Ifra, the world’s leading organisation for newspaper and media publishing, is headquartered in Darmstadt, Germany. I was on my way to attend IfraExpo 2007, the annual event of the newspaper industry in Vienna, and thought a halt in Darmstadt would be useful. The flight to Frankfurt was uneventful. Lufthansa Airlines had only a Tamil movie to offer those who were keen to watch something. In any case, most people on board preferred to get their two good winks of sleep. When we arrived in Frankfurt, we (two of my colleagues and myself) got through Immigration quickly (where do you get to see the crowds except in India?) and proceeded towards the exit gate. Yohan, the driver on contract with Ifra, was waiting to receive us. And off we headed in a Mercedes Benz towards Darmstadt, about 40 km away.
Darmstadt has only a small variety of sights. Most of them within walking distance from the hotel where we stayed, Best Western, which exuded an old-world charm. There were quite a few places listed on the map to see – St. Ludwig’s Church, the Residential Palace, Market Square and Old City Hall, the Wedding Tower, Russian Chapel, House of History and State Archives, the Hessian State Museum, the Prince-Georgs-Palace with Porcelain Museum, the Forest Spiral…
After refreshing ourselves, colleague Antony and I caught a cab near the city centre to the Ifra Office. The office itself is an old building, about 100 years old, but well maintained, and like Best Western, it has an old-world charm, and is quite unlike the typical office you expect to see. I had meetings with Dean Roper, editor-in-chief of the Ifra news magazine called newspaper techniques, and Anton, Ifra’s digital publishing manager and newsflow editor of the Ifra multiblog. Several Ifra colleagues had already left for Vienna to ready the stage for the Expo.
A quick tour of the office over (thanks to Anton), Antony and I found that we had the rest of the day to wander the streets of Darmstadt. One of the places we chose (because it was very close to the Ifra Office) was the Artists’ Colony on Mathildenhohe. In 1899, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse invited seven artists of the Jugendstil School to come to Dramstadt to create a ‘living and working world’, including private houses and studios. In the premises is the Wedding Tower, a plant-tree grove at its foot, and an exhibition building. There is an eatery here as well, but we couldn’t find anything suiting our taste. We found our way to a curio shop, run immaculately by two women, and they were happy to pose for pictures.
A couple of hours later, we decided to break for lunch at a wayside restaurant. The pizza margarita was simply huge and, sadly, we had to forego a quarter of it in spite of our best efforts. Our walk through the streets of Dramstadt made for an enjoyable afternoon. We passed some of the landmarks – the Technische Universitat, the Hessisches Landesmuseum, and the Marktplatz mit Altern Rathaus.
What struck me was the way heritage buildings are cared for in Germany. Old buildings are not only well maintained but also inhabited, mostly by shops and stores, to ensure that the buildings remain alive and well. A lesson for us in India. But will we ever learn?
Arunoday, from RIND, joined us for an evening outing. The weather was almost perfect – chilly winds and temperature tipping below 10 degrees Centigrade. Stores were not crowded, many were empty or closed, but well lit, showcasing the interiors. Dinner was at a wayside restaurant again. There were few residents on the streets, but the city centre was as usual packed with children and teenagers, waiting for trams and buses on their way home.
Darmstadt was picture perfect that night. And we enjoyed every minute of it.(Picture was taken inside the Artists' Colony on Mathildenhohe.)