Only 15km from France, bright and busy KARLSRUHE is one of Germany’s youngest cities. Meaning “Karl’s rest”, the town was created in 1715 by Margrave Karl Wilhelm of Baden as a place to escape his dull wife and spend time with mistresses. It grew as capital of Baden from 1771 and developed as a liberal town where art and science flourished, as did the university that still gives the town a happening feel. After the war it lost out to Stuttgart as regional capital, but as seat of Germany’s two highest courts it still plays a significant national role and is also an important industrial base. Karlsruhe’s premier attractions are its excellent museums – particularly the ZKM with its contemporary art and high-tech installations – and the fact that the city lies within a well-priced regional public transport network, which puts it within easy reach of the Northern Black Forest and Baden-Baden. One unusual event in town to look out for is the Trachten and Folklorefest, when folk groups from all over Europe converge in the June of even-numbered years.
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Zentrum für Kunst
Zentrum für Kunst
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.