When I still lived in the Netherlands, Insel Hombroich was a car journey of 1,5 hours from our house. I have visited the location often with friends and family and it was a favourite day out for my staff and me.
An average museum visit lasts between one and two hours. Visiting Insel Hombroich can easily take up a whole day. One of the reasons why it is perfect for a short getaway.
The area is a breathtaking landscape full of little buildings, beautiful vegetation, and most of all a lot of art in all disciplines and genres.
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Insel Hombroich, Germany
A marvellous combination of nature and culture can be found in Neuss, Germany, on the Insel Hombroich. All kinds of works of art are displayed in an unusual concept without a noticeable order.
An island in the river Erft
To be at Insel Hombroich is incredible. I have travelled and seen a lot, yet I don’t know of anything I can compare it with.
Part of it is a swamp on an island (Insel is German for island) that in the old times had no other function than to deliver willow branches. Part of it consists of an abandoned base where missiles were stationed.
Broker and art collector Karl-Heinrich Müller gave a sculptor friend, Erwin Heerich, the assignment to design several buildings. Heerich did an amazing job.
There are 15 buildings on the terrain. Almost all are earth-coloured brick on the outside and white on the inside. Some have a function as a museum, a concert hall, or a restaurant.
Others are completely empty, just standing on their own, being beautiful. I have visited this place at least 10 times and half the time there were people standing in these empty buildings humming or chanting. Truly amazing!
Compare it to children that can’t help themselves if they enter a tunnel, they just have to scream. Being in these empty buildings with their wonderful acoustics you cannot help but do something with your voice or clap your hands to hear the sounds and the echo.
It is a Museum. Actually, several little museums.
The owner of the swamp had a large art collection that is exhibited in several of the buildings. He believes you do not have to boast about the big names or the knowledge you possess once you see whose work it is. So there are no cards with names and information on the walls.
That’s an interesting approach. I like that. What I don’t like is that he pushes this idea of ‘art is beautiful in itself’ too far. There is no climate control in the buildings.
In some buildings, the doors are always open, so the humidity and the drought have free reign. Making the Rembrandt and Degas drawings look more crumbled each year. That hurts my artistic soul.
The collector had a very broad interest
There are 17th-century drawings, 20th-century paintings and statues, East-Asian art, Aboriginal art and much more. The little buildings in a way organize this variety because they all have their own focus.
One building only has 7 giant Buddha heads. Another building has just drawings on the wall.
The large buildings contain a collection of different periods and cultures that don’t seem to have a focus at all. It’s up to the viewers to make up their own minds about any connection they see, or not.
Outdoor art and nature
Walking around you fall from one surprise to another. One time you run into a tree that is at least 300 years old. The next time you encounter a 20th-century statue or a 3d object.
There are different types of landscapes in the area, including English gardens, wet biotopes, and terraces, which were designed by landscape architect Bernhard Korte.
The landscape is not just filled with objects placed outside, but there is also Land Art to admire. Land Art means that nature is formed into art. For instance, by putting trees in a pattern or by placing them diagonally together so that the branches later form the cover into a wigwam.
Artists in residence
At times artists in residence lived here and left their mark, either outside or in the museum buildings.
Anatole Herzfeld, who made metal objects, lived here the longest until he passed away in 2019. We met Anatole Herzfeld a couple of times. Such a sweet man, who loved to talk about his artwork, although I was not quite in agreement with his ideas about the Russians. 🙂
Lots of his work is on display in Insel Hombroich.
You can hike here for hours
Even if you are not very much into art the place is worthwhile visiting. The surroundings are beautiful. Lots of water (duh, it’s a swamp), vegetation that’s not imported but belongs there from ancient times, bridges, and hiking paths.
Exactly in the middle is the restaurant where you can pause at any time and take anything you want off the tables. The entrance fee is pretty high (15€, 2023), but it includes unlimited use of everything offered in the restaurant.
The food looks old-fashioned, with strange things that you don’t ordinarily eat at home. It’s great. (Well, as you have guessed by now, I am a true fan; I think everything is great in that place!). Coffee, tea, bread, a small lunch, whatever you want is on the tables.
The neighbours are interesting as well
You can visit the Langen Foundation, a 30-minute walk from Insel Hombroich. A modern museum, designed by Japanese Tadao Ando, with its exhibition space mainly underground. An intriguing building.
From the outside, you can hardly see it’s a museum because all the art is in the inner rooms. The only indication when we were there, was the big red LOVE in the pond.
The focus of the collection – a private collection of the couple Viktor and Marianne Langen – is on 20th-century art and traditional Japanese drawings.
In addition, the rocket launch site Raketenstation Hombroich and the sculpture gallery Thomas Schütte Foundation can be visited.
So even for a visit of a few days, there is plenty to do.
Route of industrial culture
Ever since the Ruhr area was the “European Capital of Culture” in 2010 the region has had a significant uplift. There is a 400 km route along all kinds of industrial monuments, including Zollverein Essen, which is great to do.
Have you ever visited Insel Hombroich or the Ruhr area? Tell me what you think of it in the comment box.