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Darmstadt: city of poets, thinkers and space explorers.

Darmstadt: city of poets, thinkers and space explorers.

If German cities were schoolchildren then Darmstadt would be top of the class. Highly educated, well read, cultivated, immaculately groomed and with a range of interests. Through science, literature, art and architecture, Darmstadt has developed a wholly unique appeal that has earned it much acclaim.

The establishment of the Mathildenhöhe artists colony more than 100 years ago played its part in raising Darmstadt to prominence. Magnificent art nouveau houses give this hill of muses an unmistakable character. In the immediate post-war period, general malaise and a lack of housing plagued life in Darmstadt, which at the time was almost completely destroyed. But after 1949, the city experienced a second cultural dawn, which led to the foundation of innovative organisations and the systematic establishment of 'smokeless industry'. Today, Darmstadt boasts a great many publishing houses and graphic design studios, as well as the European Space Agency's satellite control centre and internationally acclaimed institutes for literature, art and music. The award ceremony for Germany's most prestigious literature prize – the Georg Büchner Award – also takes place in Darmstadt. Other cultural highlights include the Hessian State Museum, home to the world's largest Joseph Beuys collection, the Kunsthalle art museum, the State Theatre, a vibrant music and entertainment scene and lots of art galleries. And in 1999 Darmstadt unveiled another fantastic entertainment institution in the shape of Centralstation. This heritage-listed former power station is now a venue for theatre productions, readings, exhibitions, concerts and club nights.

But that's not all. Other attractions include the Old Town Hall, Luisenplatz square, the palace on the market square, St. Ludwig's church, St. Paul's church, the octagonal house and the orangery, as well as Rosenhöhe hill and the Russian Orthodox church with its enchanting grove of plane trees. Then there's the UNESCO World Heritage Messel Pit Fossil Site, which opens a window to the past, and in particular to our planet's early history. Last but not least is the Waldspirale apartment building designed by Austria's Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who sought to realise his unique vision of housing with this, one of his later works. Discussion group Darmstädter Gespräche has also been causing a stir since it was first established in 1950. Renamed Neue Darmstädter Gespräche in 2005, the group's regular talks address current philosophical and social topics. Another survivor of the post-war period is the annual Heinerfest, which was first held in 1951 amid the ruins of the city. This festival offers conclusive proof – if proof were needed – that the erudite people of Darmstadt aren't afraid to let their hair down. Why not join them?

City Highlights

Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hessen founded the Darmstadt Artists' Colony with the aim of radically reforming the arts and crafts of his region.

A building distinguished by its omega-shaped portal which used to house the artists' workshops now contains a museum about the colony. Its exhibition documents the history of the artistic community from 1899 to 1914 and gives an overview of the creative output from this period and its main representatives. It features pieces of furniture, interior design, glass, ceramics, textiles, goldsmith work, prints, paintings, sculptures and architectural models.

Designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Darmstadt's 'Waldspirale' (Forest Spiral) is the highlight of the Bürgerpark district on the outskirts of the town centre. Hundertwasser used the building to define his concept of an individual living space that is not defined by everyday norms in any way. He designed a facade that follows no overall scheme and where no two windows are the same, a roof with trees growing on it and a whole lot more. The grounds are open to the public so visitors can soak up the very special atmosphere of the building, before relaxing over a coffee and cream in the café & bistro.

The ESOC (European Space Operations Centre) is Europe's gateway to the universe, the control centre for the European Space Agency (ESA) in Darmstadt. ESA's role is to design and develop European space travel, to explore the solar system, terrestrial environment and climate, and to develop the technology for space travel, with the focus on unmanned space flights. Visitors to the centre can enjoy views of the galaxy and satellites circling high above the earth, giving a sense of the infinity of space.

Messel Pit Fossil Site near Darmstadt is one of Mother Nature's treasure troves. Around 50 million years ago in the Tertiary era a variety of different animal species lived here, some of which have long since become extinct or are now only found in the Tropics. The oil shale of the lake that once existed here is full of secrets and hides a wealth of animal and plant fossils, some of which are excellently preserved. It provides an insight into continental drift and the sedimentation of the Earth, how the oceans and land bridges were formed between the various land masses, the depth of the biosphere, and the climate and lifecycles from this period. Read more

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