Last year, while I was making plans for our trip to Dresden, Germany, I stumbled upon a picture of a funny building with a big giraffe on it. It was the Kunsthofpassage. I tried to find out more about this curious spot, but the information at hand was scarce. The place seemed like a good photographic opportunity, so decided to look for it when we get there.
Where in the world is Kunsthofpassage?
To find this place you have to know exactly where it is, since it’s not likely that you’ll stumble upon it. Kunsthofpassage is in Dresden Neustadt (new town), also known as the “student district,” an area that you will not find in the mainstream travel books, between the Alaun and Görlitzer streets. It is not easy to reach it from the city center, so you should get a cab. It’s also pretty hard to find, because you can’t see it from the street. We almost missed it because we didn’t know what to expect.
Kunsthofpassage is undoubtedly Dresden’s best kept secret. The passage is actually a series of five small courtyards –not visible from the street– that were turned into an art experiment, called the Ginkgo project. A group of artists – sculptors and designers – took a bunch of old buildings and redesigned their façades, giving each building and courtyard specific motif and a theme of its own. They completed the project in 2001.
The courtyards of Kunsthofpassage
The most bizarre and probably the most photographed of them is The Courtyard of the Elements, designed by artists Annette Paul, Christoph Rossner and André Tempel. Funnels and gutters cover the entire façade of this building, zigzagging around the windows and balconies. When the rain starts to fall, this colorful drain and gutter system turns into a charming musical instrument. Try to imagine these sounds during a heavy rainfall. Probably nobody in the building can sleep …
Another fascinating one is in The Courtyard of the Animals. Here, the green building façade is a huge display of wild creatures. You can see a herd of monkeys jumping over the head of a giant giraffe, from window to window. The giraffe is pulling a big cloth that seems to be covering the wall. The color of the wall is deep green, contrasting very nicely with the brown balconies made of wicker.
The one that I personally liked the most is the Couryard of the Light, for which a national designer competition took place back in 1998. The winners were chosen by vote. The building façade displays some weirdly shaped metal mirrors that produce a variety of reflections depending on the sun. At certain times of the day, the metal mirrors cast a beautiful light on the otherwise shadowy courtyard.
Esthetically very pleasing and maybe the most colorful one is The Courtyard of the Mythical Creature. The design on the wall –symbolically representing the flow of life– is a combination of mosaic and sgraffito. Artist Viola Schöpe created this intricate design, made with ornamental tiles from Italy, Portugal and Meissen.
The least eye-catching one, but still very interesting is The Courtyard of Metamorphoses, designed by artist Arend Zwicker. Two 15 meter high metal pillars adorn the building façade, touching the wall at a single point. In the curved surface of the pillars there is some optical fiber that lights at night. Attached from the pillars there is a rope for the climbing plants. On the wall to the right of the pillars, there are 24 different kinds of paper dipped in flex seed oil and framed in metal, hanging on the building façade.
The courtyards are home to a number of small shops and cafes with a very relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. The rest of the student district area is also very picturesque, with lots of street art, many shops, sidewalk cafés, bars and restaurants. I loved this place and I think it’s absolutely delightful to visit. So if you plan to visit Dresden, make sure you don’t miss the Kunsthofpassage. You won’t regret it.
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