A traffic-free promenade leads up to Mathildenhöhe, the artists’ colony founded by the Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig in 1899. A grove of clipped plane trees, the Platanenhain, stands at the entrance and provides shade for summer boules players. The first building is the tiny, richly decorated Russische Kapelle (Tues–Sun 10am–1pm & 2–4pm; donation requested) built for Ernst Ludwig’s relatives, the Russian royal family.
The Hochzeitsturm and Ausstellungsgebäude
Behind the Platanenhain soars the 48.5m Hochzeitsturm or Wedding Tower designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich as the city’s wedding present to the Grand Duke on the occasion of his second marriage in 1905 and completed in 1908. It remains the colony’s most prominent landmark. It’s an impressive work of architecture, reflecting the eclectic roots of the style: daringly modern for its time yet with copper-clad gables that recall North German brick Gothic.
Take the lift to the top to enjoy views which extend to Frankfurt and the Taunus on a clear day, then descend via two richly decorated rooms: the Hochzeitszimmer or Wedding Room and the opulent Fürstenzimmer. The tower still functions as Darmstadt’s registry office; renovation work at the time of writing meant parts of the building could not be seen. Alongside the Hochzeitsturm the Austellungsgebäude was built for the colony’s 1908 exhibition and is now the venue for major touring art and design exhibitions.
The Museum Künstlerkolonie and the artists’ villas
Much smaller than the Hochzeitsturm but more richly decorated, nearby Ernst-Ludwig-Haus was built for the colony’s 1901 exhibition and functioned as the artists’ ateliers. It now houses the Museum Künstlerkolonie, a fascinating exhibition on the history and work of the colony. There’s a model of the area in the foyer, while the displays document the four great exhibitions and the work of individual members of the colony. Highlights include the dining room Peter Behrens created for the Berlin department store Wertheim in 1902. Afterwards, stroll among the villas to the south of the main complex, many of which have been taken over for institutional purposes. Particularly noteworthy are the Kleines Glückerthaus at Alexandraweg 25, Haus Olbrich at no. 28 and Haus Behrens at no. 17.
Rosenhöhe and Grosser Woog
East of Mathildenhöhe, the Expressionist, brick-built 1924 Löwentor is topped by the lions from the 1914 exhibition and marks the entrance to Rosenhöhe, a former vineyard reworked as an English-style park in the early nineteenth century. The grounds are peppered with buildings, from the 1950s artists’ ateliers to a pretty Biedermeier tea house and the Neoclassical mausoleum in which many of the Hesse-Darmstadts are buried. The highlight is the formal rose garden created for Ernst Ludwig. West of Rosenhöhe on Landgraf-Georg-Strasse, the Familienbad Grosser Woog offers open-air swimming at the lake of the same name.