Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Near Berliner Platz Tram Stop



Not too far from Berliner Platz in Stuttgart, one comes across some buildings which defy color. They absolutely refuse to play by the rules of the rainbow or any shade thereof. Visiting them is something akin to walking into a black & white photo, circa 1963. As Sophia would say, "Picture it, Stuttgart, 1945. The war has just ended and smoke is still rising from the rubble. All the old buildings that memorialized the days all the way back to chivalry are smoldering or simply left as partial façades, yadda, yadda, yadda...". 









One must consider that to many directly following the war, the best way to get a phoenix to fly after such a bitter period in history filled with confusion and fear, resulting in almost complete destruction, was to simply look to a new and different future and to do whatever one could in order not to look back. Follow that bird; look forward! Easier said than done, to be sure, but a new breed of architects was to come out of the ground with their phoenix with the objective of creating anything "new". Actually, something more like "different", as it turned out.










Not that modernism was something invented by post-war German architects. No. They didn't have the patent on that. But they did exercise some daring in order to be different, especially in a city as staid and traditional and sometimes narrow-minded as Stuttgart could/can be at times. Perhaps a better word to describe the city is stubborn. Your writer means this word very neutrally, actually. Stubborn doesn't mean that the people are bad; no, it just means that they are hard to budge out of their old Swabian traditions at times when it comes to something new and different (that's not all bad, either, e.g., Stuttgart21 --> Booo! Hisssss! Bahhh!). 











So, the rubble was cleared and a new city began to arise in the parts of town which had been laid bare by air raids. In many cases, there was simply the need to build something fast in order to provide housing for the displaced masses. People needed homes and the Marshall Plan assisted in making that possible with the rebuilding of much of the entire western part of the country. What was rebuilt directly after the war was simply a band-aid to provide shelter and to get commerce on its feet again. Being the hardworking, determined folk that they are, much to their own credit, the German population worked hard in rebuilding their lives and country. 









However, in so many cases, the façades of the grand old edifices of centuries' old masterpieces were left standing until they could decide what to reconstruct and what not. Would they try to return to the look of the past, something most non-Europeans might call "romantic Europe"? Or, would they now have the excuse they needed to start from scratch and to try out new things and ideas? Clearly, based on so much of the modern structures in German cities, they opted for a blend of both, sometimes going to the extremes and sometimes allowing one to reminisce by at least keeping the fronts of older buildings and backing them up with something completely modern and efficient. 










In the end, a number of exquisite architectural beauties were lost. Some were retained as façades, as stated above, and others fully restored to their past glory. But attempts at creating living black and white structures of glass inside a cacophony of intersecting lines and perspectives made of steel and cement were soon found on the not-to-be-missed venues of the modernist's tour of Germany.










Your writer makes absolutely no bones about that fact that he is not attracted to the German idea of the architectural abstract and modernism. But that is not to say he doesn't like modern buildings. On the contrary, this writer has a definite penchant for the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles and Hong Kong, and many other examples of modern-day architectural wonders found the world over. He just has a hard time with gloom, which so many post-war German buildings represent to him. BUT...










...all is not lost! Peace has indeed been made with the buildings found at the Berliner Platz tram stop. Understanding is required on the part of your writer as well as all who want to better understand a people and their cities; they're the ones who have to live in them. Yes, the buildings in this post are indeed now considered friends and are a welcomed, dare I say favorite, part of this writer's tour of Stuttgart. But, don't get the idea that it is free license for any future attempts at copying them with anymore such structures in the city. They would only be considered cheap seconds.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Here lies..." (The Pragfriedhof, Stuttgart)






Pragfriedhof, (Friedhof = cemetery) is located not terribly far from the main train station of Stuttgart. It is rather large, but more importantly, it is particularly interesting. It is home to many notables of Württemberg and world history as well to those whose names would never be recognized outside of Stuttgart itself.





The cemetery boasts a plethora of designs, moods and wit in the grave stones and statuary ranging from mourning maidens to stately structures and irons casts of birds and wistful youthful figures. It is most definitely a place to be visited for all it has to show in such a serene place. 


 






There were so many more of these weeping women cast in bronze besides the ones shown here in these few photographs. It is so interesting to me how people view death. Not only death itself, but how a grave marker can somehow make a difference toward how the deceased is remembered. As though a spectacular mausoleum makes the last chapter end just the way you want it to. Do some people forget that some of the living just might read the whole book again? Not just the last chapter? Whatever the case, this writer didn't know personally any of the people here, so what is here on display is all there is to tell about the ones underneath. And this much can be sure: they had money somewhere to be able to afford these memorials.




Besides famous names such as the Graf and Gräfin (Count and Countess) von Zeppelin and former Württemberg state presidents and others of their class, there are those who were mere court painters of little renown, drugstore owners or just housewives and businessmen. There are those who loved animals or somehow identified with one or another. I am curious about the crow that adorns one stone. The little howling dachshund atop the marker of a lady who lived to be 101 adds a personal touch. And more.


  





As is traditional in so many cemeteries in German-speaking countries, the ground directly over the grave is often beautifully landscaped with colorful flowers. They are maintained devotedly.

The cemetery has also adapted to what Stuttgart has become: a multi-ethnic society with almost 20% of its inhabitants coming from abroad. 







The Jewish Cemetery is separate from the larger cemetery. A bracken fence divides the two areas. Muslim graves are also found today in what was probably once thought of as the "Christian" section (as compared to the Jewish section).  Your writer rather doubts that the city fathers, or mothers for that matter, really thought there would be much other than "Christian" there when it was first opened in what was still rural ground in 1873 although technically within city limits. Certainly there had been a Jewish community in Stuttgart at that time. The influx of other religions from the East was in no way then as it is today, and this can now be seen at Pragfriedhof. The cemetery seems to have evolved and diversified along with the city's population. 




Jewish Cemetery at Pragfriedhof


It hasn't yet been figured out how to gain admittance to the Jewish section at the Pragfriedhof, but rest assured that I want to get in there if possible. The Jewish Cemetery in Bad Cannstatt is accessible during certain hours of the day. One will just have to come back and try again here. When your writer is able to enter, rest assured a follow-up will be in order.  



Jewish Cemetery at Pragfriedhof


There is another Jewish cemetery on the grounds of a Catholic up on Killesberg. It is possible to see it through the gate and the lower parts of the walls that surround it. It looks to have been restored at some point. History tells us why that need for restoration probably existed. More information can be found about the Jewish Cemetery at the Pragfriedhof at jewishcemeteryproject.org









































The Jugendstil crematorium (below) at Pragfriedhof, built between 1905 and 1907, the only crematorium in the city of Stuttgart. Every time I look at this, I think of Angkor Wat.














An imperial count of the old empire and one of the earliest directors of the airport


Count and Countess von Zeppelin (inventor of the airship bearing his name, as in "The Hindenburg")

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mixing Today and Yesterday




Kunstmuseum Stuttgart                                                   (© Copyright 2012) 




It isn't always easy to mix the present with the past. There are all sorts of reasons why that is. Some have to do with personal taste on the part of politicians and architects, while others have to do with the aftermath of disaster such a war. In too many cases it is a matter of indifference on the part of those who can actually decide the fate of a city's face to the world, i.e., the voters. After all, despite the cynicism of many participants in a democracy, we have seen time and again the surprises that have in fact occurred in elections. However, before this writer digresses too much further toward politics and away from the topic on this page, let's look at interesting effects of mixing history with Stuttgart's reality today.





Kunstmuseum Stuttgart on the Schloßplatz                                (© Copyright 2012) 





Opened in 2005 directly on the Schloßplatz in the center of Stuttgart, the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, or Stuttgart Art Museum, houses modern collections including a large ensemble of works by Otto Dix. The museum is but one of almost a dozen museums in this state capital. The cube shape gives the building its unique character in the city, but at nighttime, the building makes its best appearance with the interior limestone façade well lighted for all on the outside to see.





Kunstmuseum Stuttgart at night              (© Copyright 2012) 




As far as any history is concerned and how this fits in, well, that is rather difficult to say. What had once sat on this same spot was a building that was not particularly old as far as Stuttgart history is concerned, and its origins had nothing directly to do with art.  





(© Copyright 2012) 





The former occupant of this lot was known as the Kronprinzenpalais, or Crown Prince's Palace, and it was commissioned by King Wilhelm I in 1846 for his heir, Crown Prince Karl. The palace, designed by Ludwig Friedrich Gaab, was constructed in the High Renaissance style. It was completed around 1850. The building was used as a royal residence until 1918, when the monarchy ended. Beginning in the 1930s, it was to serve as a museum until it was badly damaged during Allied bombing toward the end of the Second World War. In the 1960s, the remaining façade was torn down. 



To see the photos of the palace before and after destruction in WWII, click here: Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince's Palace) Stuttgart




Now for some, the tearing down of the old palace walls was a waste. Just like the extensive remains of the New Palace across the square, it could be rebuilt and put to use once again. In addition to the New Palace, the square on which it sat is also home to the Old Castle, the proud Königsbau with its grand colonnade, the rebuilt Olgabau, and the city art museum, amongst other older edifices. The palace was quite substantial and as mentioned above, was being used as an art museum up until 1944 when it was gutted by fire in bombing raids. Together with the other grand buildings of the city center, the architectural style fit in beautifully. Obviously, however, for those who were the decision-makers of the day, it was not a waste. Evidently, something else was in the minds of city planners and politicians of the new Germany as to how Stuttgart was to look in the post-war era, and the palace was destined, literally, for the dust bins.





Looking down on the Schloßplatz from the upper square behind the Kunstmuseum        (© Copyright 2012) 


     

The 1950s and 60s were, in my foreign opinion, a difficult time for Germany in more ways than one. Yes, the country was divided in two. And yes, it was in the process of rebuilding itself and making every effort to reshape its image from that of its National Socialist past. Of course, the palaces and almost all other historical buildings prior to 1933 had little if anything to do with that 12-year long tragedy. But for some, an entire new future was sought, and this writer thinks that if it took the destruction of certain "innocent" buildings to be able to move away from those or other memories, then so be it. As one who deeply loves history and the structural representations that remind us of it, I certainly don't want to see such places as these razed, but one must accept that one can't keep everything forever.





Back of the Kunstmuseum from the square above                          (© Copyright 2012) 




Your writer has heard it said more than once that the baroque New Palace, just across Schloßplatz from where the modern museum sits today, might also have been victim to the 1960s' wrecking ball and a mall of sorts erected in its place. Fortunately, however, someone somewhere saw the light and it was instead restored to most of its pre-war beauty. 





Schloßplatz and New Palace (Neues Schloß) as seen from the steps next to the Kunstmuseum              (© Copyright 2012) 





Despite the immense help from the Marshall Plan following the war, money was scarce. Yes of course the Plan provided millions, but infrastructure and food were of the utmost importance in that plan and saving every destroyed relic was just not possible. So, mixed with that and also a desire to try something new, some gems were lost, but to be fair, there is still an abundance to be found today. The question remains, however, whether the gems that do still exist will be here tomorrow. One thing is for sure: based on some recent history here in Stuttgart (i.e., Stuttgart 21), old architecture is still not guaranteed safety. But before I digress once again and this turns into a political entry, I shall return to the topic at hand.





The BW Bank building reflected in the Kunstmuseum's outside walls             (© Copyright 2012) 




So, the Art Museum of Stuttgart here; how does this fit in? Well, this writer likes it. It took a while to become accustomed to its stark lines and modernity sitting on this historical square, but now I like it - especially at night when the cube-shaped limestone walls encased within its glass shell is lit up from within and the three-dimensional beauty of this edifice transforms its daytime image into something actually warm and inviting. Still, I might have chosen a different setting for the museum, but what can one do? I guess its fair trade. Modernists get their wish and have it in a prominent place right next to the city's past, and those of us who celebrate those more traditional past architectural achievements can try to learn to accept that this glass cube is now a part of Stuttgart history and that is just fine.





Kunstmuseum Stuttgart from behind                                     (© Copyright 2012) 





There are plenty of other places in the city of Stuttgart where old and new are neighbors and they look rather like the Beverly Hillbillies sitting arrogantly in the middle of finery or the nouveau riche trying to prove themselves amongst grace and tradition. Though, in a few other situations, it is just a matter of getting used to it. More on those places in the next entry. At least the Cube above shows good design and does not detract from the buildings around it. I'll leave it to the visitor to decide on what they think of it on the inside, but whatever the case, I would suggest seeing it. From the museum's top floor restaurant, one can enjoy a splendid city view of the square below, the hills above the city and the three remaining city palaces (Neues Schloss, Altes Schloss, Wilhelmspalais) found in between. And the food? Well, your writer never makes suggestions on that topic. Unless, of course, it's chocolate.


Monday, May 14, 2012

The Fountains at Schlossplatz


This post is dedicated to the memory of Trish, a wonderful photographer from Canada, who had such appreciation for and gave the most supportive and encouraging words to the rest of us regarding our own photography. I will miss your kind words, Trish. Fly high!


North fountain in front of the Neues Schloss (New Palace) in Stuttgart

The two massive fountains that grace the park in front of the New Palace in central Stuttgart are quite beautiful. And they are huge. They date back to 1863, the year before King Wilhelm I died at Rosenstein Palace, not too far away.



The fountains were meant as birthday gifts to His Majesty. At the base of each fountain are four figures, each representing the four of principal rivers that flow through what is today the federal state of Baden-Württemberg. As there are two fountains, that of course brings the total number of such figures to eight, although there are many more than eight rivers in Württemberg.


The names of the rivers represented on the fountain to the left, when facing the palace, are the Jagst, Donau, Tauber and the Nagold. On the fountain to the right, which is to the south, are the Neckar, Kocher, Fils and Enz.  The fountains were cast in Wasseralfingen, which is today a part of the city of Aalen.