. I made that mistake once. Nothing against artists, but they tend to get terribly upset about that other 96%.
Until the end of 2006 the Documenta Hall was used as a temporary venue for spoken drama, while the State Theater was being renovated.
The Orangerie was first built from 1701 to 1710, in a large formal garden in the French style.
Like most buildings in Kassel, the Orangerie was largely destroyed during the Second World War, and it was still more or less a ruin when it was used as the setting for Documenta 2 in 1959. Restoration was not completed until 1981.
Since 1992 the Orangerie has been the home of the Planetarium and the Museum for Astronomy and the History of Technology, (I remember going there with one of my children shortly after the opening.)
Opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 to 17:00.
Kassel is well-known to be one of the greenest cities in Germany. 62 % of its area are parks, forests or gardens! If you are in the centre of Kassel (i.e. the Koenigsstrasse), you should not miss exploring the nearby baroque park Karlsaue. It's only some 300m away. Cross the Friedrichsplatz and pass by the Fridericianum (an interesting museum, btw), cross the Steinweg road and follow the paths towards what looks like a giant picture frame - it's a piece of art from a documenta years ago. From this frame, you can get a first glimpse on the Karlsaue. Go down the stairs and you'll see a big yellow building, Kassel's orangery. Next to the building is the marble bath. Inside, you'll find a planetarium, which is really interesting. If you stand in front of the orangery, you'll see a vast meadow, the so-called Karlswiese. In summertime, it's full of people playing football or badminton, or just having a picnic. From the Karslwiese, two long ditches extend towards a beautiful lake. Stroll along these ditches, it's a nice walk. When you've reached the lake, go on further until you come to another lake with an island in the middle. The island is called Siebenbergen, and it's especially beautiful in spring, when it's full of flowers.
Now turn to the left and cross the street until you reach the river Fulda. Look for the bridge and cross it. You now reach the Fuldaaue, another big park. It's been the main site of the 1955 Bundesgartenschau (i.e. a garden exhibition -I believe it was in 1955). Today, it's a good place to spend your evening with a barbecue or a swim in one of the lakes. There's also a sports area on the river, where rowing and other water sports are possible.
By the way, in summertime every Tuesday evening the parks are full of inline-skaters as there's an organized skating circuit once a week.
The Kuppeltheater was originally built in Freiburg, where it was used for two years while their theater was being renovated.
Then it was taken down and moved to Erfurt, where is stood for four years while the new opera house was being built there.
And after that it was moved over here to Kassel, where it was used for two and a half years, from September 2004 to December 2006.
Since it is basically just a big tent, you can hear some noises from outside, particularly from the trams stopping at the nearby tram stop. But aside from that the acoustics are very good. Also there is a good heating system, so nobody has to freeze in the winter.
Behind the theater there are seventy containers which serve as dressing rooms, make-up rooms, offices, cloakrooms, etc.
Second photo: Front view of the Kuppeltheater.
Third photo: The lobby of the Kuppeltheater.
Fourth photo: One of the dramaturges giving an introductory talk about the opera Il trovatore.
Fifth photo: Intermission.
Update 2010: The Kuppeltheater has now been set up in Heidelberg, where it will be used for the same purpose under the name "Opera Tent" while the Heidelberg City Theater is being expanded and rebuilt.
The Museum Fridericianum was opened in 1779. It is said to be the first building on the European continent that was conceived as a public museum. The architect was a Huguenot named Simon Louis du Ry.
The building was largely destroyed by bombs in 1941 and 1944, but was re-built after the war in time for the first Documenta in 1955.
Second photo: In the autumn of 2005 they were showing a five-part retrospective exhibition called "50 Years Documenta 1955 - 2005".
The Ottoneum was built in 1606 as a theater, in fact it is said to have been the first permanent theater building in Germany. It served as a theater for most of the seventeenth century, but was then completely remodeled in 1696 so it could house the ruling Landgrave's art and mineral collections.
The building was heavily damaged by bombs in October 1943 -- just some of the outer walls remained standing -- but it was re-built after the war and now houses the Natural Science Museum of the city of Kassel.
Admission is ordinarily EUR 1.50 for adults and 1.00 for those who get a reduction, but these prices are increased slightly when there is a special exhibition.
Open Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 - 17:00, Wednesdays until 20:00.
Kassel's famous park Wilhelmshöhe is not only the biggest hillside park of Europe (yep, just another record!), it is also famous for its water games, taking place every Wednesday, Sunday and public holiday from the Ascension of Christ (May/June) to October, 3, at 2.30pm. The water games are a must - there are no excuses to miss them! They start at the highest point of the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe: the Herkules. From there on the water flows down dozens of cascades until it reaches a lake at the lower end of the cascades. It vanishes into an underground pipe system and sees daylight again further down the hill. There it flows past the Devil's Bridge with its creepy looks towards the aqueduct. The aqueduct ends in thin air, thus the water falls down some 15m in a spectacular waterfall. Now, there are only some meters left until it reaches another lake in which it erupts in a more than 50m high fountain which lasts for about five minutes!
The great thing about the water games is that they work without any modern technology - it's just the water power itself that forces the fountain to erupt, supported by the downhill terrain, of course. Furthermore, an ingenious system makes it possible to walk down the hill with the water. On the cascades, it flows very slowly anyway, so that children and daring adults enjoy running in front of it. Later on, walking down the hill will ensure that you can see the water at all the important places.
The water games are very popular by tourists and locals alike. Make sure to come early as you will have to hike up the park until the cascades (ca. 45 minutes). Make sure to bring a camera. And make sure to walk with the water - you will never forget this view!
The best view on Kassel is from Herkules. You discover the cascades, a little bit further Schloss Wilhelmshoehe, then your view wanders over the city centre... This is beautiful at daytime, but guess how wonderful it is during the night when millions of lights are flickering in the valley. It's certainly the most romantic place to be at night.
Another attraction in Kassel-Wilhelmshoehe:
Built in between 1793 to 1806, the Lions Castle (Loewenburg) was built as an imitation of a mediavel knight's castle... deliberately built as a ruin.
It now houses a collection of old weapons and china.
Kassel houses the world-famous documenta every five years - that's a well-known fact. What is less known, however, is that the city buys at least one piece of art after each exhibition. Thus, many areas of Kassel have become safe havens for artworks which would otherwise have disappeared. These documenta leftovers can be seen in many places. For instance, there's the "Man walking to the sky" just in front of the train station Kassel-Hauptbahnhof. It's an impressive artwork with a man who walks up a long iron construction which looks like a diagonal lamppost. Btw, an advertisement with this man was used by the Kassel candidate of the German CDU during the election campaing in 2002. Famous, though hardly visible is an artwork on the Freidrichsplatz: the earth kilometre. It's basically a piece of metal on the ground which reminds you of the spectacular drilling of a 1km-hole at this site. All over Kassel, you come across trees (oaks, to be specific) with a block of basalt at their side. They belong to the Beuys artwork "7000 oaks" and have made Kassel's streets a lot greener. One thing I like very much is the "Pickaxe" at the Auedamm in the Karlsaue park. It looks just like a giant's favourite tool which he left for whatever reason at the shore of river Fulda.
The Hercules is the landmark of Kassel, overlooking the city from the top of the forest "Habichtswald".
Originally, the statue was not planned to be on top of the 'Oktogon', the octagonal stone structure that is underneath his feet. It was not until 1713 (three years after the Oktogon has been completed) that the decision was made to build a statue on top of it.
Since then, however, it was a clear landmark of the city of Kassel, visible from a far disctance and attracting thousands of tourists as well as locals year by year.
Details of the statue:
Height : 9.20m
Length of club : 4.90m
Circumference of biceps : 2.20m
Absolute altitude : 596m
On the weekends, visitors can enter the Oktogon, climb up to the statue and enjoy the gorgeous view across Kassel!
As described on other pages, this is the crown in the jewel of the Bergpark Wilhelmshoehe in Kassel.
The monument can be seen throughout most of Kassel, as this is the highest point in the city in the Habichtswald. (Hawks' Forest).
The Oktigon was built in 1701-1713 by Landburgher Karl von Hesse-Kassel as a palace to the Wind. It is about 200 feet (60+ meters) high. In 1717, the 25 foot (8.25m) Statue of Herkules to commemorate strength and protection of the poor was added to the top. It is a replica of the original made by Benvenuto Cellini.
As I caution in my tip, it is a steep climb up, so be careful if you may have averse effects from strenuous activity! There are many terraces along the waterfall run to stop and rest and along the hiking trails throughout the park are benches, rest areas and places to get some food or drink. If you enjoy this location, take your time and take everything in!
Built in 1786 by landgrave Wilhelm IX., the castle of Wilhelmshoehe (Schloss Wilhelmshoehe) was used as summer residency by the two German emperor's Wilhelm I. and Wilhelm II.
These days, the castle houses a collection of art and antique furniture and functions as one of the city's museums.
During New Year's Eve, hundreds of citizens gather in front of the castle's entrance to celebrate the new year and watch the fireworks.
This place is the most amazing park I've seen, if you read the lead page for Kassel, I give a pretty fair description of what this park contains. The vistas are gorgeous and the waterfall is amazing! I definitely could spend much more time here than I did and not become bored! It is a work out walking up to the Hercules monument!