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.

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