One fine afternoon while having tea at the office with a colleague and friend J, I happened to discuss what to occupy my weekend with. And J very graciously offered to show me the city of Darmstadt if I were interested. Now I had no clue about this city except for the fact that I had arrived there late one evening in the fall of 2011, to be able to catch an early morning train to Frankfurt. J mentioned that his wife C had spent a considerable amount of time to become an expert in the art and architecture of the city and he would discuss with her about hosting me. I was, of course, intrigued. Then the tea was over and we went back to our work.
In the subsequent week, J told me that I could come over whenever I wanted. And we planned to meet on a Sunday. While I am here, I get immense help from another colleague and friend C, who helped me, like so many other times, in booking my tickets. I want to briefly mention here that the relaxation of some transportation related rules in the last two years has resulted in the introduction of good long distance buses called the “Fernbus”. There are several operators and therefore, the pricing is quite competitive – much cheaper than the good old DB (Deutche Bahn or German Train if you will).
So there I was on the morning of the planned Sunday at the bus station in Heidelberg to embark on my exploration of the city of Darmstadt. Literally translated, Darmstadt would mean “City of Intestines”. I wonder what would have been the intention behind naming the city thus, but then I read so many equally intriguing names of British towns and villages, that I have resigned and agreed to live with the fact that it’s just a name. But I will write about those intriguing names in another post because first of all, it’s too long a list and secondly it’s not going to leave me in peace until I write it down.
Upon reaching Darmstadt, I called J and he told me where to meet. I had to cross the train station from inside and reach the main entrance on the other side. I was a bit late and by then J was already trying to search for me thinking I was lost, while C, his wife, was waiting at one point and it was she, who recognized me first, although we had never met before. Then after the greetings and introductions, we started on the city tour.
Our first stop was the famous Hundertwasserhaus, which is called “Waldspirale” literally meaning “Forest Spiral”. It is a residential complex designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It is in such a contrast to the usual residential complexes or the traditional houses that it stands out as something out of a fantasy book. I was immediately captivated by the colors and design of that building. The roof is green here, which means that there are plants on the top of the roof. It’s definitely a place where I could think about living :-).
C told that it was possible to go to the top of the building as there is a restaurant up there but the lift was closed at that time. So we decided to come back again in the evening.
Then we moved further towards a place called Mathildenhöhe – which has three interesting parts which cannot be missed.
First thing that you notice there is the head of a building called “Fuenf finger turm”. Details come later.
Second piece was the Russian orthodox church, which I haven’t seen at many places in Germany.
It was built as a private chapel for Tsar Nicholas II, when he was visiting Germany, whose wife Alexandra Feodorovna was the princess of Hesse- Darmstadt. Interestingly, the soil and the stone for the construction was brought in trains from Russia.
If you see towards the left in this picture, then you see the aforementioned “Fuenf finger turm” meaning “Tower of five fingers”.(I must admit here that at first glance it appeared to me like a monument to the rude hand gesture of modern times). It is actually a tower from 1908, where the city weddings take place (I was told later by another colleague that he was indeed married here!). So it is actually a “Hochzeitsturm”, meaning “Wedding Tower”. It was built as a gift from the people of Darmstadt to commemorate the wedding of a duke in 1905.
The funny part was to climb up this tower and find a room which was like the preparation room before the wedding in a room above. C and I joked about that being the last chance for the couple to escape!
And then the third and a very important piece in this area is the Artist’s colony. Now, I didn’t know that Darmstadt was an important part of the “Art Noveau” movement. The duke here was a great patron of artists and he invited them to settle here and show their creativity in around 1899. So, what came out of it was an interesting set of houses with modern designs and that style was called “Jugendstil” or “Modern style”. No two houses are the same here. I missed taking the pictures but you can find them here.
There is also a rosengarten (rose garden) close by but as the season was already over for roses, we decided to skip it.
So we then proceeded towards the market area of Darmstadt and surprise surprise – all the shops were open on a Sunday! Only a shopaholic can understand how much effort I had to put in to not peek into the shops and continue on the cultural trail! We also saw a small train being pulled by the steam engine on the way with people taking the city tour in it and J remarked that it was like “know your city” day for him too as he had not seen that before in his stay of 20 years in that region!
As we moved towards the central Darmstadt, we reached a tower at Luisenplatz. On that particular day, it was open for people to climb up and have a view of the city from there. It would have taken long to wait for our turn to climb up, so we decided to move on. On the way, we found another tower called “Weisser Turm”, the White Tower and C told that it was used for art exhibitions.
Moving on we reached the palace or the schloss which is kind of ruined and nobody lives there now. The interesting thing there was the existence of a moat around it but without any kind of water supply. So we were wondering for some time as to what kind of protection would that moat be providing to the royal family there. At one place, there were two statues of probably the dukes opposite each other and they looked like father and son – considering that the dates inscribed below them were different, else I would have taken them to be one person – so similar did they look!
Moving on, we reached another place where the wine festival was going on. Another colleague had told me about it on Friday but I didn’t know we’ll be going there as J is not particularly a fan of wines. But there we were (and I got to know later from J that we were there because I had expressed interest in it and C had therefore, persuaded J to take us there!). And that’s where I had my first “federweisser” which is the term for the young wine in Germany. It was so fresh that you could see the yeast settling down in the glass! It had a nice tangy taste with very little alcohol content and at the same time not being so sweet as the pure grape juice. C and I enjoyed that and then we decided to make a trip to J and C’s home.
So off we went to their lovely home which is in a suburb about 10 minutes away from Darmstadt city. I was fascinated by their garden most of all, which contained a lot of fruit trees and bushes – peaches, himbeere, strawberries, nectarine, blackberries and some others. C very generously filled me a box with the fruits to be enjoyed on my way back!
Then we had some homemade cheesecake and a savory cake with an interesting Chinese tea (it was like a closed dried flower and when hot water was poured on it, it opened up it’s petals and released the nice flavors!). I also got to meet their daughter who showed me the pictures from her horse-riding competitions. After enjoying their hospitality and relaxing, we moved once again towards the city to check the top of the Waldspirale, as it was getting nearer to the time of my bus back. We reached the same place again and this time, the lift was open and we climbed up and I had the most amazing view of the building as well as the city from there.
After having an amazing day, it was time for me to take leave but what happened thereafter was kind of a spoiler or if I take it positively, then I had the pleasure of enjoying J and C’s company for a bit longer. You see, the bus didn’t arrive and then after waiting for it for more than one and a half hours, J decided that they will drive me back instead of leaving me there to wait any longer. Till now, I don’t know what happened to that bus and when did it finally arrive – there were other weary passengers there.
So that’s how my day was wonderfully spent, thanks to J & C’s wonderful company, and I think that probably some day I will go there again. It’s not a touristy place but it’s a good place to spend a day or two, if one is interested in not walking down the beaten path but in finding different trails.