Home to more museums than any other city of its size in Europe, Kassel’s collections go from the macabre to the magnificent. Here is a quick guide to five “must-see” places especially for art-minded visitors to see when you come to the city for dOCUMENTA13.
Museum fur Sepulkralkultur
If nothing is certain in life except death and taxes, it’s likely a good idea to learn about each of them. The Museum fur Sepulkralkultur, or Museum of Sepulchral Culture, covers the first one. Opened in 1992, it emerged out of the decades-long activities of the Association of Cemetery and Monument Association.
Surprisingly bright and cheery considering its subject matter, it offers guests a good grounding in graveyard art, burial grounds, customs surrounding funerals and remembrances of the dead. It is also a reminder of the finiteness of life. Be sure to pick up the English brochure at the start, since the labels are all in German.
Located at Weinbergstrasse 25-27 , 34117 Kassel.
Phone +49 561 918930. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday until 8 p.m.
Caricatura – Gallery for comic art
Need a laugh? Enjoy art with a chuckle? Caricatura, which runs both German galleries for comical art (the second on is in Frankfort), can provide this comic relief from too much seriousness in art.
Located in the KulturBahnhof-Building, it displays five different exhibitions each year and attracts some of the best known comic artists in the world.
Over the years it has become one of the most important museums on the fine art of satire in the world. Displays feature caricatures, cartoons and comic strips as well as literary criticism. It is located at Rainer Dierichs Platz 1, D- 34117, Kassel.
Phone is +49 561 776499. It is open Thursday to Friday from 2 – 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon to 8 p.m.
Galerie Alte Meister – where Old Masters meet
A portrait done by Rembrandt of his wife, Saskia, and Frans Hals’ 1665 masterpiece “The Man With the Slouch Hat” are among the collection of masterpieces on display at Kassel’s Galerie Alte Meister. Triumph of Victory by Peter Paul Rubens is also on display.
The permanent exhibit focuses on the works of 16th and 17th German, Italian, French and Spanish artists.
It is located at Schloss Wilhelmshohe, 34131 Kassel – Bad Wilhelmshohe. Telephone is +49 561 316 800.
It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Also at Schloss Wilhelmshohe, you can visit the antique collection at Antikensammlung. Dive into ancient Mediterranean cultures and see fine sculptures, vases, coins and objects d’art from Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman times arranged to offer genuine insight into the development of culture.
A special attraction is the famous Kassel statue of Apollo and bronze statuette of Victoria von Fossombrone. There is also a great collection of Greek vases and Roman seasons sarcophagus decorated with the wine god Bacchus in the centre.
Tip: Don’t forget to visit the basement, where you will see amazing cork models of ancient Roman buildings created by A. Chichi at the end of the 18th century.
Museum for Astronomy and Physics and Planetarium
This fascinating museum houses a vast array of scientific and technological exhibits starting in ancient times, continuing through the Renaissance, and touching on the current times. Of particular interest are astronomical instruments that were used to provide the equipment for Europe’s first observatory.
There are also historically significant objects in the study of physics, microscopes, optics, and telescopes and watches used to measure time and space. You can even see early examples of energy technology, including Magdeburg hemispheres and Denis Papin’s steam pump.
Tip: Don’t miss displays on data processing from ancient times to the first computer invented by Konrad Zuse.
The museum is located in the beautiful Orangerie Building at the Karlsaue. Telephone is +49 561 316 80500.
The projection planetarium on site has a 10-metre dome and accommodates 56 visitors at a time. One hour programs run Tuesday and Thursday at 2 p.m., Friday at 3 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. The museum itself is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Naturkundemuseum (Museum of Natural History)
One of the most famous exhibitions in the Museum of Natural History in Kassel is the Goethe Elephant, one of the world’s first preserved mammal skeletons. The museum itself is located in the historic Ottoneum, the first permanent theatre building in Germany.
Today it also houses a remarkable collection of natural artifacts including the priceless Schildbach Wood Library. In the late 18th century, Carl Schildbach, a man with no formal academic or scientific training, was manager of a German estate famous for its ornamental park. His employer asked him to compile a reference collection of the natural history of each type of tree and shrub on the estate, a total of 546 items.
Schildbach did so with a series of boxes or caskets, gathering the raw materials and creating an amazing series of wooden books. The Empress Catherine tried to purchase the collection, but he deeded it to his master, Landgrave Wilhelm IX, and at its current home in Kassel, it is still used as a reference by scholars throughout the world. Schildbach’s work off course inspired many imitators.
The museum also contains the oldest systematic plant collection in Europe, the 400-year-old “Ratzenbergen Herbarium.”
The natural history museum is at Steinweg 2, 34117 Kassel. Telephone is +49 561 787-4066. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Edith Robb)
About the author: Edith Robb is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in travel and culture. Canadian by birth, she now lives half of each year in the United States and travels extensively, including making several trips to Germany in preparation for dOCUMENTA13. She has worked on many travel publications, including Back Roads and Getaway Places for Reader’s Digest and Guide to Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada for Fodor’s Travel Guides. She has a Master of Arts degree with a major in cultural studies.