Finding the Founder of Pilates – Visiting the Hometown of Joseph Pilates   

By Katie Cummings           

Traveling to Germany has been a part of my life since I was 15 years old. My family had the incredible experience of hosting a foreign exchange student from a town not far from Dusseldorf, Germany. Melanie completed her senior year of high school while I was in ninth grade. We became fast friends and now are like sisters. That first summer after her year with us I traveled back to her hometown of Krefeld, Germany for three weeks. I learned about where she was from, the German culture and even had my first beer while abroad. We have remained close over the years with visits and Facetime bridging the thousands of miles that we are apart. Just this past April, I traveled again to Germany with my one year old daughter and mother to meet the newest family member, Leo, Melanie’s first child. She had yet to meet my daughter, Charlotte, so it was as if we were introducing the next generation of best friends/siblings to one another. We enjoyed a week of catching up, delicious food, and making memories with the kiddos.

About a week before I was to leave for our big trip, I was taking a lesson at Mogo Pilates with Victoria. We always work hard during our lesson but we also have great conversation before or after depending on when the next client will arrive. This particular day we were talking about the upcoming Germany trip and of course the conversation led to Joseph Pilates whose home town was not far from Dusseldorf. We both started talking excitedly how I should visit his hometown and see if there is a big monument or area dedicated to the great founder of Pilates! Yet, after a quick Google search we didn’t find too much information. Surprisingly we kept coming up with mixed information or not much detail at all about this so-called place. Of course, people in Germany will know more about how to find it. Or so I thought. 

Throughout the week of our stay in Krefeld, our friends kept us busy with things to do, see, and eat. Yet, I wanted to steal away for an afternoon to find Joseph Pilates’ hometown. When I said this out loud during breakfast one day, all I got was blank stares. Not because of any language barrier but because they had never heard of this Joseph Pilates. Who was he? What is Pilates? After explaining to them a little bit about his history and impact on the health and fitness world they were slightly more intrigued. Since they didn’t know much either, they whipped out their iPad to begin a very sophisticated search…on Google. Appears the same results came up for them as it did for us. Not much. And the only people who really cared all that much about finding this site were Americans, Australians, and Japanese…according to Google. We were able to find that his home town is called Mönchengladbach about 20 miles west of Dusseldorf. The only other helpful key to our puzzle is that there was a plaque dedicated to Joseph Pilates. Now we just had to find it.

My pilgrimage to find the founder of Pilates took place on a sunny, spring day. Melanie’s husband, Jens, was at the wheel with my mother and Charlotte along for the ride. We left Huls (suburb of Krefeld) and weaved in and out of country roads for about 10 minutes and then entered the Autobahn for an obviously fast drive to the Ausfahrt (exit) to Mönchengladbach. This town is unexpectedly beautiful with a very impressive tree lined entry into the main city area. We drove through open areas with large single family homes with impeccable gardens then into the more compact, older part with barely enough room for two cars to pass. We arrived to Google’s final destination and parked the car. We had to backtrack a few meters up a narrow alleyway on cobble stones that looked like they were more than a few centuries years old. Our directions said to go up and turn left down the street and after about five minutes of wandering with no luck we asked a local. This woman only spoke Turkish so we asked the next person we saw. Thankfully this man spoke German and knew where we would find the plaque! We should have turned right at the top of the street and go up the hill and the plaque would be on the left. Up we went and then…we found it!

My reaction was like first seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre Museum in Paris. All the anticipation of getting into the museum, trying to patiently take in all the other beautiful pieces but just wanting to get my first glimpse of one of the most famous paintings in the world. Then to walk up to the crowded spot with the large glass frame with the “Mona Lisa”…in all her 30” x 20” glory. I don’t know why I expected this larger than life painting. Perhaps that is how it feels it should be. Similarly, I was prepared for a group of excited Pilates people already gathered at the plaque or maybe even a mat class taking place when we would arrive. Yet, there was only us. The only other person was just a passerby who kindly took our photo.

Our German friend, Jens, seemed to stifle a laugh because how could this be worth all the fuss? What a silly American he probably thought. Taking it all in and realizing that this is probably how the plaque and memorial site should be. Not flashy or in your face. Just like the Pilates Method, it takes hard work and commitment but once you get there it was worth all the effort. To me it felt just as exciting as see “Mona Lisa” for the first time. A subtle, yet electric response to something that means so much to not only me but to countless people who have benefited from Pilates. Most of us are quite addicted to how transformative Pilates exercise is to our mind and body and that only fuels the passion that burns within the Pilates community. To be able to honor and memorialize the individual who started it all was something special. If only I had a mat…

After taking a few commemorative photos we set out on foot to explore more of Mönchengladbach. Not far from the memorial site is an open market with fresh produce from ancient farmlands (strawberries and white asparagus were a few of our souvenirs) and several cafés to choose from for a recharge with an espresso. There is no doubt that there is charm in this little city not far from Dusseldorf. But the real diamond in the rough is finding the little plaque in front of where once stood the house that Joseph Pilates was born. Maybe not everyone will visit this place, but it won’t be long for the everyone to know all about Pilates.

 Katie in front of the joseph pilates plaque in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Joseph pilates home was located here and now a plaque and bench are here for his many followers to find.

Katie in front of the joseph pilates plaque in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Joseph pilates home was located here and now a plaque and bench are here for his many followers to find.

How to Find the Joseph Pilates Plaque in Germany

Driving Map from Dusseldorf to Joseph Pilates Plaque

Here is an easy to use map from Dusseldorf to Mönchengladbach, Joseph Pilates’ hometown. Allow for 40-45 minutes with traffic. Parking is free along the street and ally near the plaque. Expect to walk on foot up to the memorial area on old cobble stone roads. This was helpful but we still were turned around and had to ask (more than one) local person for directions. Use the walking map below to assist you further.

Walking Map in Mönchengladbach to find Joseph Pilates Plaque

Once you arrive to the general destination area from Google maps, you will want to look for a few landmarks that will help you find the plaque easier. This link will show you the satellite view of the where you can find the Joseph Pilates Memorial plaque. You will see that on this satellite image map of the area there is a black, cone-shaped roof atop of a large cylinder stone building. Right in front of this building is the metal plaque which is staked into the ground in front of a large tree. There is a wood and stone bench in front (perfect place for your favorite Pilates pose) and another smaller plaque with a list of the Contributors to the Memorial Plaque. Be sure to have the map in “satellite” view and zoom in until you can see the large black cone roof. If anyone is interested in making their own Pilates pilgrimage, let us know and we can help you plan!

 Satellite view of streets and landmarks near joseph pilates plaque. look for the black, cone-shaped building and the plaque will be in front of it. 

Satellite view of streets and landmarks near joseph pilates plaque. look for the black, cone-shaped building and the plaque will be in front of it. 

 Larger satellite view of area in Mönchengladbach, Germany where the Joseph Pilates memorial plaque can be located. also shows where you can explore the open markets and cafes.

Larger satellite view of area in Mönchengladbach, Germany where the Joseph Pilates memorial plaque can be located. also shows where you can explore the open markets and cafes.

Special thanks to all those who made this memorial possible including Lolita San Miguel who pioneered this effort.