With direct flights to Düsseldorf now available, Caroline Delaney popped over to sample life in this German riverside city.
IT’S not the capital city but locals ‘know’ they are really the most important. It’s built on a river and has plenty pretty cafes and quirky bars. Cycling is popular here. It’s a crucial hub for industry. And locals see themselves as rebels. Nope, not Cork — it’s Düsseldorf.
The capital city of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia is just a hop away with Aer Lingus direct flights from Cork now available.
We’ve all heard tales of Germanic efficiency, and many of us might have presumed it just equates to more work.
But what if that legendary efficiency was put to use laying out a city and transport system that runs smoothly, meaning non-congested streets and plenty of places to party and meet friends. Well, you’d get something like Düsseldorf.
A four-lane underground carriageway takes heavy traffic out of sight — where it doesn’t have to deal with pedestrians either — leaving the airy riverside free for small parks, cyclists and a long promenade which is the place to see and be seen.
One key spot to meet friends and keep an eye on the style is the Media Harbour (Medienhafen), so-called because various TV and radio stations, as well as advertising agencies, are based here on the banks of the Rhine.
Tourism info about the quirky and fascinating buildings here says award-winning architects such as Frank O Gehry were “given the opportunity to make their own creative contribution to the overall appearance”.
What that actually means is a splendid mix of odd angles and taut curves.
The mirror-polish stainless steel one — you can’t miss it — which almost looks like it is rippling as the light changes, is definitely worth including in a selfie for social media.
All this posing might mean you’ve worked up an appetite, so you’ll need a suitably glamorous restaurant, and there are plenty.
One option is the airy, elegant Meerbar, right on the waterfront.
Local treats include delicious white asparagus — which sounds healthy until you factor in the new potatoes and the hollandaise sauce. Fish, veal, and beef feature prominently too on menus, as does black pudding, so a comparative study by fans of Irish versions might be in order.
Dozens of smaller cafes and bars line the promenade, so you can make a short hop to one of these for the rest of the evening.
Alternatively, check out the bars and nightlife in the Old Town (Altstadt). Here you can sample an Altbier, the typical dark beer of Düsseldorf.
Rather than the over-flowing beer steins you might recognise from beer festivals, Altbier is served in smaller glasses so it’s perfect for sampling and moving on. There are five breweries right in Düsseldorf — these are more like micro-breweries with bars attached and look very welcoming. There are also five Irish bars in Düsseldorf and it’s up to you what you do with that information.
On a sunny day it feels like the whole of Düsseldorf sits outside at cafes enjoying ice-cream and cakes.
To work up a bit of an appetite for these you could do a bit of shopping. The main shopping boulevard/catwalk is Königsallee, also known as just ‘Kö’.
In fact, the street was once known as Chestnut Avenue but was renamed as King’s Avenue after a royal dung-flinging incident in 1848 — told you there was a rebel streak here.
Modern stores mix happily with old-style architecture, which is very-much respected here.
Indeed the art-nouveau Carsch-Haus department store was once totally dismantled for the construction of the underground, and then rebuilt just 23 metres further back. Glamorous brands such as Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and Bulgari are all here — as are more wallet-friendly outlets such as H&M, Desigual, Marc O’Polo and Geox.
Actually, if your wallet is taking a pounding after all this then you might smile at the Dukatenscheisser sculpture on the wall of a bank.
A loose translation is the ‘coin-pooper’. It features a man literally pooping golden coins and the sign reminds people that this is in fact not the way to acquire wealth, so you’d better open that savings account schnell.
If you fancy something a bit more substantial than a snack, then some traditional German food will surely fit the bill.
And you couldn’t get more traditional than Restaurant Zum Schiffchen in the Old Town.
This restaurant was first mentioned in the chronicles of 1628 and claims to have even served Napoleon. Yes the same Mr Bonaparte who reputedly got his horse at Cahermee in Cork.
Menu choices here include oxtail soup with red wine and mushrooms; liver dumpling soup; braised shoulder of lamb with rosemary sauce, and of course several white asparagus options.
Despite the heavy-sounding meat dishes, vegetarians have a good selection of dishes to choose from.
A bit of culture could be on the cards here as well.
Museum Kunstpalast is within walking distance of Old Town and is home to old masters, as well as touring exhibitions, including photography, architecture, and fashion and design, though there are so many sculptures and works of art on the streets that you might well have your fill without ever visiting a museum.
I particularly liked the cartwheeler fountain at Burgplatz. The cartwheelers are said to represent children jumping for joy when Dusseldorf achieved city rights after a battle in 1288. And the tactile bronze city models on Rathausplatz and Kö, which allow blind and visually impaired people to orientate themselves by touch, resemble the opening credits of Game of Thrones. Definitely worth a look is the monument impressively documenting Düsseldorf’s history. It’s next to the bridge over the Dussel river.
But I couldn’t spot anything celebrating the German electronic music band, Kraftwerk, who came from Dusseldorf.
If you reckon you could spread your wings a bit then Cologne is a short train or bus journey away, and there are several trains per day to Amsterdam.
Dusseldorf is multicultural, and some of the city’s many festivals reflect this. Japanese Day (May 21) featured samurai displays and fireworks. In July the traditional marksmen’s festival will include a massive funfair and more fireworks at Oberkassel Rhine Meadows.
A Chinese festival takes place in September and of course there are Christmas markets later in the year.
* Twice-weekly Cork- Düsseldorf flights start from €34.99 one-way until October 26. See aerlingus.com
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