Germany is the land of fairy tales, and Kassel might be its enchanting capital. Located in northern Hesse on the Fulda River, the Brothers Grimm spent time here and it is now the site of the Fairy Tale Road Society (Verein Deutsche Märchenstraße), several castles, and a massive Hercules sculpture which is part of its UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Thousands of visitors travel to Kassel every year to feel the magic, though it is also a bustling city with a public university and beautifully rebuilt city center. Whether you plan a visit with children or as an adult, here are 10 Things to Do in Kassel, Germany.
Pay Homage to Hercules at Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe
Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe is epic in scale and scope, covering a whopping 590 acres (2.4 square kilometers). Its construction, begun in 1689, took about 150 years and it has been a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013.
At the center of the park is a simply massive Hercules monument. The copper statue sits atop the 1,725-foot-tall (526 meters) Karlsberg Mountain and commands views from all sides of the park. Sitting atop the hill since 1717, the statue is a giant replica of Hercules "Farnese" created by Johann Jacob Anthoni, a goldsmith from Augsburg.
From the observation tower at its base, you can observe the Nordhessische Mittelgebirge mountain range and a magnificent waterfall that tumbles down from the hillside. The dramatic landscaping, with hundreds of plant species and more than 1,500 species of flowers, makes it quite a sight to behold. The waterworks take on an extra magical air every Sunday and Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. (from May until October) when they put on a show.
A winding road takes visitors up to the northernmost point of the park at the summit. Entry to the park is free but tickets are required for entry into the castles. If you would like to approach the hard way, there are 200 steps to the summit from the bottom of the hill.
Admire the Art at Schloss Wilhelmshöhe
Also located in Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, this neoclassical palace was the favorite summer retreat of Germany Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II. Constructed in 1786, the palace includes an impressive art collection of antiquities and old masters, including the second largest collection of Rembrandts in Germany. The collection was assembled by William VIII, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel in the early 18th century.
The Corps de Logis (central block of the palace) and its dome—inspired by the Pantheon of Rome—were destroyed in an air raid of 1945. The palace was rebuilt between 1968 and 1974 and converted into a museum.
Go Medieval at Löwenburg Castle
Yet another castle on the grounds of Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, the Lion's Castle is a rustic semi-ruined palace meant to resemble the baroque style of medieval architecture. Built between 1793 and 1801, it was inspired by the Scottish Ossian cycle of epic poems.
This castle was decorated in the richest finery of the day. Its lavish interior features royal rooms full of paintings, tapestries, stained glass, and furniture. There is also a fully equipped armory and Neo-Gothic chapel where Landgrave Wilhelm IX is entombed. Outside, the beautiful gardens continue with a vineyard and menagerie.
The castle's almost ruined look became a reality during the air raids of WWII. However, extensive renovation brought new life to the castle and it is now open to tours.
Live the Fairy Tale
Germany is the source of some of the world's most beloved fairy tales. The German Fairy Tale Route (Deutsche Märchenstraße) takes visitors along this charming route to Hanau, Steinau, Marburg, and—of course—Kassel. The city is not just a stop on the road, it is the headquarters of the organization that created the route.
This stop on the Fairy Tale Road holds an entire world dedicated to the founders of fairy tales, the Brothers Grimm. GRIMM WELT (or Grimm's World) holds impressive artifacts to our word of make-believe. Its most notable piece is the original 1812 edition of "Grimm's Fairy Tales" ("Kinder-und Hausmärchen"). Younger children will be entertained by interactive exhibits and video installations.
Study the Natural World at Staatspark Karlsaue
Step back into nature with this 16th-century park. Part of the European Garden Heritage Network, the 400-acre park has a formal design and runs along the Fulda River with a series of canals that run into lakes and leafy trees shading cascading fountains. Within its bounds is the island of Siebenbergen that is particularly beautiful from spring to summer when its many flowers come into bloom.
The highlight of the park is the dreamy Orangerie which extends the views into the night sky. There is a Museum of Astronomy and Technology with plenty of scientific equipment and a scale solar system to pique inquiring minds.
Next to the Orangerie, turn your gaze back to the earth with the marble baths (mamorbad). Built in the mid-18th century, it is the last surviving example of this type of Baroque bath in Germany with grand life-sized marble sculptures, wall reliefs, and medallions.
Shop at the Marstall
There are few things more enjoyable for a food-lover than finding a good quality market. Kassel's Marstall or Markthalle is the place to eat a locally-sourced breakfast or find fresh ingredients for that perfect meal. Located just off of Königsplatz, the 16th-century building is an attraction in its own right with its renaissance revival architecture. More than 70 traders from North Hesse, Thuringia, eastern Westphalia, and the southern regions of Lower Saxony gather to sell their goods from Thursday to Saturday mornings. As well as food items, there is ample opportunity to find a unique souvenir like local jams, delectable truffles, artisanal (mustard), and fresh pastries
Check the Time at Museum Fridericianum
One of Europe's very first public museum, the Museum Fridericianum was founded in 1779. This neoclassical palace has a collection that boasts one of the largest collections of watches and clocks in the world, contemporary art, as well as an ever-changing calendar of temporary exhibits.
The museum itself has an interesting history. It was initially funded by selling Hessian soldiers to the British during the American Revolutionary War by Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. In 1913, it became the state library. In WWII it was heavily damaged due to air raids, but was eventually reconstructed as an art space by 1955.
Prepare for the Avant Garde at Documenta
This avant garde art exhibit takes place every five years at Fridericianum, as well as locations around the city like Schloss Wilhelmshöhe and the Karlsaue. Starting in 1955 after the cultural wasteland of WWII, Documenta runs for 100 days (leading to its other name, “Museum of 100 Days”) and has led the way in experimental modern art.
This exhibit was one of the first to utilize laser beams illuminating a building and is still used most weekends. Other famous exhibits include "7000 Eichen" by German artist Joseph Beuys which had thousands of oaks planted around the city and "The Parthenon of Books" by the artist Marta Minujin created with thousands of donated books. A range of artists from Picasso to Kandinsky have contributed to the show.