Germany Holidays: Magdeburg’s zany Zitadelle

Magdeburg, located on the Elbe halfway between Hamburg and Dresden, is one of Germany’s oldest cities, with its massive cathedral tracing its roots back to 937. However history hasn’t been kind to it, having been destroyed twice over, first in the Thirty Years War (when as a prominent Protestant city it was sacked by Imperial troops in 1631) and second when it was levelled by heavy Allied bombing during World War II.

As one of the largest cities in the German Democratic Republic, aka communist East Germany, the postwar reconstruction can be described as functional at best. The Elbe, such a popular attraction further upriver in Dresden and Saxon Switzerland, became little more than an industrial waterway as it passed through Magdeburg.

However the city now boasts one of the most individual buildings helping to revitalise the region. The Grüne Zitadelle is the last project designed by the Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Although not completed until 2005, five years after his death, this eccentric multi-purpose building reflects his philosophy of creating unique spaces for individuals, places not just ‘to be’, but also ‘to experience’. He saw structures as people’s third skin (after their actual skin and their clothing).

The perfect antidote

The original discussions about the development took place at the end of the 1990s, and the site was selected and the designs completed just before Hundertwasser died. The architect, whose style has been compared to Gaudí (responsible for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona), passionately advocated individual building design and rejected anything thought to be uninspiring.  Consequently post communist Magdeburg, with its abundance of extremely functional and utilitarian architecture, was the perfect place to host this project.

The architect’s famous multicoloured Hundertwasserhaus in his native Vienna has undulating floors, trees growing from inside rooms and a roof covered in earth and grass. The Grüne Zitadelle was designed and built in a similar style, but with a bright pink exterior thrown in for added measure. No two windows are the same, whilst trees grow out of the building and are planted on the roof, thereby furnishing the building with the green element in Grüne Zitadelle.

Functionally it has a variety of uses. The ground floor features shops, business premises and a café, the Alt Magdeburg. The ART hotel Magdeburg, with over 40 rooms and suites, is on the second floor, along with a theatre and a crèche (which uses the roof garden for its outdoor play area), whilst the top floor features 55 individually designed (naturally) apartments.

After the nearby cathedral, this has become Magdeburg’s second most popular tourist attraction. Guided tours (in German), lasting an hour will give a greater understanding about the man and his philosophy.

Looking for more? See other destinations in Eastern Germany

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