Highlights in Detroit – the classics

What do people associate with Detroit? Clearly: the automotive industry, art and music. Whether Model T or Motown Music, iconic skyscrapers or the Detroit Institute of Arts – the largest city in the state of Michigan has a rich cultural scene and an eventful past. Detroit was once the quintessential American industrial city. However, the glamorous times when Detroit was the engine of the American economy and Woodward Avenue was more glamorous than Fifth Avenue in New York are long gone. What remains are numerous sights that should not be missed during a visit to Detroit. We have put together some classics that still top the list of the top sights in Detroit. But beware, Detroit is a city in flux. In addition to the evergreens such as Motown and Art Deco skyscrapers, the city, which was still on its knees 20 years ago, has a very special spirit.

Denkmal The Spirit of Detroit, Bronzestatue von Marshall Fredericks am Coleman A. Young Municipal Center an der Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. In der linken Hand hält die sitzende Figur eine vergoldete Bronzekugel, die Strahlen aussendet und Gott symbolisiert. Die Menschen in der rechten Hand sind eine Familiengruppe, die für alle menschlichen Beziehungen steht / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Spirit of Detroit monument, bronze statue by Marshall Fredericks at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center on Woodward Avenue in Detroit / © Photo: Georg Berg

Ford Piquette Avenue Plant

It’s hard to imagine Detroit without the history of the automotive industry. The Ford plant in Piquette Avenue is the birthplace of the Ford Model T, which sparked Americans’ love of cars. A private initiative has campaigned to preserve the historic production site. Little has changed since Henry Ford established the world’s first series production here. However, the famous Model T was only produced here from October 1908 to December 1909. The efficient manufacturing process made cars affordable for more and more people. The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant quickly became too small for the high demand. Not much remains of the former production line. The story is told with the help of numerous models and photos.

Ehemalige Produktionshalle Ford Piquette Plant, Detroit. Ort der ersten Serienproduktion von Automobilen weltweit. Das berühmte Model T von Henry Ford wurde hier von Oktober 1908 bis Dezember 1909 produziert. Danach war der Standort bereits zu klein für die große Nachfrage geworden / © Foto: Georg Berg
Former Ford Piquette Plant production hall, Detroit / © Photo: Georg Berg

DIA – Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in Midtown Detroit is home to one of the largest art collections in the United States. Here you can find everything from contemporary art to classical art and from the earliest civilizations to the present day. The DIA is particularly well known for its collection of African-American art and the Detroit Industry Murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera. The frescoes were created between 1932 and 1933. The Rivera Court consists of 27 panels and shows, among other things, car production at the Ford Motor Company. Diego Rivera also dealt with the subjects of medicine and the production of weapons of war. Rivera considered the Detroit Industry Murals to be his most important work. Painted on walls, the cycle explores the relationship between man, nature and machine. The DIA is located on Woodward Avenue and can be reached by the free QLine streetcar from downtown Detroit.

Detroit Industry Murals von Diego Rivera umgeben den Rivera Court im Detroit Institute of Arts. Sie entstanden zwischen 1932 und 1933 und wurden von Rivera als sein erfolgreichstes Werk betrachtet / © Foto: Georg Berg
Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera surround the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts / © Photo: Georg Berg

Motown Music – Hitsville USA

Whether you are a music fan or not, anyone visiting Detroit should not miss out on a tour of Hitsville USA. The two inconspicuous houses on Grand Boulevard are the original location of a great success story that goes far beyond number one hits, gold records and superstars. As an African-American in segregated America, Berry Gordy succeeded in making a company big in a way that had previously only been possible for white Americans. Gordy, a former boxer, founded the record label Motown Music in 1959 with an 800 dollar kedit from his parents. The name is a portmanteau of motor and town and alludes to his home city of Detroit. Berry Gordy had big plans and wanted to create nothing less than an African-American music empire. To achieve this goal, Gordy adapted the assembly line principle of the Detroit car companies.

Motown Museum Hitsville USA, erster Hauptsitz des Musiklabes Motown / © Foto: Georg Berg
Motown Museum Hitsville USA, first headquarters of the Motown music label / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Motown Music studio was open almost around the clock. Gordy provided the artists with his house band, which also became legendary. The importance of Motown Music for the music history of the 20th century can also be seen in the chart positions it achieved. The Funk Brothers house band, featuring keyboardist Earl Van Dyke and bassist James Jamerson, played on more number 1 hits than Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys put together. Berry Gordy also hired the best songwriters and producers. Everything was tightly organized and, just as cars rolled off the production line at the Ford factories, Motown Music delivered top hits and superstars.

Carolyn Cal Gill, Leadsängerin der Velvelettes bei einer Führung durch das Museum Hitsville USA, Motown Music. Cal Gill zeigt, dass unter der Kuppel viele Songs für den besonderen Motown Sound aufgenommen wurden / © Foto: Georg Berg
Carolyn Cal Gill, lead singer of the Velvelettes, on a guided tour of the Hitsville USA Museum, Motown Music. Cal Gill shows that many songs for the special Motown sound were recorded under the dome / © Foto: Georg Berg

Between 1961 and 1971 alone, Motown landed 110 hits in the US Top 10 – on average, a new top hit almost every month. Among the artists who recorded for Motown were Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Motown Music can only be visited as part of a guided tour and these are quickly booked out, especially at weekends. The tour ends with a vocal rehearsal in the legendary Studio A. And if you’re very lucky, you might even meet former band members such as Carolyn Gill, the lead singer of the Velvelettes.

Gesangsprobe im legendären Studio A von Motown im Rahmen einer gebuchten Führung durch die alten Studioräume und Büros / © Foto: Georg Berg
Vocal rehearsal in Motown’s legendary Studio A as part of a booked tour of the old studio rooms and offices / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Guardian Building: The Art Deco icon

The Guardian Building in downtown Detroit is hard to beat in terms of opulence, both inside and out. 1.8 million orange bricks encase the steel structure. The bricks were specially designed for the building in a special shade of orange, which the architect Wirt C. Rowland christened Guardian Brick. When it was completed in 1927, it was the tallest brick building in the world. It was built by the Union Trust, which at the time had merged with the National Bank of Commerce. Only the best materials were used, such as Rookwood ceramics, Pewabic tiles and Italian marble. As a result, the building was later nicknamed the Cathedral of Money.

Bankensaal im Guardian Building, Detroit. Aufgrund der prächtigen Innenausstattung der 45 Meter langen Hauptlobby wurde sie auch die Kathedrale des Geldes genannt. Nur die besten Materialien kamen zum Einsatz. Hier Ausschnitt mit mehrfarbigen, ineinandergreifenden Sechsecken aus Rookwood-Keramik und Pewabic Fliesen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Banking hall in the Guardian Building, Detroit / © Photo: Georg Berg

In 1986, the Guardian Building was declared a national monument. Unfortunately, this designation came a little too late to prevent the unsightly connection with a neighboring building. In 1962, a connecting corridor to the neighboring building was rammed into the hull of the Art Deco icon. The skyscraper at 1 Woodward Avenue was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, who later also designed the World Trade Center in New York. The Guardian Building is open to the public. The former banking hall is now home to several stores, including a bank and the tour operator City Tour Detroit, where you can book informative city tours of downtown Detroit.

Guardian Building, Detroit, 1,8 Millionen orangefarbenen Ziegel ummanteln die Stahlkonstruktion. Die Ziegel sind in einem speziell entwickelten orangen Farbton, den der Architekt Guardian Brick genannt hat. Bei seiner Fertigstellung war es das höchste gemauerte Bauwerk der Welt. Seit 1986 ist das Guardian Building ein Nationales Denkmal. 1962 wurde es mit dem Gebäude Fifth Third Bank an der Woodward Avenue 1 von Architekt Minoru Yamasaki verbunden. Yamasaki entwarf später das World Trade Center in New York / © Foto: Georg Berg
Guardian Building, Detroit / © Photo: Georg Berg

Detroit in transition: from problem child to place to be

So much has happened in Detroit in recent years that we are dedicating a separate story to the city’s new positive vibes. Since the mid-2010s, Detroit has been experiencing an upward trend that continues to this day and is reminiscent of Berlin in the 1990s.

Our journey through Michigan starts in the capital Detroit with classics and new attractions of a city in transition. The huge Michigan Central station, once a ruined line, celebrated its comeback as a research location for mobility in 2023. However, the options for getting around Detroit have long been extremely diverse, as mobility in Motown works pretty well even without a car. The journey continues to Traverse City on Lake Michigan with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Mission Point Lighthouse is one of these lighthouses with a history. Why the lighthouse in Grand Traverse County is particularly popular with women is explained in the story about Sarah Lane and the keeper program. We continue on to Charlevoix. The town has a maritime flair and lots of stones. There are Petoskey stones on the beach and Earl Young’s famous stone houses in the town. USA without cars? A fact on Mackinac Island. The success story of Michigan’s heavy industry began with a defeat.

The research was supported by Visit Detroit

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