Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

14 July 2011

Karlsruhe, Germany: Post-Industrial?

Tram at Marketplaz Station

Perhaps it is the meticulous nature of German planning or the fact that the inventor of the car, Karl Benz and the inventor of the bicycle, Karl Drais both originate from Karlsruhe that makes this city so well connected. It is these connections that foster the city’s ability for innovation, technology, and cultural awareness. Karlsruhe is, in my opinion, one of the most navigable cities. It is laid out in a radial pattern, much like our nation’s capitol, D.C. At the center of the radials sits a palace, and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is off one of the main radials.

City Map

Twenty-four hours a day, the city’s ten tram lines are transporting residents to wherever they need to be, alleviating the need for much motor traffic. The tram costs 2.20 euro for two hours, or you can buy a twenty-four hour pass for five euros. If you plan to visit the city for a weekend, you can get a special travelers pass, which also gives you entrance to some of the museums. The tram schedule is posted at each station, and there are electronic signs that let a rider know how many minutes until the tram arrives. Click the following link to see a map of the tram routes, to get an idea of how connected the city is: Tram Map.

The tram is popular way to get around the city, but the Deutsche Bahn (DB) is equally as popular, especially for businessmen and businesswomen. Much like how The Chunnel connects London to the mainland, the DB connects Karlsruhe with other major European capitals. Via the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV), France’s high-speed train system, one can reach Paris in just about three hours and Strasbourg in less than forty minutes. With the Inter-City Express (ICE), Germany’s high-speed train system, in three hours one can find him or herself in Munich, and in less than forty minutes in Heidelberg. It is the close proximity to many European cities that give Karlsruhe that “multi-culti” feel, that so many of its inhabitants love.

See the multiple means of transportation in seven seconds!

Whether a person is on tram, train, foot, or bike, they are able to see the many sites that Karlsruhe has to offer. The main attraction for me was the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (translation: center for art and media), affectionately called ZKM. The ZKM is more than a museum: it is an experience. In the spirit of repurposing, the 312 meter long building is a converted munitions factory. The multimedia and new media museum combines cutting edge technology with exhibitions.

The entrance to ZKM

The ZKM is composed of four museums in one: (1) a contemporary art museum, focusing on more ‘traditional’ work, specifically from the post-war era; (2) A media museum, with permanent exhibitions like an interactive bubble screen and the app center, where you can use iPads to create art; (3) Two temporary exhibition spaces, that last anywhere from two weeks to six months; and (4) Other spaces, like a media theater to watch film, a lounge, a musical performance space, and a project space. These spaces come together to create a conglomerate super museum, which is free after 1400 on Fridays.

Tour an empty exhibition space of the ZKM

Currently on exhibition in the temporary spaces is “CAR CULTURE. Media of Mobility” and “Woven Light”. “Car Culture” celebrates the city’s birthday and serves as a kickoff celebration for the areas summer of automobiles (e.g.: an Old-Timers meeting was going on in Baden-Baden that weekend). Throughout the exhibit the viewer is reminded of the ingenuity of car design, the innovation of KIT students working to glorify Benz’s name, and the culture’s dependency on the machine. My favorite piece was the video game that was projected onto the floor, which invited museum-goers to “change the track”. The object of the game was to gain ten points by shooting one of the other three cars. However, since the game was projected onto the floor, if one was to put an object, say a hat for example, in the middle of the board, the car would be forced to maneuver around it. The piece was set up in an inviting room with beanbag chairs and plenty of objects. This invited the person to not only engage with the art but also to change it.

Another one of my favorites, a car has two tv screens that rain.

“Woven Light” featured a bunch of lights that were hidden in objects in fabric, and when you put the proper glasses on, the light was distorted. As one would walk closer to a piece, tilt his or her head, or touch the piece it would all change. In this exhibit, my favorite was the object that was attached to thick chords. Off to the side there was a bow and resin, which just asked to be played. As I bowed across the strings of the piece, the piece vibrated and different lights came on.

Although Karlsruhe is not post industrial in the same sense that Dundee or West Lafayette are, there are some elements of the cities that are the same. All three cities are in the process of rebranding themselves, via help from the Universities in the city. Purdue's new campaign, "Makers, all" is attempting to show Purdue's excellence in not only engineering, but Liberal Arts as well. Dundee is marketing itself as a city of discovery, with medical advances being made each and every day. KIT has just renamed itself from University of Karlsruhe to sound more like MIT to show that they can compete in the same leauge. It just so happens that K-I-T sounds like the German word for "Quality".

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