What is documenta?
Documenta is one of the most important exhibitions or art forums for contemporary art. It takes place every five years and lasts for 100 days. Therefore, it is often referred to as the “Museum of 100 days”. The first documenta took place in 1955. The main venue is Kassel, Germany. This year, Kassel and Athens are the two venues for documenta14. The previous dOCUMENTA 13 had branches in Afghanistan, Egypt and Canada. However, this year, for the first time, Kassel and Athens are equal partners with a grand opening of documenta14 in Athens in April.
How to Get There
Kassel is located in the middle of Germany, and about 1.5 hours by high-speed train from Frankfurt. If you come from overseas, the best way is to fly into Frankfurt International Airport and then take the train from the airport directly to Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe (not Kassel Main Train Station), which leaves every two hours. If you fly in from other European countries, I would recommend to go via Frankfurt as well. Another option would be to fly to Hanover airport and take the train to Kassel. Kassel does have a small airport but there are only very few flights actually going there. I looked for flight from London or Vienna and could not find any.
You can book your tickets online via the Deutsche Bahn website. Make sure to also book a seat, as the trains are very crowded in summer and for security reasons, Deutsche Bahn will not allow too many people standing in the aisle. (happened to me that we all had to leave the train…).
The train station is at Terminal 1 (mostly used by Lufthansa and Star Alliance partners). From Terminal 2, there is a shuttle bus every 10 minutes and it takes between 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure to go to “Fernbahnhof” (long-distance train station).
I went to Kassel from Singapore via Helsinki. Therefore, I did not have to do immigration and the time from landing until I reached the train station (including the shuttle bus drive from Terminal 2) was about 45 minutes. I would factor in about 1.5-2 hours if you have to do immigration.
There are various trains going to Kassel, which you can check at the Deutsche Bahn website.
Where to Stay
Make sure to book your accommodation well in advance as Kassel is very busy during the whole time of documenta. I booked my hotel two months in advance and because of the press preview days, I was only able to get a hotel which was about 15 minutes by taxi from the city centre (about 30 minutes by bus).
Kassel has a good public transport system and it is easy to get around wherever you stay. However, some services (like the ones to my hotel) stopped at 8pm. As I mentioned, I stayed about half an hour from the city centre by bus and the ticket cost me EUR 2.90 (USD 3.20).
If you are used to big cities in the US or Asia, where you can find a taxi easily, you have to know that this is not the case in Germany. There are designated taxi stands (usually near train stations or major sights). The best thing is to call a taxi. I used the following taxi number 0561 88111. For a 10-15 minute drive, it cost me about EUR 12-15 (USD 13-17).
Similar to Athens, documenta14 is scattered over more than 30 locations across Kassel. Most of them are along a North-South axis. There is an official online map by documenta14.However, they often do not tell you all the street names and the scale is sometimes not exact. I met quite a few people asking for directions and I had sometimes troubles finding the locations as well.
How to Plan Your Treasure Hunt
As I mentioned above, the city of Kassel itself is the museum of all the documenta 14 exhibits. I recommend to plan your “treasure hunt” in advance and decide which artworks you would like to see as there are so many. My personalized map will help you with this 🙂
documenta 14 offers walks to the exhibits, which I would highly recommend. You can book them via the documenta14 website.
Tickets & Opening Times
A one-day ticket costs EUR 22 (USD 25), a two-day ticket EUR 38 (USD 43). Concessions are available for certain groups. You can buy the tickets at the documenta14 shops in Kassel (for example, in front of the Parthenon of books) or online. The ticket offices close 30 minutes before closing time.
documenta 14 is open daily from 10 am to 8 pm (sharp, we are in Germany 😉 ) from June 10th until September 17, 2017. Public spaces are accessible 24 hours a day, unless otherwise stated.
Similar to my post about Venice, speaking the local language is always an advantage. However, getting around with English is not a problem in Kassel.
There is no real dress code for documenta. I would recommend to wear comfortable shoes because you will be walking around a lot. Furthermore, make sure to dress in layers. Even though it is summer, the weather can be unpredictable (it was really cold when I was there and I packed for summer weather…).
Where to Eat & Drink
Street Food and Pop-Ups
Around the main locations of documenta14, there are a lot of street food stands with tasty local and international food options at decent prices. The biggest area is near the Parthenon of Books at Friedrichsplatz.
Another nice place is the area in front of the Orangerie. They also have live music there.
Located in one of the most beautiful areas of Kassel, the “Vorderer Westen”, Sapori d’Italia offers great lunch options and delicious and authentic Italian food. (Doernbergstraße 1)
Right at Friedrichsplatz, Café Nenninger has the best cakes in town. I tried their Blackforest Cake and it was delicious. (Friedrichsplatz 8)
If you are looking for cool souvenirs of your trip to Kassel, design pieces for your apartment or jewellery, Glücksgriff is your go-to place. I got a really cool picture frame there. Prices are also decent and the staff is very nice. (Treppenstraße 9)
More Things to Do
A lot of locations which are part of documenta 14 have really interesting permanent exhibitions which are worth visiting.
Grimmwelt Kassel is one of the documenta14 locations and I highly recommend visiting their permanent exhibition as well. This interactive exhibition will not only take you back to your childhood with all the fairy tales but also show you a very different perspective of the Brothers Grimm. They were the ones who lay the foundations of the German dictionary which is still in use.
The museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm (8 pm on Fridays), except on Mondays. A regular ticket is EUR 8 (USD 9), there are concessions available and children under the age of 6 can enter for free.
Located in the beautiful park Wilhelmshöhe, this neo-classical palace is a must-see if you are in Kassel.
The palace is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm (10 am to 8 pm on Wednesdays), except Mondays. A ticket costs EUR 6 (USD 7), concessions are available.
Also located in the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, this castle from the late 18th century is a pseudo-medieval castle.
The castle is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, except on Mondays from March 1st until November 15. (After that period, it closes at 4 pm.) You can only visit the castle with a guided tour. These tours take place every hour at the hour. A ticket is EUR 4 (USD 5) including the guided tour, concessions are available.
Explore the Area Around Kassel
If you stay in Kassel for a couple of days, you may also think of visiting the surrounding towns. Hildesheim with its beautiful Romanesque cathedral, for example, is not too far from Kassel and can be reached by train.