Before 1844, Ludwigshafen wasn’t much more than swamps, a fortress and an assortment of villages on the left bank of the Rhine. But industrialisation and the rise of chemical manufacturers like BASF gave birth to a city just across the river from Mannheim.
Named in honour of Ludwig I of Bavaria, Ludwigshafen is sometimes overlooked, but holds its own for contemporary art at the world-class Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, and has recently started to regenerate its riverfront with projects like the Rhein-Galerie mall.
And you can’t talk about Ludwigshafen without mentioning the company BASF, and there’s an informative visitor centre for an inside peek at the largest chemical manufacturer in the world.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Ludwigshafen:
Rhineland-Palatinate’s premier modern and contemporary art museum almost leaps out at you in the centre of the city.
That’s because on the southeast facade is a vibrant 55 x 10-metre mosaic by none other than Joan Miró.
The Miró Wall was is from 1979 and is made with 7,200 tiles fired in the village of Gallifa near Barcelona and transported by mule, rail and road to Ludwigshafen.
The museum inside is fantastic, crammed with works by Mondrian, Malevich, Kandinsky, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
A riveting side exhibition has artefacts from Roman and Frankish graves discovered at nearby Gondorf, as well as Medieval ivory, metalwork, stone and wood sculptures and paintings.
2. BASF Visitor Centre
More than 150 years after the first BASF factory sprang up in Ludwigshafen, the chemical company is by far the largest single company in the city, employing 35,000 people.
And if you want to know what BASF stands for, it’s Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik (Baden Aniline and Soda Factory). If you’re pressed for time there’s an interactive visitor centre with an exhibition explaining the many everyday applications of chemistry, the origins of the company and the long line-up of products that it manufactures today.
There are also free guided tours of the 10-square-kilomete facility, given in 12 different languages.
In the Rhine, some way south of the city is a semi-circular river island that has recently become the most sought-after residential address in Ludwigshafen.
Now, Parkinsel isn’t actually man-made as it broke away from the land in the 1890s when the harbour was dredged.
Curving with a bend in the river, the eastern half of Parkinsel is a large crescent-shape garden with a mantle of woodland that has been growing here for centuries.
You couldn’t pick a more serene place to unwind next to the Rhine.
The park is loved for the old-growth ash, oak, field maple and hawthorn trees that line its walkways.
4. Wallfahrtskirche Mariä Himmelfahrt
In the Oggersheim district is an imposing church erected in 1775 in a style combining Baroque and Neoclassicism.
The church also incorporates an earlier chapel from 1729, which is based on the Santa Casa in the Italian pilgrimage town of Loreto.
Inside that chapel is an image of Mary, Mother of God flanked by two angels by the 18th-century Mannheim court sculptor Paul Egell.
The imperious high altar in the main church is the work of Flemish architect Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, and its painting is by Georg Oswald May, who also produced two portraits of Goethe.
5. Rhein Riverside
Recent residential developments along the left bank of the Rhine and the new riverside Rhein-Galerie mall have shifted the city closer to the water.
In response the city has installed a series of new information boards with facts and anecdotes about Ludwigshafen’s relationship with the famous river.
Special attention is paid to industry along the Rhine, and as a monument you can find one of the enormous pumps produced by the nearby Halberg industrial pump factory.
From the left bank of the river you can make out some of Mannheim’s landmarks, like the Baroque Palace.
6. Wildpark Rheingönheim
In 30 hectares of deep woodland south of Ludwigshafen is an animal park that has European species living in huge paddocks.
The park has semi-wild, humane environments for species like bison, aurochs, red deer, wild boars, lynxes and wild cats.
Outside these enclosures, you can make your way through an open space where moufflons, peacocks, roe and sika deer will cross your path.
The park has dozens of information signs to explain not just the diet and behaviour of the park’s animals but also details about the biology of its trees.
7. Schillerhaus Oggersheim
The literary giant Friedrich Schiller stayed at this house in Oggersheim from 13 October to 30 November 1782. At that time the building was the Zum Viehhof Inn, and when Schiller was here he was actually travelling incognito as “Dr Schmidt” as he had come to Mannheim to watch the premiere of his play the Robbers against the orders of the Duchy of Württemberg.
While staying at the inn Schiller wrote the first manuscript of his play Fiesco.
In the gallery are manuscripts and first editions, and there are also exhibits about the history of Oggersheim and the prestigious Frankenthal Porcelain Factory, which operated from 1755 to 1799.
On the west side of the city is a park created in 1925 for the Süddeutschen Gartenbau-Ausstellung (South German Horticulture Exhibition). The Ebertpark is named after Friedrich Ebert, who was President of Germany at the time.
The best way to visit is to take the entrance at Erzbergerstraße, where you’re met by an elegant formal garden with geometric flowerbeds, fountains and a cultured pavilion that houses a restaurants.
If you’re a modern architecture aficionado make time for the Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, built by the Austrian architect Roland Rainer and noted for its paraboloid roof.
9. Ernst-Bloch Zentrum
Ludwigshafen’s most famous son was the influential 20th-century Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch.
His enduring work is the Principle of Hope, about mankind’s natural orientation towards a socially and technologically improved future.
This was written while he was living in America and was published in three volumes in the 1950s.
The Ernst-Bloch Zentrum has an exhibition about his life, detailing his friendship with the likes of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill and exploring the central themes of his work.
A nice touch here is the reconstruction of Bloch’s study, which you can view from above through a glass ceiling.
10. Endlose Treppe
Right in front of the Wilhelm-Hack-Museum is a much-lauded sculpture by Swiss architect and artist Max Bill.
Endlose Treppe was completed in 1985 to celebrate Ernst Bloch’s 100th anniversary, and the winding stairway of 19 granite steps was intended to symbolise Bloch’s Principle of Hope.
One of the compelling things about the sculpture is that all of the steps are the same, but have a different appearance because of the interplay of light and shadow.
11. Maudacher Bruch
If you’re in the mood for a country walk you don’t have to go far, as the Maudacher Bruch is a big, horseshoe shaped wetland system and forest on the edge of the city.
This spot has an interesting geological history as it is actually the vestige of a meander in the Rhine.
Around 900 BC the river changed course and lush vegetation developed around the standing water left behind.
Over the course of centuries a low moor developed here, and in the 1900s its peat was extracted for fuel.
Since the 70s the 523-hectare space has been protected and you can come to stroll through meadows and floodplain forest supporting 500 plant species and more than 100 types of bird.
12. Festival des Deutschen Films
This event for the German film industry takes place during the month of June and is held by the water on the Parkinsel.
The 2018 Festival of German Film will be the 14th edition, and attendance grows with each event.
In 2016 for instance, a record-breaking 112,000 tickets, were sold compared to 88,000 the previous year.
In two large temporary tents under those lofty trees by the Rhine there are around 245 movie screening and 90 talks and Q&As.
The movies selected for each festival are chosen regardless of the reputation of their directors, so established names from the German film industry rub shoulders with undiscovered new talent.
13. Katzinett – Katzenmuseum
One street up from the Ebertpark is an eccentric private museum all about cats.
The best way to think of it is as a cat-themed cabinet of curiosity, hence the play on words “Katzinett”. The Katzinett does have an artistic bent, and a large chunk of its reserve of 11,000 cat figurines are Art Nouveau and from the Belle Époque.
There are also many pieces from the Royal Copenhagen porcelain factory.
Some of the weirder pieces include a cat-shaped 19th-century opium pipe and memorabilia for Choupette, Karl Lagerfeld’s Birman breed cat which was born in 2011.
The whole time a major urban centre is just across the Rhine and is so close you can almost touch it.
There’s only a five minute journey on the S-Bahn between the cities’ two train stations.
As well as being larger and busier, Mannheim has another big distinction from Ludwigshafen, and that’s the layout.
The city was plotted in by Frederick IV at the start of the 17th century, and its strict grid system led to the name Die Quadratestadt, “City of Squares”. And fitting for big city, Mannheim has top-notch attractions like the Technoseum and the Zeughaus, which abounds with classical sculpture, as well as furniture, paintings and textiles from the 1600s to the 1900s.
It was also in Mannheim that Karl Benz produced the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the world’s first automobile.
Designed with a direct view of the Rhine, this mall has 130 stores in Ludwigshafen’s shopping district.
The Rhein Galerie opened in 2010 at a cost of €220, and was intended to help kick-start development on the left bank of the Rhine.
The mall has loads of international chains like H&M and Zara, as well as German high street favourites like Esprit, S. Oliver and Jack Wolfskin.
And if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you’re just a short hop from another large centre at the Rathausplatz, which has a branch of the heavyweight German retailer, Saturn.