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Industry and art may at first glance seem to present a contradiction, yet Schweinfurt combines the two to exciting and captivating effect. Schweinfurt remains the heart of the European ball bearing industry, but is also a centre for art whose galleries and museums would make many a larger city proud.
Of course, a town with a 1,200-year history must have more than just industry to recommend it. And Schweinfurt cultivates this contrast to this day. In this former free imperial city with its innovative outlook, modern buildings stand alongside their equivalents from centuries past, and a sense of civic pride is complemented by a strong working class ethos. The winds of change are blowing through the town: locals are proud of their achievements and their town's new image, but they are equally proud to have stayed true to their roots.
Past and present: the town hall and the Georg Schäfer Museum
The town hall on the market square is an eloquent testimony to preindustrial times. Built between 1570 and 1572, it is probably the finest and most beautiful historical building in Schweinfurt. It's a miracle that it survived the disasters and wars of the last centuries unscathed – in particular the Second World War when much of Schweinfurt was destroyed. The entrance hall is used to exhibit art, something that comes as no surprise in Schweinfurt. The Georg Schäfer Museum, meanwhile, is devoted entirely to art. It houses the most important private collection of German painting, covering the late-rococo and classicist periods to Romanticism and Impressionism. The Carl Spitzweg collection alone encompasses 160 paintings and 110 drawings, and there are works by Caspar David Friedrich, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Albrecht Adam, Fritz von Uhde, Wilhelm Leibl, Adolph Menzel, Franz von Lenbach, Hans Thoma, Lovis Corinth, Max Liebermann, Max Slevogt and Max Beckmann. The building itself is among the most important new museum buildings of modern times, "a treasure chest", as one critic put it, characterised by "huge recesses, angles and corners, ramps and steps".
Art at the swimming baths and history at the old grammar school
Schweinfurt's Kunsthalle gallery, housed in an indoor swimming pool built for the town by industrialist Ernst Sachs, is another striking example of museum architecture. Its New Objectivity style and generously proportioned exhibition spaces are ideal for displaying art. Another Schweinfurt highlight, the Otto Schäfer Museum contains around 1,000 illustrated prints, among them a fine collection of engravings by Albrecht Dürer, as well as first editions of German literary works from the Reformation to Realism. The Altes Gymnasium Museum (old grammar school museum) explores the origins of Schweinfurt, focusing on early history since the 8th century, Schweinfurt's time as a free imperial town, civic culture, the guilds and industrialisation. Fortunately for us, Schweinfurt can now offer both art and industrial heritage.