Bohemian Rhapsody: Four Artists' Colonies Worth the Trip

In the late 19th century, German artists flocked from the cities to small towns and new "garden city" developments in the suburbs in search of fresh air, rarefied light and a quiet life with time to think and create.  Not coincidentally, the growing middle class of increasingly crowded cities were also eager to buy art that depicted the good life in the countryside.  Today, the legacy of this flight to the fresh air is Germany's multitude of artist's colonies, with unique architecture, rich art collections and, not infrequently, lively contemporary cultural scenes.  There are too many artists colonies in Germany to list in detail, but here are four highlights that are definitely worth the trek.

Darmstadt: Mathildenhöhe

Ernst Ludwig House Darmstadt © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image The art nouveau "Ernst Ludwig House" was built by Joseph Maria Olbrich, a leader of the Vienna secession. (© picture-alliance/dpa)  In 1899,  the Grand Duke of Hesse, Ernst Ludwig, declared that "Hesse should flourish, and with it, the arts," and called some of the German-speaking world's most forward thinking architects to Darmstadt to build an artist's colony in the Mathildenhöhe neighborhood of Darmstadt.  The colony was to be a laboratory and showcase for the applied arts, and architects like Peter Behrens and Joseph Maria Olbrich designed eight elaborate homes down to the finest interior details to house the artists.  Olbrich also designed the colony's common studio and events building, the Ernst Ludwig House.  Today, the art nouveau building, with its grand entrance flanked by two monumental statues is a museum that documents the colony and its residents.
Photo Gallery (In German)


Käseglocke Worpswede © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image The author Edwin Koenemann built the igloo-shaped "Käseglocke" (cheese bell) in Worpswede based on plans by Bruno Taut in 1926. (© picture-alliance/dpa) In 1889, a trio of painters, Fritz Mackensen, Hans am Ende, and Otto Modersohn, settled in an  village northeast of Bremen called Worpswede to paint rural life and landscapes. One of the students that followed this trio of impressionistic painters made the town into a hotbed of expressionism, however. Paula Modersohn-Becker, who came to study with Mackensen and ended up marrying Modersohn, became one of Germany's most important women painters and a leading representative of expressionism.  Worpswede also attracted artists including Rainer Maria Rilke and his wife Clara Westhoff.  Local foundations and the government of Lower Saxony continue to support artist residencies at ten studios in Worpswede, and today visitors can stroll across the open fields and through the woods to see both contemporary and historic works exhibited in buildings designed or decorated by artists over the years.

Worpswede Official Site (in German)

Hellerau - Dresden

Hellerau Festspielhaus © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image The renovated Hellerau Festspielhaus is once again an important space for cultural performance in Dresden. (© picture-alliance/dpa ) In 1889, the German furniture maker Karl Schmidt-Hellerau built a new workshop outside Dresden where he aimed to reconcile traditional craftsmanship with functional design and modern manufacturing techniques.  One of the innovations that would come from the Hellerau workshop was plywood, but Hellerau was also interested in promoting the new ways of living and working embodied in the garden city movement.  He commissioned the Swiss  composer and educator Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, his scenery builder Adolphe Appia and the architect Heinrich Tessenow  to create an ensemble of public buildings.  The new town square included a dance school where Jaques Dalcroze's "rhythmic gymnastics" was taught in a monumental building called the "Hellerau Festspielhaus"  Dancers like Gret Palucca and Mary Wigman made the dance school a center for German expressionist dance, and intellectuals and artists from across the world came to the annual festival in Hellerau.  Today, Hellerau is once again a center for both modern arts and progressive crafts.  The Hellerau workshops build high-end furniture for public buildings and special commissions, and the Festspielhaus is home to the Dresden Center for Contemporary Music and the European Center for the Arts.

European Center for the Arts


Schifferkirche Ahrenshoop © picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image The Schifferkirche in Ahrenshoop, built to look like the hull of a ship and topped with the local-style thatched roof, hosts religious services and cultural events. (© picture-alliance/dpa) This town on the Fischland-Darss-Zingst peninsula along the Baltic-sea coast of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was a sleepy fishing village until the painter Paul Müller-Kaempff opened his school here in 1895.  For most of the first two decades of its existence, the school in the Artist's House "Lukas" took in primarily young women painters, who were barred from the large art academies.  The little cottage and studio that Müller-Kaempf built remained a space for artists throughout two world wars and the division of Germany until today. Countless other artists have been attracted to the remote location and the varied landscape that includes forests, meadows, cliffs and dunes over the decades, and the town's quaint thatched-roof houses are filled with galleries, studios and museums.

Ahrenshoop Official Site

Artists' Colonies

Ahrenshoop © picture-alliance/dpa