The hulking, slightly ominous-looking, detached building 2km southwest of Karlsruhe’s Schloss was once a munitions factory, but like so many defunct industrial buildings it has leant itself superbly to becoming an exhibition space. The Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, or ZKM, occupies the building’s vast airy halls, and includes cafés and restaurants, space for regular and dependably great temporary exhibitions as well as three excellent museums; a combined day-ticket permits entry to all.
Art and gadgetry collide in the Medienmuseum which is chock-full of entertaining electronic gimmicks that synthesize various elements of music, film, photography and design into creative and interactive art installations which can easily take all day to explore. Activities include using electronic dice to create a pastiche of a waltz by irreverently cobbling together bars of Mozart; using a vast image library to create collages; and shooting small movies using geometric shapes. All this is of course based on computer technology, so as a tribute you can see the maze of tubes and cables of the world’s oldest operable computer (1941). Look out also for the 1950s-and 1960s-vintage optical illusions of the Neuer Tendenzen, or Nouvelles Tendances, an avant-garde school of art that pioneered this style. If all this hasn’t left you fuzzy headed enough, the top floor of the museum is replete with various playable video games from every era.
Museum für Neue Kunst
After Medientechnologie, the Museum für Neue Kunst (Museum for Contemporary Art) could easily be an anticlimax, but its thoughtful exhibits are engaging, and include 1960s Pop Art, but are usually dominated by contemporary art that reflects on aspects of modern-day Germany.
At the end of the ZKM, and accessed by a separate entrance, is the Städtische Galerie, the most staid – if still accomplished – of the ZKM museum trio. It focuses on local and postwar German art, but is usually most worthwhile for its temporary exhibitions, which try for broad popular appeal – such as exhibitions of graphic novels.