Kassel, the city that became the hub of the contemporary art world with its documenta exhibition, also owes much of its cultural renown to the legacy of the Brothers Grimm. A city that has always fused tradition with innovation to great effect; a city in possession of one of Europe's most palatial gardens, the Wilhelmshöhe, and with it a landmark like no other, the Hercules monument.
Once upon a time... there were two brothers who lived many a year in Kassel, where they penned timeless classics such as their collection of 'Children's and Household Tales' and their reference book of German grammar. Because they were so famous, the literary pair are still honoured in Kassel to this day at the Brothers Grimm Museum, as well as at anniversary celebrations, conferences and exhibitions. Two hundred years ago brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm published their first book of fairytales, having already made names for themselves as linguists, legal historians and committed democrats. In 2013 the Brothers Grimm year of celebrations in Kassel will also pay tribute to their younger brother, painter Ludwig Emil Grimm. It goes without saying that Kassel is one of the major checkpoints along the German Fairytale Route, a 600km tour dedicated to the life and works of the Brothers Grimm.
Kassel puts as much emphasis on preserving its Grimm heritage as it does promoting the city's defining modern-day event. The documenta is the world's leading contemporary art exhibition, an occasion of great distinction, a showcase for the latest trends in international art. The venue for the exhibition has been the Fridericianum since 1955, while the Documenta Hall was added in 1992 for documenta 9. The number of visitors has continued to grow ever since the first show, reaching 860,000 in 2012. And with megastars such as Brad Pitt among the guests, it's likely to attract even more art fans next time round. A date for your diary (should your diary go that far): the next documenta is on from 10 June to 17 September 2017.
The outdoor exhibits are a firm fixture at the documenta. Some of the most spectacular are now integral parts of the cityscape, for instance the 7,000 Oaks project by Joseph Beuys, Claes Oldenburg's giant pickaxe on the banks of the Fulda and Jonathan Borofsky's Man Walking to the Sky. These eye-catching artistic landmarks enhance a city that owes its appearance to a conscious effort to erect new buildings after the Second World War, rather than to restore the old ones that had been destroyed – so as to make a clean break from the legacy of the past. Today, Kassel is very proud of its numerous successful examples of 1950s architecture, such as the Treppenstrasse ensemble, which has long been under a preservation order. In recent decades, however, there has been a drive to rejuvenate the city centre and significantly increase its appeal with modern new buildings, public art and the redesign of open spaces in an unconventional style. Kassel also has one of the oldest theatre scenes in Germany. The Ottoneum, the country's first permanent theatre and the precursor to today's Kassel State Theatre, dates back to 1605. Wilhelmshöhe Palace with its spectacular collection of Rembrandts is a must-see, as are the city's excellent museums. Art from the previous two centuries is on display at the New Gallery, and Goethe's famous elephant is exhibited at the Natural History Museum in the Ottoneum. The Museum of Astronomy and Physics, meanwhile, reveals captivating insights into the secrets of astronomy, the measurement of time, geodesy, mathematics and physics. Not a secret, however, is the fact that Wilhelmshöhe with the Hercules monument is Europe's largest hillside park. Its 240 hectares, laid out in the English style, are a work of art combining nature, architecture and landscape design. And when it comes to works of art, you'll soon realise that they are everywhere you turn in Kassel.