Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fascinated by the word Kassel - and the city as well

Orangery near downtown Kassel
Kassel is a German city in northern Hesse. The geographic name “Kassel” derives from the Latin word “castellum”, which also is the source of the English word “castle”.

The history of Kassel begins with the ancient Castellum Cattorum, a castle of the Chatti [1]. The Chatti were an ancient Germanic tribe,  living in the upper Weser and Fulda river region since Roman times. In the tenth century the Franks took over the fortlet. They used the words “castella” and “cassela”. Before the current spelling “Kassel” was adopted in the late 1920s, the city name had been written in various letter combinations  including “Chassala”, “Chassela”, “Cassele” and “Cassel” [2].

Treppenstrasse in downtown Kassel

Antonia Baum recently shared her fascination with the word “Kassel” in a MERIAN essay [3]:

Kassel is a word where the K smashes into the double-S like a ladle slapping into a bowl of soup; or like careening down a hill wityh so much speed that the momentum takes you straight up to the other side. As a child, sitting in the backseat of our car while driving past Kassel on the autobahn, I always found it odd that this word existed and asked myself what on earth this Kassel was. What strange and wonderful things went on in Kassel that made it deserving of the name Kassel. I was fascinated by the word itself and would mumble “Kassel, Kassel, Kassel” to myself as I gazed out of the window.

Strange and wonderful things happen in Kassel every five years, when the documenta, the world's foremost art exhibition with avant-garde and often scandalous or grotesque displays and performances, is infiltrating the city's urban environment. Selected art objects from past documenta exhibitions keep staying in the city. Here are some snapshots of outdoor installations from documenta 14 in 2014 and from earlier exhibitions:  


Fulda river bank in Kassel with Claes Oldenborg's Pickaxe (Spitzhacke) 


[1] Kassel. Wikipedia:,_Germany.
[2]  Dieter Berger: Geographische Namen in Deutschland. Second Edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim, 1999.
[3] Antonia Baum: The little lady in the black fur. Merian, English Edition, 2017

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