Art on the hill

Darmstadt's Mathildenhöhe recently became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This designation honors an architectural ensemble that exemplifies the artistic spirit of optimism of the young 20th century.
by Alexander Russ | 7/27/2021

A total of 48 natural and cultural heritage sites in Germany have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. These recently include Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt, which has been designated a World Heritage Site along with the three spa towns of Baden-Baden, Bad-Ems and Bad Kissingen. UNESCO recognizes cultural landscapes, parks, natural areas, evidence of social and technological developments, and artistic and architectural masterpieces. The ensemble in the east of Darmstadt now also counts among the latter: "Mathildenhöhe is a globally outstanding example of visionary design art," says Maria Böhmer, President of the German UNESCO Commission, explaining the decision.

The significance of Mathildenhöhe is measured, among other things, by its pioneering role for the Bauhaus. Influences from the Arts and Crafts movement and the Vienna Secession came together here, leading to a new design approach that exemplifies the spirit of optimism of the young 20th century. Between 1899 and 1914, it was one of the most important centers of modern art and architecture in Europe, where artists and architects such as Peter Behrens, Rudolf Bosselt, Paul Bürck, Hans Christiansen, Ludwig Habich, Patriz Huber and Joseph Maria Olbrich came together to form the so-called "Darmstädter Künstlerkolonie" (Darmstadt Artists' Colony), bringing together architecture, art and design in a new way. Situated on a plateau above the old town, the ensemble, which was created on the initiative of Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine, was intended to reflect the ideal of a new city. Among other things, several artists' houses and an exhibition building were erected for this purpose. As a striking landmark, the so-called "Hochzeitsturm" (Wedding Tower) forms a central element of the complex, which, together with the open spaces and the other structural elements, rises above Darmstadt as a total work of art.

The respective artists of the colony presented their works in a total of four exhibitions before the activities came to an abrupt end with the beginning of the First World War and the ensemble subsequently fell largely into oblivion. After the Second World War, numerous cultural institutions such as the German Werkbund, the Academy for Language and Poetry, the German PEN Center, the German Design Council, the Institute for New Technical Form, Hessen-Design and the Design Department of the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences settled there. With the retrospective "A Document of German Art 1901-1976" on the works of the Darmstadt artists' colony, the Mathildenhöhe once again moved more strongly into the cultural consciousness - a process that reached a temporary climax with its designation as a World Heritage Site.