From Tunis to…Darmstadt

How to enjoy a rainy city

Traveling for the experts on municipalities program doesn’t only take us to cities of the Global South. It also takes us to their German twin cities. To Darmstadt, for example – on two occasions at once. We wanted to ask the mayor, how his city – and its inhabitants – benefit from the fact that Darmstadt has sent an expert to work in its Ukrainian twin city of Ushgorod.

Also, we scheduled our visit so that we could actually meet all the experts on municipalities involved with the program, as well as representatives from Darmstadt’s twin cities Uzhhorod, Lviv, Kharkiv, and Tunis. There’s lots of networking and exchanging experiences – good ones and bad ones alike. Then we embark on a city tour.

It is very cold and rainy. The light’s terrible and it is windy. If we are not all that enthusiastic about following our tour guides around in this kind of weather – how does it feel to be the cameraman, being dependent on decent photographs, having to film cities’ plaques drowning in water?

Not expecting much, we continue walking – until, to our surprise, we do experience a true highlight on the “Magdalenenhöhe”, Darmstadt’s former artists’ quarter. In 1899, we are told by the historian accompanying us, the last Grand Duke of Hesse used his money to establish an artists’ colony here, letting them build their houses as they wished and paying for their studios and an exhibition hall. All of this was completed in the turn of the century’s predominant architectural style: Art Noveau.

One part of this is the wedding tower that the architect Joseph Maria Olbricht designed for the Grand Duke’s wedding with his second wife. In the tower’s drafty, unheated shop, all sorts of items in the shape of the tower are for sale: baking tins, salt shakers, and key chains, only to name a few.  Here you can also visit the Russian-Orthodox church. As most Orthodox churches, this – quite small one – is definitely worth a visit. The last tsar Nicholas II had it built after marrying the Duke’s daughter, Princess Alix of Hesse. If there was no way around having to come all the way from Moscow to Darmstadt, of all places, he at least wanted to pray in his own church. Disregarding such commitment, his god did not offer much support against the Bolsheviks.