The prosperous Westphalian city of Gütersloh is between Bielefeld and Münster in one of the most densely populated regions in Germany. The big employers are household appliance brand Miele, and the international Bertelsmann media trust, both of which have their headquarters in Gütersloh.
At the Miele HQ you can catch up on the company’s origins and forgotten past as a car and motorcycle manufacturer, while the city museum recalls Gütersloh’s weaving history and has a high-profile collection of medical machines from the 20th century.
Also gaining national acclaim is the botanical garden, which has an installation by Olafur Eliasson and is part of the European Garden Heritage Network.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Gütersloh:
1. Stadtmuseum Gütersloh
In a brick-built former granary and a half-timbered house from 1750 is a museum trawling through Gütersloh’s history.
The exhibits are mostly on the industrial development in the 19th century, the evolution of medicine and advances in media technology (for the Bertelsmann media corporation). The medical collection puts the museum on the map, and was assembled over decades by a local physician.
One of the rarest exhibits is an iron lung, a respirator from the 1950s designed to treat lung disease.
This is accompanied by a cystoscope and an early X-Ray machine.
Industrial heritage comes in the shape of an authentic weaving loom, work benches, tools and antique appliances made by the Gütersloh-based brand Miele.
In Miele’s headquarters is a museum with around 200 exhibits from the 120-year history of the brand.
As expected, there are dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and washing machines, but the museum has some surprises too.
A small fleet of bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles is on hand, and maybe most interesting of all is the only surviving Miele K 1, a car produced in the early 1910s.
There are also lots of clever touches, like a bike that you can pedal to power a film display about Miele.
3. Botanischer Garten
In 1912 the Stadtpark was extended to the northeast to make room for a botanical garden.
This may not be a botanical garden in the strict scientific sense, but is a dreamygreen oasis listed on the European Garden Heritage Network.
At the centre are geometric pools, hornbeam hedges trimmed to right angles and pergolas with little niches you can sit in.
And since the 90s the park has been given lots of new elements; a cafe has been set up in the old palm house, a pharmacy garden was planted with more than 100 medicinal plants, while the artist Olafur Eliasson created a “fragrance tunnel”. The latest addition is a lavender garden, opened in 2012 to celebrate the park’s centenary and a mandatory sight in summer.
4. Kirch ringbebauung
Undoubtedly the prettiest scene in Gütersloh is the ring of charming half-timbered houses around the churchyard of the Apostelkirche.
The city was bombed during the Second World War, at this little pocket preserves the most complete ensemble of historic houses in the city.
The most photogenic of these is the Veerhoffhaus, dating to the 17th century and with a large gabled and cantilevered hall, and timbers decorated with fan motifs.
Part of the same scene, make time for the 18th-century Alte Vikarie with a Late Baroque portal tower, and Villa Bartels, an imposing, slate-clad 18th-century house once home to a textile entrepreneur.
While the four hectares of the Botanischer Garten attract most people to Gütersloh’s city park there are more reasons to pay a visit.
The park is one of 12 in Germany to be given the Green Flag Award and in 2006 finished third in the list of “Germany’s Most Beautiful Parks”. The Stadtpark is furnished with facilities like the Parkbad, an open air swimming pool in the art deco style from 1928. There’s also a miniature golf course, while planted next to an oval path is an orchard of 65 fruit trees among which are apple, cherry, pear and plum varieties.
6. Dampf-Kleinbahn Mühlenstroth
Northeast of the city is a set of narrow gauge steam trains that operate on a one-kilometre circuit on weekends from May to October.
The track runs around a large meadow, at the centre of which is a shed full of vintage steam and diesel engines dating from 1919 to 1953. The earliest locomotives (Brigadelok and HF 110 C) were actually “field trains”, produced to transport personnel, supplies and weapons in the First and Second World Wars.
Younger kids will naturally have a great time on board, while there’s also a restaurant with outdoor seating and a playground here.
On Berliner Platz in the centre of Gütersloh stands the city’s protestant parish church.
The building was consecrated in 1861 and is a Neo-Gothic hall church, designed to accommodate as many as 1,000 worshippers at one time.
And while the building and its architecture are impressive, the thing to see is the baptismal font.
This is a zinc die casting of a marble font carved by the great Bertel Thorvaldsen for the Church of Out Lady in Copenhagen.
It was presented to this church by the future Kaiser Frederick III, in thanks for surviving a railway accident in 1851.Dating to 1900, the three stained glass windows in the choir were produced by the esteemed Frankfurt glass painter Alexander Linnemann.
8. Theater Gütersloh
The city got a modern landmark in 2010 when the futuristic theatre building designed by Jörg Friedrich was completed.
The theatre was constructed in austere times, and its €21.75m cost was part funded by Miele and Bertelsmann.
The auditorium has a 530-seater “vertikal theater” concept, which has seating arranged almost vertiginously to make up for the narrowness of the building.
At the very top there’s a “Sky Lobby” where you have an almost bird’s eye view of performances.
Check to the schedule for high-class entertainment, whether it’s concerts or ballets accompanied by the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, classical ensembles, soloists or theatre performances.
9. Schloss Rheda
Under 10 kilometres southwest of Gütersloh is a moated castle founded in the 12th century by Widukind von Rheda, who died in Acre during the Third Crusade.
It was then handed down a branch of the noble Lippe family, before being acquired by marriage in the 16th century with the Counts of Bentheim, who still own the property today.
Schloss Rheda has a Hohenstaufen gate tower from the 1400s, a 13th-century chapel, a palace in the Weser Renaissance style, as well as a set of outbuildings from the 1700s (oil mill, stables, grain mill). The castle is private but has a coaching museum and costume collection, and is open for 90-minute tours in summer.
In the castle park there’s a gorgeous Baroque orangery that is rented out for functions.
10. Benediktinerinnenkloster Herzebrock
Under 10 minutes on the road is a former Benedictine monastery, the roots of which go back to the 9th century.
A catastrophic fire razed the Romanesque architecture in the 14th century, save for the tower, which dates to around 1200. The rest was conceived in the Late Gothic style in the 15th century, and the vaults in the nave and choir are painted with pretty foliate patterns, while there are figures sculpted into the keystones.
Outside, the monastery’s formal garden has been re-laid and warrants a stroll.
11. Die Weberei
If you’re stuck for ideas on an evening in Gütersloh there’s a vibrant cultural centre in an old weaving mill by the Falke river.
The Weberei has a pub with a beer garden, a cinema with two halls, a nightclub, exhibition spaces and a hall for live music.
The brick architecture dates to 1874, as the first mechanical cotton weaving mill in the city.
The mill shut down and was up for demolition in the 1970s but a group of residents protested, and in 1984 the Weberei got a new vocation as a community centre.
Check their website to see if any of the concerts, comedy shows, readings, parties, gastronomic events or plays are to your taste.
Next door to Theater Gütersloh is a 42-metre water tower that was put up in 1888 to supply a growing population with drinking water.
It carried out this task for more than 50 years before modern pumps rendered the tower superfluous.
For the second half of the 20th century the monument was allowed to decay before being registered as an industrial monument in 1984. In the 90s the building was completely restored and a youth centre was set up inside.
Blue LEDs were installed on the upper two levels and illuminate the building at night.
13. Mohns Park
This four hectare park is named after the local publisher Johannes Mohn who earmarked this parcel of land in 1904 to preserve the native heath and forest landscape.
He opened the park to the public but closed it off again because of the behaviour of the locals! Mohns Park gained its current layout after the war when 50,000 cubic metres of rubble from the severely damaged city was piled up here.
This was actually used to build the terraces for the park’s 1,100-seater amphitheatre.
There’s also a mini golf course and a skating rink in winter, while Mohn’s original forest and meadows promise calming walks.
You may be in the mood for a serious walk in nature, in which case there’s a 50-hectare reserve in hilly countryside in Steinhagen to the north of the city.
Throughout spring and summer Jakobsberg is a favourite for local hikers for its wildflowers.
Mid-March brings an enchanting display of hepaticas, while several violet species bloom at the same time on the edge of the forest.
White and yellow wood anemones flourish a little later, while summer is time for lungwort and sweet woodruff.
One hike to keep in mind is the route from the restaurant at Friedrichshöhe to the panoramic lookout at Emilshöhe where you can contemplate the green eastern Münster region.
15. Regional Cuisine
If you’re curious about local food there are a few treats to get acquainted with.
Top of the list has to be Westphalian ham, which is acorn-fed, dry-cured and then often smoked over juniper and beechwood branches.
Then there’s the local dark and very dense wholegrain pumpernickel bread.
Now, for those who want to take things to the next level, order a Zwiebelmettbrötchen, which is a roll filled with raw, minced pork meat, garnished with raw onion and sometimes caraway seeds.
More conventional is the Pickert, a kind of sweet dumpling with shredded potato, flour, milk, eggs, sugar and currants, similar to a pancake.
To drink, you have to order a pilsner lager, and this can be ordered together with a shot of Korn (grain brandy) or Steinhagen’s Wacholder schnapps (gin).