Jugendstil, the German version of Art Nouveau, is the reason most people visit DARMSTADT, thanks to Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig (1868–1937), Queen Victoria's grandson and an inspired patron of the arts. Under his aegis the Mathildenhöhe artistic colony flourished in the years before World War I. Shortly after Ernst Ludwig's death, much of his family was killed in a plane crash en route to a wedding in London, but a connection to Britain lives on, since the Battenbergs – whose British relatives judiciously rechristened themselves Mountbatten in 1917 – were princes of Hesse too, with a family seat at Schloss Heiligenberg south of the city. There's also a Russian link: Ernst Ludwig's sister married Tsar Nicholas II to become Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, notorious for her friendship with Rasputin.
Though the city lost its Altstadt to a nightmarish 1944 air raid, much of the city is attractive still, its townscape softened by the gardens left behind by the Hesse-Darmstadt dynasty. Central Darmstadt's bland shopping streets can safely be skipped in favour of the cluster of monuments around the Schloss and Herrngarten. The city's most significant attraction, Mathildenhöhe is to the east. Away from the main sights, much of Darmstadt – particularly the districts fringing its parks – has a villagey charm. Students at the Technische Universität ensure an easygoing nightlife, while the city is popular with families downshifting from the hurly-burly of Frankfurt. The laid-back ambience is catching; in summer a day or two here is liable to induce a certain feel-good languor.