Situated on the Rhineland Plain between the Black Forest, the Vosges mountains and the Palatinate Forest, Karlsruhe is a hub of science and technology, Germany’s online capital and the home of the Federal Court of Justice. The city has always been just that little bit more liberal than most, allowing art and culture to flourish and creating an atmosphere of vitality.
Given Karlsruhe’s grand palace, the absence of an old quarter may leave visitors slightly puzzled. But this is a relatively young city, only founded in 1715, and so lacks the medieval lanes and alleys seen in many German towns. Baden’s Margrave Karl-Wilhelm had his dream city designed from scratch, with the resplendent palace at its centre and 32 streets and avenues radiating outwards like the ribs of a fan. From its very beginnings, Karlsruhe was a city without walls, open to friends and visitors, tolerant and liberal. People from France, Poland, Italy, Switzerland and many German states were involved in its creation. As a result, Karlsruhe was way ahead of its time in the development of a cosmopolitan society with modern institutions of government. The 1818 Baden constitution was also ahead of its time, and Germany’s first parliament was built here in 1822. Karlsruhe’s most influential cultural institution is the Centre for Art and Media (ZKM) – part museum, part institute, part documentation centre, and much more besides. The ZKM brings together under one roof the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Media Museum and institutes for visual media, for music and acoustics, and for media, education and economics. It explores the development and form of the information society, the media and contemporary art forms in a way never seen before. Even the location of the centre in a former munitions factory is symbolic of changing times.
New media and classicism – Karlsruhe’s signature blend of styles. The work of architect Friedrich Weinbrenner dominated the appearance of Karlsruhe in the first half of the 19th century, and many of his buildings can still be found in the city centre today. Home to the Protestant church and town hall, the market square is one of the most striking ensembles of classical-style architecture in Europe and its pièce de résistance is Weinbrenner’s most audacious work – the Karlsruhe Pyramid. The monument, completed in 1825, is the final resting place of the Margrave. Fortunately, the atmosphere here is much less stark than the architecture. The many pavement cafés and beer gardens around the market square are ideal for watching the hustle and bustle of the city. Kaiserstrasse, the longest shopping street in the Baden region, has a great selection of shops and there are lots of restaurants offering excellent local cuisine. You can then round off your day with a taste of Karlsruhe’s vibrant nightlife. A welcome alternative for the following day could be provided by one of the many museums, such as the State Museum at the palace, or by the public parks and green spaces. The botanical garden, palace garden and the zoo are leafy oases of tranquillity and they alone would make a visit to Karlsruhe worthwhile.