Note: I'm going to admit up front that I didn't choose the best day to hit Darmstadt. After I was just warming up to the place, I found myself amidst a full-blown freezing monsoon that essentially convinced me to call the trip after about 'three innings'. So, consider this a 'half' travelogue, and Darmstadt is back on my list of places to try again.
Darmstadt was one of many Hessian cities that were reborn after WWII and the Marshall Plan. Like Frankfurt (Main) that only sat a twenty minute drive to the north, Darmstadt was heavily hit during WWII, then rebuilt to a combination of semi-original glory and modernity. Also like Frankfurt, Darmstadt was heavily influenced by the large presence of other Europeans and Americans (the whole of southern Hessen impressed one with being a huge melting pot). My first, shortened impression of Darmstadt was that it was a great place to go if one was living in the area -- great for shopping, local transportation, and activities without Frankfurt's crowds. I would not consider it a major tourist destination, though. While it was not a bad place to wander around in, it had little that I would consider unique that recommended it over other nearby locations like Worms, Mainz, or Frankfurt itself.
Darmstadt was a university town with a very large pedestrian area downtown, marked prominently by the Luisenplatz, shown in the first photograph. The huge towering monument was one of several in the city. Darmstadt's City Theater is shown in the left background. In front of the Theater were some streetcars. For a relatively small city, Darmstadt's streetcar network was among the largest I encountered in southern Germany, and streetcars did a full loop around the Luisenplatz.
Most of the activity downtown was at the main marketplace, shown in the second photo with the old town hall (Altes Rathaus) in the background. The Altes Rathaus and the other surrounding buildings were modernized but still classy. The Rathaus now serves as a restaurant.
On this day, Darmstadt hosted a Kinderfest (children's festival) that included games, shows, and other activities. Most of the exhibits were small-scale fund-raisers for municipal children's organizations or volunteer services (like the fire department and ambulance). It was pretty packed with families despite the weather. One of the games available for young kids, about 8-12, was a milk crate stacking game that I saw sponsored by fire departments in several cities. The child was hooked to a hoist on a fire engine and asked to stack milk crates on top of each other (they were made of plastic and stacked very easily). The child then climbed the crates to the top. Once there, an adult handed him another crate, which the child (kept safe by the hoist) stacked on top and then climbed again. The game was over when the crate tipped or the child fell off the tower. Believe it or not, the most I ever saw a child do was 18 crates, stacked up to about 20 feet before the slightly uneven ground couldn't keep the stack straight.
The third photo shows the Kinderfest from a different angle with the Darmstadter Schloss (palace) prominently in the background. This palace was very similar in style to the one in Mannheim, except smaller. It was the site of several city offices.
I followed the square around the palace and came across a secondary square with other major landmarks. The Hessische Landesmuseum (fourth photo) was the State Museum of Hessen, a conglomeration of several museums in one. One wing was a natural history museum, while other wings covered geology, anthropology, and art. Geared mainly for families, the main museum only cost €2.50 a person, a bargain for what it offered. Each part of the museum was robust and well maintained, and with the Kinderfest going on in the rain, a lot of families made their way in.
I did encounter quite a number of other attractions as the rains began falling. Among them was the Stadtkirche, a brilliantly restored red sandstone church located at the east end of the pedestrian zone. The Hinkelsturm, one of the towers of the medieval city wall shown in the fifth photograph, sat a block further to the east and housed the City Museum. There was also the Kapelle Denkmal just up the hill from it that is the shell of a chapel that was destroyed in WWII. The shell has been renovated and turned into a somber monument commemorating the Allied bombing in 1945 and subsequent liberation of the city.
The main attraction that I missed was the Russian Orthodox Church known as the Mathildenhoehe, which was the most common landmark on a Darmstadt postcard. As with most Orthodox Churches, Darmstadt's was colorful and glittery with gold, accompanied by a large water fountain in front and another major Darmstadt monument, the Hochzeitsturm. I hoped hit those places next time.
Oh well, there was never any accounting for the weather, was there? Anyhow, if you do live or are staying in the Frankfurt area, Darmstadt was only a ten-minute train ride away and worth checking out.
Trip taken 22 September 2002 -- Page last updated 27 October 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin