Exploring Mulhouse – city of design and creativity

Mulhouse is a city of surprising secrets and incredible museums. It may not have the fairy-tale pretty half-timbered houses that Alsace is famous for but its ongoing regeneration from a former industrial powerhouse to a city of arts and design makes it a fascinating place to visit.

Designs on street art

Mulhouse loves its street art, some say it is the “Berlin of Alsace” with splashes of colour adorning the walls of many buildings. Urban art is not new to this city though – in fact it goes back centuries as you’ll see when you visit Place de Reunion, the main square and beating heart of Mulhouse. Long before we fell in love with street murals the medieval former Hôtel de Ville was first decorated in 1698 with a trompe l’oeil by artist Jean Gabriel. Street art has been actively promoted since the 1980s and as a result there’s lots to see (App Cirkwi.com has details of the street art circuit in Mulhouse). Don’t forget to take your camera for these Instagram-worthy artworks.

Designs on art

Motoco is typical of the wave of regeneration that’s pumping this city up into a major creative hub. It’s the biggest artists residence in the whole of France with 140 artists, artisans and creative companies sharing 80 rented studios in a monumental former factory of textile giant DMC. A range of arts are practiced here from multimedia to dance, performance, sculpting, painting and more. Artists come from all over Europe to work and collaborate including Simon Burkhalter from Switzerland, who makes exoskeletons using recycled materials. “This space is so motivational” he said as he showed me a design he was working on for a robotics company. Though not open to the public all the time, check with the tourist office to discover Motoco’s open days or book a workshop with an artist.
www.motoco.fr (External link)
Instagram.com/motoco_and_co (External link)

When a former tile factory closed in 1970, the owner handed over the building to his son to manage. Called Le Sechoir, it functioned as offices and shop premises as well as home to an art association before closing in 2002. But in 2014 it burst back into life as a vibrant exhibition space and studios. It now hosts more than a dozen artists and holds regular exhibitions in a huge open plan space. It’s open on weekends and free to enter and if you’re looking for something gorgeous and unique as a memento of Mulhouse to take home, you’re sure to find it here. Check at the tourist office for “open door days” when the artists will be on site to present and chat about their work.
www.lesechoir.fr (External link)
Instagram.com/lesechoir_mulhouse (External link)

Cité de l’Automobile

Mention Mulhouse to anyone who’s been there and the words Car Museum are sure to crop up. But I promise you, nothing prepares you for the sheer and utter fabulousness of the Cité de l’Automobile, the world’s biggest car museum. From the minute you walk through the grand entrance with its suspended futuristic cars to the “streets” full of cars including two priceless Bugatti Royales, this place is attention grabbing in the extreme. I loved the private track where you can rent a classic car. I drove a Ferrari 458 Italia, a gleaming beast. When I pushed the button to start the engine, the roar made my hair stand on end. More than 400 cars, every single one of them is a classic, a huge collection of children’s cars, a petit train ride and heaps more. This is one museum you will never forget.
www.citedelautomobile.com (External link)

Cité du Train

You don’t have to be a train spotter to get steamed up about this extraordinary museum. 60000 m² of space contains a vast collection of original trains dating from the beginning of French rail travel in 1844 to the beginning of the TGV era. Each exhibit is around 25m long and the average weight is a mind boggling 80 tons. Be wowed by Napoleon III’s elegantly decorated coach, swanky Orient Express carriages complete with mannequins of Hercule Poirot and possible murderers of course. It’s an innovative display with video, sound and exhibits you can climb in and out of. I loved riding round the museum in a petit train, riding around the outdoor space on a miniature train and even driving a diesel engine on the museum’s private track. At the end of this visit, I decided I wanted to be a train driver when I grow up!
www.citedutrain.com (External link)

Designs on shops

Art is everywhere in Mulhouse and there are several shops which proactively support and promote the work of resident artists. La Vitrine Volante is a pop-up boutique which showcases regional and local designers and literally pops up in different parts of the city at different times (check at the tourist office for details). Clothing including some seriously covetable T-shirts, accessories, decorations and tableware. It’s the sort of shop you can spend hours browsing in – part gallery/part store, there’s a lot to fall in love with. Not far away, Le Bocal is another outlet for artists which focuses on homeware and showcases work by artists from Motoco. You can also buy works of art by Motoco’s artists at the tourist office.
old-school.fr (External link)
Facebook.com/LE-BOCAL (External link)

Designs on restaurants

Matthieu Laurent opened Café NoMad in a former foundry in 2018 and it’s been super popular on Mulhouse’s social scene ever since. The integrity of the industrial origins of the building have been kept, but its brick walls and industrial pipes are combined with funky and vintage artefacts and everything contrasts fabulously with stylish lighting. You’ll find a menu with great street food style dishes - burgers, ribs and chicken teriyaki etc. The popular cocktail list keeps the bar stools permanently filled – I loved the creamy, coconutty, zingy pineapple based Colada’nanas. Full of locals, great for families, friends and couples. Book in advance online if you want to be sure of a table.
https://www.nomadcafe.fr/ (External link)

Café Mozart is an institution in Mulhouse – loved as much for its location and spectacular views over the city’s main square, Place de la Réunion, as its sensational cakes and delicious seasonal menu. Inside the café, Patisserie Jacques has been making the locals happy for more than 8 decades and the family run business is now run by third generation pastry chef Michel Bannwarth. Open for breakfast and lunch with a varied menu including delicious quiches and pies. But of course the cakes take centre stage with scrumptious and irresistible classics.
Facebook.com/Mozartmulhouse (External link)

Tilvist Coff’Tea Shop is a favourite with the locals - food like maman makes at home and especially brilliant for weekend brunch. It’s a funky shop cum cafe and neighbourhood café and social workplace. Cheap, cheerful and with a fun and friendly ambiance, cosy interior and delicious menu. Try the Bretzels Mulhouse style - the flakiest pastry filled with ham and local cheese, perfect with a tasty salad and freshly made smoothie. Afterwards browse the shop shelves filled with local speciality products plus great organic tea and coffee to take home. And there are artisan made goods from pottery and glassware to greetings cards, ornaments, textile art and gorgeous bags.
www.tilvist-coffteashop.fr (External link)

Stay at: Bristol hotel

The 115 room art deco style hotel Bristol is a stone’s throw from the heart of the city and a couple of stops by tram from the main train station and the car museum. It’s cosy and comfy and has lovely suites too, mine had a jacuzzi bath with a great sky window so you can watch the stars as you luxuriate in the bubbles. This family run business has been here for more than 100 years and you’ll get a friendly welcome from mother and daughter management team Marie and Fernande Gutzwiller.
www.hotelbristol.com (External link)