Rosalie Wessel walks us through the less conventional attractions of Düsseldorf, avoiding the tourist traps that come with visiting cities
It was a shock, arriving in Düsseldorf. I had just left the warm beaches of Florida, complete with a sunburned nose, for what seemed like a city draped in grey- rainy, cold and sullen.
Of course, my initial impressions as a twelve-year-old changed soon enough. Now older and aware of the superficiality that places can often present, I see Düsseldorf for what it truly is- an international hub, a growing opportunity.
My favourite place has to be along the Rhine. One of Germany’s main rivers, it’s a vital waterway, a place of historical and modern importance- but also a gorgeous picnic place. On a lazy summer afternoon, its pastoral charm is straight out of an 18th-century painting. High grasses whisper against the gentle wind, and the Rhine itself flows steadily by, glistening blue in the hot fuzzy air. The typically German cafes nearby are wonderful places to grab lunch- schnitzel, bratwurst, pommes- whatever you fancy.
Naturally, I always go for the cake, because German pastries are a sight for sore eyes. I am pressed to find a better Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a creamy, cherry laden, chocolate horror that never fails to make me mildly ecstatic at the mere mention of it. And let’s never forget the jelly-filled Berliner, a doughnut that will always appear, without question, during Carnival- a celebration which begins on the 11th of November at 11:11 and finishes on Ash Wednesday. This always sparks that annual rivalry with Cologne over who has the better parade (it’s Düsseldorf- Helau!), and ushers about a hailstorm of wacky costumes. Altweiber, or ‘Old Woman’s Day’ is famous for celebrating the female presence in Carnival. Women take to the streets, armed with scissors, cutting the ties off men whenever they see one. And they’re allowed to. It’s Carnival. Ridiculousness and tradition explode into one, creating an experience that any tourist can get in on. And of course, because it’s Germany, the land of beer, general merriment is aided by lots and lots of alcohol.
The one true attraction of Düsseldorf is, by far, the Königsallee, the long shopping street that marks its pathway in the centre of the city. It’s mostly for admiration, honestly, because in all my years living in Düsseldorf, I have yet to go into the Prada, Bvlgari and Tiffany stores that line the pavements, gleaming gold handles practically shouting don’t touch, just look. It’s like a piece of art itself. But the area is gorgeous, with a small canal running through the middle, creating the perfect opportunity for photos against ornate bridges and green banks. Nearby, Düsseldorf’s old town, better known as the Altstadt, houses much more affordable entertainment and shopping, fondly known as ‘the longest bar in the world’. When the sun begins to dip below the horizon, walking along the historical embankment that the Altstadt boasts is a treat, the gorgeous townhouses that twinkle across the river providing a wonderful backdrop.
As for culture, Düsseldorf is by no means a blank canvas. Ai Weiwei, the contemporary Chinese artist and activist, had a prominent exhibition set up in the large halls of the K20, which boasts many modern art displays. It’s a city that’s easy to reach as well- only an hour’s flight from Birmingham, the airport vital for the large international community that populates the city. As the fashion capital of Germany, Düsseldorf also holds the ‘Voices of Fashion’ twice a year, and has numerous eminent fashion schools. Personally, I love the Christmas Markets that pop up all over the city come December, flooding it with warm light, as the city begins to descend into the depths of what is usually a truly icy winter. The little huts are often filled with hand-carved figurines, roasted nuts, and Glühwein, a warmed wine that you’ll find every adult guzzling as they move through the maze of Christmas stalls.
While not known for tourism, Düsseldorf is a place worth seeing, when considering a trip to Germany. It’s taken me a while to get to know it, but now that I do, I find it more interesting than ever.