Note: Before it drives you completely bananas, you can turn off the music, that’s supposed to guide you through my 24 stops slide show, on the first of the two slide show windows in the 24 stops – the Rehbergerweg-section below.
Basel has 175,000 inhabitants and is – after Zurich and Geneva – Switzerland’s third largest city (I know that this will crack up all the Chinese readers of my blog). And just like its ‘big sisters’, Basel prides itself to have one of world’s highest quality – and of course also costs – of living.
One thing that I absolutely love about Basel is the thing that I absolutely love about Europe: It is located in the tri-border area of Switzerland, Germany, and France. Now Europe has a quite high number of tripoints: Austria has nine, Germany seven, and Switzerland six.
There is an airport which is actually located in Basel, but has exits to Mulhouse in France and Freiburg in Germany, too. So at this connecting point you just have to pick the correct door to step out into one of three different countries.
|Cosy little Basel in the heart of Europe. There are a couple of art venues and many interesting buildings and places
along the river Rhein.
(Photo: © Basel Tourismus)
And ‘connecting’ is key here: These borders connect, they don’t divide. It doesn’t matter if you choose the wrong airport exit, you won’t get threatened, you won’t get harmed. I’m sure this is quite different at the tripoint let’s say between Israel, Jordan, and Syria.
So I find the beauty of the European idea reflected in this tri border area.
Basel is Swiss, so it’s wealthy, mainly known for its chemical and pharmaceutical industry. But it’s also famous for its art scene – primarily for the annual art fair Art Basel, organized i. a. by Ernst Beyeler (we’ll get to him later) and carried out for the first time in 1970. This event is more about the money and less about the art – that it takes place now in Miami (since 2002) and Hongkong (since 2013) just underlines its commercial value; it’s an art shopping spree.
Fortunately Basel has much more visual treats to offer than this art zoo.
The Kunstmuseum Basel owns an enormous collection of drawings, prints, and paintings from different art epochs – from the Old Masters to modernism and contemporary art.
Amazingly they’ve started their collection in 1661, so no wonder they had to find an annex in 1980 (see below) and another one in 2016. This one is architecturally so unusual and fascinating that there are special guided tours only dealing with the building; it was designed by local architects Christ & Gantenbein.
|Concrete, marble, steel – grey in grey. It’s huge, it’s unusual, it’s fascinating; it’s not very inviting.
On the wall “The true artist” by Bruce Nauman, overflown by a sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky.
(Photo: ©Julian Salinas/Kunstmuseum Basel)
|Minimalistic art in the tunnel between the old building and the new annex.
(©Gina Folly/Kunstmuseum Basel)
Initially the collection was housed in the neo classical building and the contemporary works were outhoused to the modern gallery just about one mile from the museum on the banks of the river Rhine. Since the new museum part was finished in 2016, the contemporary pieces are shared between the two buildings.
What’s a bit unusual is the ticket booth on the outside of the main building; it’s like a hole in the wall, probably cool and modern but not very inviting. But like they say: don’t judge a museum by its…ticket booth.
This museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. (Thursday 8 p. m.)
|The first extension ‘Gegenwart’ – on the banks of river Rhine, about a mile from the main building in the city center.
(Photo: © Julian Salinas / Basel Tourismus)
Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart
St. Alban-Rheinweg 60
These galleries are open from Tuesday to Sunday 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.
Once you’re at the ‘Gegenwart’, it’s just a very short – and very pleasant – walk getting to the Museum Tinguely on the other bank of the river. Cross the river at the Schwarzwaldbrücke, i. e. “black forest bridge”, but despite its name, don’t expect it to be very romantic, and you’re practically there.
Tinguely was a sculptor of the ‘nouveau réalism’ and the most important protagonist of the kinetic art. You’ll finde some of his most original and ingenious pieces here at the museum – along with works by his wifes Eva Aeppli and Niki de Saint Phalle.
|At other museums you’re even not supposed to touch the art. Not so at the Tinguely – here you can even walk upon the sculptures.|
The Tinguely collection is shown in a museum building that is a piece of art in itself; like surprisingly many museums in Switzerland. Since the museum is located in a beautiful park and right on the banks of river Rhein where there’s one of the many ‘badis’ – public swimming spots along the rivers, typical for Switzerland, you can practically spend an entire day in this area.
|There is – literally – fresh art by Jean Tinguely already outside the museum.
(Photo: © Museum Tinguely)
|Next to his fantastic objects, there are also works by his first wife Eva Aeppli (here: Five Widows) at the museums….|
|…as well as his second wife, sculpture superstar Niki de Saint Phalle Gwendolyn
(Photo: © Museum Tinguely)
Paul Sacher-Anlage 1
Phone: + 41 – 61 – 681 93 20
Opening hours Tuesday to Sunday 11 a. m. to 6 p. m.
You don’t need to go to the museum to enjoy Tinguely’s art (although it’s absolutely worth it), you can see it at the park, but there is also one object at Basel airport, and there is the wonderful “Fastnachtsbrunnen”, i. e. the Mardi Gras fountain in the center of Basel next to the theater and just at a stone’s throw away from a really excellent vegetarian restaurant, the Tibits.
|Jean Tinguely Fastnachtsbrunnen
(Photo: © Basel Tourismus)
The Tibits is a chain restaurant with branches in many Swiss cities and since 2008 one in London, too. It’s a self-service, super-fresh and super-yummy – and to Swiss standards it won’t burn a whole in your wallet.
Phone: +41 – 61 – 205 39 99
They are open Monday to Friday 7 a. m. to 11.30 p. m. (Friday 12 a. m.), Saturday 8 a. m. to 12 a. m. and Sunday 9 a. m. to 11 p. m.
The Schaulager is one of my favorite art venues worldwide; for the breathtaking art collection and its smashing presentation in the stupendous building. Many superlatives in one sentence, yes, but by far not enough to describe this magnificent place.
|Already the entrance is special: You have to walk through the small house to the right to enter the large exhibition halls on the left.
(Schaulager Ⓡ Münchenstein/Basel, Photo: Tom Bisig, Basel)
|At the extremely unadorned, plain white building, illuminated by neon tubes, there’s enough space for the art’s appearance.
(Schaulager® Münchenstein/Basel, Sammlung der Emanuel Hoffmann-Stiftung, View of a storage room
Photo: Jonas Kuhn, Zürich)
|Some of the most imposing installations I know are by Robert Gober Untitled, 1995–1997 (see also my post on an art weekend in Milan – the Pradas like him, too, and gave him two storeys at their Hunted House)
(Emanuel Hoffmann-Stiftung, Depositum at the public art collection Basel (permanent installation at the Schaulager Basel)
© Robert Gober, Photo: Tom Bisig, Basel)
The only thing that I hate about this place is that it’s not open during regular hours: It’s open according to its exhibitions, so you have to check their website thoroughly before going or it will be a big disappointment.
From June 1, 2017 till October 27, 2017: David Claerbout
Olympia (The real-time disintegration into ruins of the Berlin Olympic stadium over the course of a thousand years)
Thursday, Friday, Sunday 1 p. m. to 6 p. m.
The venue can be visited on appointed dates, please contact the gallery or check their homepage.
Museum der Kulturen
Before I leave you to explore all the small galleries at this art mecca, I’d like to introduce you to this anthropological museum which is much more than the dusty masks and statues you usually find at this sort of place.
|(Photo: © Basel Tourismus)|
The Museum der Kulturen unites the dusty masks and statues with other anthropological and geographical as well as social and economical aspects. Completed by temporary special exhibitions it’s certainly one of the venues that should be on top of your to-visit-list.
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a. m. to 5 p. m. (every month’s first Wednesday open till 8 p. m.)
This Museum is very centrally located just around the corner of the Basel cathedral (“Münster”), the “Pfalz”, a gravel square overlooking the river Rhine on one side and the somewhat flashy town hall on the other – so the perfect spot to visit before, after, or during your sightseeing.
And then you can take tram #S6, that takes you in a little over 20 minutes to the municipality of Riehen which is with 20,000 inhabitants – now hold your hat – the second largest community of Northwest Switzerland (by now the Chinese are rolling on the floor laughing).
Riehen would be just another Swiss hicksville if Hildy and Ernst Beyeler (see, I’ve told you I’ll get back to him) haven’t installed their wonderful art foundation right here.
The building was designed by Renzo Piano (if you are a loyal and attentive reader, you’ll remember Signore Piano from my piece on 24 hours in Paris where I’ve introduced him as the co-architect of the Centre Pompidou). Hildy and Ernst Beyeler are sharing their collection of about 250 pieces from the classical modernism as well as contemporary art such as Degas, Cézanne, Monet, Rousseau, van Gogh, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Bacon, to mention just a few, with the visitors of their magnificent bungalow.
(Photo: © Mark Niedermann/Basel Tourismus)
|In the Beyeler’s backyard you’ll find a little something like a huge sculpture by Thomas Schütte Hase (hare)|
In addition there are highly interesting temporary exhibitions taking place and the Beyelers are pleasantly open to outstanding performances like in 1998 when Christo und Jeanne-Claude wrapped up the trees in their lush garden.
So when you are already amazed by the Beyeler’s venue, you’ll be blown away be the ‘Rehbergerweg’ that begins right in their front yard.
Open on 365 days per year – Monday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. (Wednes to 8 p. m.)
24 STOPS – the REHBERGERWEG
Tobias Rehberger, born 1966 in Esslingen, is famous for his objects and installations that often serve a practical purpose. Besides many other acknowledgement, in 2009 he received the ‘Golden Lion’ for designing the decoration of the central pavilion’s cafeteria.
|Cafeteria at the Giardini, one of the two central venues during the art biennals in Venice, designed by Tobias Rehberger.|
I’ve mentioned him before when I got to see his “Slinky Springs to Fame”-bridge in Oberhausen.
Along the five kilometers / 3.2 miles stretching from Riehen in Switzerland to Weil am Rhein in Germany, he installed 24 very practical and handy pieces of art such as beehives, streetlamps…and even a rubbish bin.
The first twelve markers were mounted in September 2015, and in June 2016 the 24 stops were completed.
As soon as the stops were there, I took a walk along the ‘Rehbergerweg’, and it was awesome:
Done with the Swiss part? Here goes the German part of the Rehberger trail:
Yes, it’s ironic that Swatch, a watch manufacturing company, supports this project generously. Swiss watches – it’s such a cliché! By the way, there of course is a (S)watch now, designed by Tobias Rehberger.
|Getting there! It was such a great hike.|
WEIL AM RHEIN
I believe that out of 100 Germans 95 have never heard of Weil am Rhein. In fact this town at the German side of the border has only a little over 30.000 inhabitants and nothing special, but…an art campus, housing not only the Swiss Vitra furniture and store interior factory, but several great design exhibitions, presented in halls created by some of world’s greatest architects:
Canadian architect Frank Gehry, born in 1929 in Toronto, designed in 1989 the Vitra design museum as well as the smaller annex, the gallery, and the factory building, actually Gehry’s first building in Europe.
|The museum’s building by Frank Gehry.|
|Next to Claes Oldenburg’s Balancing Tools – no worries, they are pretty stable.|
Two more factory buildings are created by Englishman Nicholas Grimshaw, born 1939 in London, and another one by Álvaro Siza, born 1933 in Portugal. In 2014, Mr. Siza also designed a promenade connecting the older part of the campus with the newer one.
In 2012, there was another factory building added, this time designed by the Japanese architect team Kazuyo Sejima, born in 1956, and Ryue Nishizawa, born in 1966, who team up by the name SANAA.
Tadao Ando, born in 1941 in Osaka, designed in 1993 the conference pavilion on the campus which was Ando’s first building in Europe.
The worldwide renown architect superstars Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, both born in 1950 in Basel, designed the VitraHaus where Vitra’s sales show takes place in 2009 and added in 2016 the ‘Schaudepot’.
|VitraHaus: Showrooms for some fine pieces of furniture and interior design – shop and cafeteria included.|
|Another great building by Herzog & de Meuron.|
This depot is now an extremely posh warehouse containing about 7.000 pieces of furniture, more than 1.000 lamps as well as archives and estates of Verner Panton, and Alexander Girard (who recently had a big solo exhibition at the design museum) and Charles & Ray Eames.
The American power-designer-couple Charles & Ray Eames was of major importance for the Vitra factory since its successful story as a high class manufacturer of furniture and interior design began in 1957 with the Eames’s designs.
Note: Since Vitra is celebrating its 60 years anniversary with the Eames’s, there will be major exhibitions and all sort of special events this year, so make sure to check out their website, which is worth a glance, anyway, since it’s so nicely set up and very informative.
Zaha Hadid, born in 1950 in Baghdad, designed the ‘station house’ in 1993, which was her first building ever.
|The exciting architecture of the station house by Zaha Hadid|
But besides the more or less useful and ‘serious’ building, there are also structures like e. g. the ‘Dome’ built after Richard Buckminster Fuller, now serving the purpose of an assembly and event hall, or the gas station by Jean Prouvé.
Renzo Piano – here he is again! – contributed a stylish little shack, the ‘Diogenes-house’: on very frugal 6 square meters is everything one does need to live comfortably (everything but space that is, but this is coming from my malicious tongue. Of course it’s the idea and the design that counts, and both are just wonderful!).
You can see all these architectural treasures on this map – many info included.
Carsten Höller, born in 1961 in Brussels to German parents, contributed – as often – a playground piece for adults and kids alike: a 17 meters high slight tower.
Even the bus station next to the Vitra campus is not by the regional bus company, but by the outstanding furniture designer Jasper Morrison, born in 1959 in London.
But if you need to get back to Basel, you don’t take the bus. Just catch tram #8 at the station Dreiländerbrücke (now try to pronounce that, my American friends) – the tri country bridge.
Little tip: There’s a small shopping mall next to the tram stop so you might wanna stock up on refreshments since Germany is much cheaper than Switzerland.
And then the bell rings, the doors close, and off you go back to Switzerland.
For me, this whole trip is particularly funny since I’m first flying from Germany to Switzerland, than I’m crossing the border walking back to Germany – and at the end I have to get back to Switzerland to fly home to…Germany.
Europe is a great place!
VitraHaus / Vitra Design Museum
79576 Weil am Rhein
Phone: + 49 – 7621 – 702 35 00
The venue is open daily from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.