History History
© Museum für Sepulkralkultur, Kassel, Bildarchiv

History of the museum

Foundation Stone
Foundation Stone
© Museum für Sepulkralkultur, Kassel, Bildarchiv

The vineyard, which today houses a large part of Kassel's cultural landscape, including the Grimm World, Museum of Hessian History and New Gallery, is closely interwoven with the city's history. In the middle of the 19th century, the Henschel family, a family of factory owners, acquired part of the land on and around the vineyard. There, high above Kassel, they settled in the "Villa Henschel", completed in 1870 on behalf of the married couple Oscar and Sophie Henschel. Since 2014/15, the Grimm World has stood on the site of the estate, which was destroyed in the Second World War. The "Haus Henschel", with which the son Karl Henschel had the largest of the two estates built on the site, was completed in 1904 and shortly afterwards, at the beginning of the 1930s, demolished again. There are numerous speculations about the reasons for this. Finally, the stable and shed building, built in 1903 as part of the Henschel House, now houses the Central Institute and Museum for Sepulchral Culture as well as the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Friedhof und Denkmal e. V. (Study Group Cemetery and Monument). In 1951 the study group was founded, followed by the Central Institute in 1979 and the "Foundation Central Institute and Museum for Sepulchral Culture" in 1984.

Before the foundation stone was laid in 1989, there were other plans for the new development: e.g. for a Nazi Gauburg castle, a top hotel or the new State Theatre. The vineyard was a sought-after area where beer gardens used to crowd and invite visitors on Sunday excursions. None of the new plans were implemented, however, and so the "Remise" and the house of the valet remained alone for some time. Due to war it had been severely damaged and run down. After that an occupation in the 70s and 80s left its own traces. Many graffiti , for example one on the hillside with the words "the house is ours", probably testify to that time. Thus every future use faced a great architectural challenge.

The striking graffiti next to the entrance gate of the museum, however, was created in the context of an exhibition. It was made by Harald Naegeli, who became famous under the name "Sprayer of Zurich", especially for the "Kölner Totentanz", which is now largely destroyed. The "Totentanz" consisted of numerous skeletons on public walls throughout Cologne. In 1998, Harald Naegeli mingled with the guests at the opening of the special exhibition "Tanz der Toten – Totentanz" at the Museum for Sepulchral Culture, leaving more or less hidden skeletons on the walls of the remise with his spray can.

Graffito at the front of the old building
Graffito at the front of the old building
The graffitto by Harald Naegeli was made for the exhibition "Tanz der Toten – Todestanz"
© Museum für Sepulkralkultur, Kassel, Bildarchiv
Model by Wilhelm Kücker
Model by Wilhelm Kücker
aus: Wilhelm Kücker (1993) BauWerke I, Ernst Sohn Verlag für Architektur und technische Wissenschaften GmbH, Berlin
© Frank Hellwig, Kassel

As a location for the Foundation Central Institute and Museum for Sepulchral Culture as a place of remembrance and prospection, the building, which takes account of the many vicissitudes of history and at the same time rests far from the horizon, seems ideal. In 1987, nine German architects were invited to take part in a competition for the realisation of the project, which the founding director of the museum, Hans-Kurt Boehlke, himself formulated according to his own ideas. He wished that "the architecture of the building should make it possible to recognize its task of preserving the outdated in order to point out prospective paths from this foundation". In February 1988, the jury, chaired by a former fellow student of Boehlkes, Max Bächer, met and finally decided in favour of Wilhelm Kücker's design. The airy glass and concrete building, which touches the listed remnant of the Henschel complex across the "lizard's passage", which also existed before the new building was erected, connects the old and the new.

Read more about the chronicle of the association, institute and museum here.


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Arbeitsgemeinschaft Friedhof und Denkmal e.V.

Zentralinstitut für Sepulkralkultur

Museum für Sepulkralkultur

Weinbergstraße 25–27
D-34117 Kassel | Germany
Tel. +49 (0)561 918 93-0

Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien
Hessisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst
Kassel Documenta Stadt
Deutsche Bischofskonferenz