In North Rhine Westphalia, Mönchengladbach is a city made up of a group of boroughs around the historic towns of Gladbach and Rheydt. The thing that unites these settlements is the abundance of parkland; Mönchengladbach is bursting with green spaces, like the Bunter Garten, which cuts Gladbach in two. Some of these parks are medieval properties, with Baroque and Renaissance palaces like Schloss Rheydt and Schloss Wickrath at their heart.
Many foreign sports fans will know the city for its football team, Borussia Mönchengladbach who regularly finish above bigger clubs in the Bundesliga. And for culture the Abteiberg has acclaimed modern and contemporary art in an astonishing postmodern building praised by the likes of Frank Gehry.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Mönchengladbach:
1. Abteiberg Musuem
Right in the historic centre of Mönchengladbach, this museum is a mesmerising postmodern building designed by the Austrian Hans Hollein in the 70s and completed in 1982. Now, 35 years later the building is seen as a landmark for the movement, and still feels vital.
It is held in such high regard that Frank Gehry claimed that without the Abteiberg Museum there would be no Bilbao Guggenheim.
The collections span every 20th-century art movement from Expressionism to Minimalism.
The roll-call of acclaimed artists counts Franz Marc, Max Pechstein, Kirchner, Alexander Calder, Oskar Schlemmer, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Heinz Mack, Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
2. Borussia Mönchengladbach
Nicknamed Die Fohlen (The Foals) the local football club punches above its weight and has a team full of cleverly-scouted German and foreign internationals.
They play in the 54,000-capacity Borussia-Park, which makes a thunderous noise during matches.
On match days there are shuttle buses from Düsseldorf Airport and the centre of Mönchengladbach, with constant singing and a fun, friendly atmosphere.
Behind-the-scenes tours of the stadium are given on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when no games are scheduled.
You’ll get to see the tunnel, dressing rooms, press room, dug-outs and hear some interesting anecdotes about the stadium and players in German.
3. Schloss Rheydt
In the borough of the same name, Schloss Rheydt is an exquisite Renaissance palace from the 16th century.
The property was designed by Maximilian Pasqualini, whose father Alessandro brought Renaissance design north of the Alps.
One of the remarkable things about Schloss Rheydt is just how much of Pasqualini’s original work is intact, from the Ionic pilasters and reliefs on the walls to the elegant loggia.
The building’s interiors and its collections of Renaissance and Baroque decorative items have the subject of a museum since 1922. You can browse armour, a real cabinet of curiosities and an 18th-century painting by Johann Heinrich Fischer of nearby Schloss Wirckrath, acquired at a Sotherby’s auction in 2001. The refined palace grounds put on a big Renaissance fair with jousting every August.
4. Alter Markt
Mönchengladbach was formed around the Alter Markt more than 1,000 years ago.
The square still feels like the centre of daily life in the city, and is fringed by busy pavement cafes and taken over by a food market on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.
There are modern monuments in this tidy space, like a thermometer tower and a fountain sculpted in 1977 by the artist Erwin Heerich.
To the south is the pleasing outline of the Citykirche am Alten Markt, which is far newer than it looks and has Neo-Gothic architecture from the 1930s.
5. Odenkirchen Zoo
Set up in 1957, Mönchengladbach’s zoo is mainly for European species and has around 400 animals in total.
One of the largest enclosures is for nasuas and raccoons, complete with a pool where you’ll have the rare chance to see them swimming.
There are also coatis, bison, lynxes, prairie dogs, four monkey species and more than 50 bird varieties, from snowy owls to golden pheasants.
Youngsters will be most pleased with the petting zoo, which has tame ponies, goats and guinea pigs that kids are invited to interact with.
6. Schloss Dyck
One of most treasured moated castles in the Rhineland, Schloss Dyck was founded in the 1100s but got its present identity with Baroque and Rococo updates in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Shaded by mature trees and laced with water, the grounds are a delight, especially in summer when they host classic car fairs.
There are two indoor exhibitions to peruse: In the high castle the ballroom has Baroque ceiling frescoes, and while others feature oriental silk wallpaper, carved wainscoting and Rococo painted panels.
In the stable yard you can learn more about the grounds and how their transformation from strict Baroque gardens to a landscape park in the 19th century.
7. Bunter Garten
In a long, narrow strip the Bunter Garten connects the Kaiser-Friedrich-Halle performance venue with Gladbach’s cemetery on the northern outskirts.
The park is 30 hectares and has all manner of facilities in its borders.
There are playgrounds, many public works of art and an aviary with more than 200 exotic and native species.
Also in the park is a five-hectare botanical garden, with a rockery, herb and medicinal garden, and best of all a scent and touch garden created especially for sight-impaired visitors.
There’s also a coniferous area with 800 types of conifer, a giant redwood and many rhododendron and azalea bushes, which are spectacular when they bloom in spring.
8. Basilica of St. Vitus
Mönchengladbach’s minster was named a papal basilica on its 1000th anniversary by Pope John Paul VI in 1974. This beautiful edifice has a blend of Romanesque and Gothic design.
Among the things to look out for are the 12th-century Romanesque capitals and blind arches in the chapel under the tower, and the slender stained glass windows in the choir.
On the north side of the nave you can see the historic ledger stones for former abbots, and further up in the choir is a sculpture of the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne from the 1400s.
The altar is Early Gothic and adorned with pointed arches while there’s a striking Romanesque baptismal font, carved from lustrous bluestone in the 1100s.
The treasury holds some captivating artefacts like illuminated manuscripts, a runestone, a portable 12th-century altar made with enamel and giltwood and cloth claimed to have been laid at the table of the Last Supper.
The other square forming the old centre of Gladbach is Kapuzinerplatz, which is totally pedestrianised and has a row of bars and cafes under the gabled houses on the west side.
At the centre your eye will be caught by a monumental sculpture made of interlinking L-shaped marble blocks of different colours and textures.
Produced in 1986, this is the work of Heinz Mack who was one of the founder members of the ZERO movement.
In summer there are occasional concerts in the square, and stalls for the Christmas market in December.
And for weekend nights out, this square, as well as Waldhausener Straße just around the corner are where Mönchengladbach’s residents let their hair down.
From a distance you would be forgiven for mistaking Mönchengladbach’s early-20th-century water tower for a medieval keep.
The structure is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks and is in a striking Art Nouveau style, mixing elements from Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
From the outside you can look up at the rings of stone sculptures of water-based animals beneath images of the mayor at the time, Hermann Piecq and his family.
The tower holds two tanks for Mönchengladbach’s water supply, one for city centre and northern areas and the other for the lower districts.
If you happen to be in the city at the first Saturday of the month the tower opens up to visitors for tours, leading you up 234 steps for a panorama of the city not many people get to enjoy.
11. Schloss Wickrath
In Wickrath towards Mönchengladbach’s southern limits there’s a Baroque moated palace, built between 1746 and 1772 for the count Otto Friedrich von Quadt.
As a symbol of the count’s power and status he had the moat designed in the shape of the coronet worn by rulers of the Holy Roman Empire.
In 2002 the formal gardens in the grounds were restored as part of the 2002 state garden show.
For a casual visitor these are the main attraction, with lovely vistas of the property and its bright red walls.
But if you’re an equestrian enthusiast Scloss Wickrath is the seat of the Rhineland’s breeding registry.
The big event each year is the Schlossparkturnier in May, organising show-jumping and dressage in the estate’s arena.
Named after Kaiser Friedrich III who ruled for just 99 days, Kaiser-Friedrich-Halle is a stately Art Nouveau performance venue bordering the Bunter Garten.
Easy to spot for its arched windows, the palatial hall was completed in 1903, and even though it came though the war undamaged it had to be restored twice after fires in the 60s and 70s.
There are concerts and congresses of all descriptions in main hall, while attached to it is a restaurant on an upper terrace with views of the Bunter Garten.
At the back is a sweet outdoor music pavilion from 1905, shaped like a shell, and with a stucco border that is crowned by the city’s coat of arms.
13. Maas-Schwalm-Nette Nature Park
Starting on Mönchengladbach’s northerwestern border is a nature park of lakes, heathland and forest that continues right across the border with the Netherlands.
The park is 870 square kilometres in size and is named for the important rivers that flow through it.
For visitors there are almost 100 kilometres of newly refurbished walking trails, over 20 visitor centres and lots of interesting attractions like a giant sequoia arboretum, medieval watermills, manor houses and museums about the region’s old textiles trade.
You could also make the most of the large bodies of water, canoeing and even swimming when the weather’s right.
14. Museum Insel Hombroich
In 25 hectares on the left bank of the Erft River is a cross between a park and art museum on a former NATO rocket base.
The dilapidated site was bought by art collector Karl Heinrich Müller in 1982, and over the next 12 years he commissioned the architect Erwin Heerich to design 11 pavilions around the park.
Müller described them as “chapels in the landscape”, and they have works from his rich collection, by Klimt, Rembrandt, Alexander Calder, Giacometti, Matisse, Lovis Corinth and many more.
Also on the site is the Langen Foundation, a museum for modern and oriental art designed by Tadao Ando.
The collection includes Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Yves Klein, Paul Cézanne and artists from the ZERO group.
There’s nowhere more fun or crazier to be on Shrove Tuesday Mönchengladbach as it is invaded by the largest parade in the country.
At six kilometres long the parade attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city.
The Sunday before that parade there’s a big party for the thousands of “Jecke” (jokers) who take part in the event.
And on the day itself the city is swept up fun, pranks and no lack of alcohol-fuelled merrymaking.
If you’d like to know more about Mönchengladbach’s Carnival heritage there’s a museum in the Zeughaus (arsenal) building, which opens on the first Sunday of the month and has hundreds of years worth of costumes and signs.