Düsseldorf is a place you don’t often see in many travel guides for Germany. Often overlooked in favour of its more glamorous cousin Cologne or the draw of the capital, Berlin. However, after a work trip sent me to Düsseldorf for only two nights, I really fell in love with the city.We flew out mid-week, and even though we packed so much into our 36 hours, there was still so much I wanted to see.
When we arrived at our lodgings, the boutique Hotel Friends a few minutes drive outside the city centre, we literally had the best rooms in the house. My suite was huge, with a boudoir feel, a huge bed, luxury toiletries in the bathroom and Haribo on the pillow instead of a soggy mint!
The reception of the hotel was just as lovely, with a quirky breakfast room, bar and interestingly, a bunch of old sports equipment in front of a TV!
I could happily have spent the night in the hotel, but we were being treated to dinner so headed off to start exploring.
Despite it being a weekday evening, Aldstadt – Düsseldorf’s old town – was buzzing, a soundtrack of jovial chatter and clinking glass on metal trays as the low, evening sunlight flooded the streets and the breweries filled up with locals out for a post-work beer. We met our hosts, Svenja and Robin, at Aldstadt’s oldest restaurant.
Deceptively large inside, Brauerei Zum Schiffchen is clad in dark wood with parquet flooring, long, rectangular tables and medieval looking light fittings. It boasts that Napoleon was once a patron, but that night the crowd was almost all German. They smiled at us with warmth and amusement as we shimmied along the bench to join our hosts and ordered a round of the local speciality, Altbier. Their choice was Schlösser, which we later discovered translates literally into English as ‘lock.’
The beer was stronger than your typical pint of English ale, with a malty taste, served in small glasses, to make sure it didn’t get warm and spoil the flavour. Wise words, as mine was gone before it had even got to room temperature.
Our dinner options were varied, but perhaps as to be expected, featured a lot of meat. The cavewoman in me was drawn to the Schwinehaxe – roast pork knuckle – a dish we saw on many brewery menus offering a ‘traditional’ but tourist friendly German meal. The waiter raised a wiry, grey eyebrow as I requested it for my dinner and wished me luck as he delivered me a hunk of meat bigger than my head.
Despite its overwhelming size and somewhat grisly appearance, it was actually quite delicious, with crispy crackling and salty meat, paired with tangy sauerkraut and of course, another glass of Altbier. Despite their heritage, neither of our German hosts ate pork or sauerkraut, and neither liked beer. We laughed at the irony, and instead they enjoyed white asparagus for dinner, a spring delicacy in Germany.
According to Düsseldorf tradition, it’s no fun to eat unless you get full, so, embracing their mantra, I finished my Schwinehaxe. A walk was in order so we said guten tag to our waiter and set out to explore Aldstadt by night.
From an unassuming window next to a gift shop, a middle aged German lady with a warm smile sold shots of herbal liqueur called Killepitsch.
“Killepitsch” said Svenja, “was first made in Düsseldorf during the war. This region was bombed heavily, so legend has it people called it Killepitsch because it was to be drunk before you die!”
She laughed at the crassness of it before saying that it actually tasted like Jägermeister and wasn’t that nice. She ushered us onwards, “come on, this street is tourist street, I take you where locals go.”
Across Markplatz, the main square, with its imposing statue of Jan Wellem riding his horse, we wound through narrow cobbled streets and arrived on Ratinger Straße. A whole street lined with bars, totally empty inside, but with hordes of people sporting glowing, beery smiles crowding the thin pavement outside as waitresses weaved in and out with trays of Altbier raised above their heads.
As we walked, the narrow, cobbled streets of Aldstadt opened up onto the Rhine Promenade, container barges passing a reminder of Düsseldorf’s industrial past, the soaring Rhineturm communication tower illuminated in blue and red rising from the Media Harbour, a beacon of its present. Düsseldorf’s reputation as a city of contradictions was becoming clear.
The following day, we explored the Media Harbour in daylight. A tribute to modern art crafted from the shipping paraphernalia of what was once a busy dock, it was clear to see why Düsseldorf is famed for being the art and fashion capital of Germany.
Sitting proudly on the promenade were Frank Gehry’s dancing towers, three buildings together, one white, one silver, one red brick. The middle building, galvanised in silver, undulated with curves like the surface of the river. According to locals, the towers are a family, mother on one side, father on the other, the child in the middle a reflection of the many elements of each parent. There was beauty in these buildings.
Across the river, colourful Plasticine men scaled the front of an industrial looking office block, the remnants from an exhibition in another part of town that nobody could bear to see discarded. Their bright, coloured forms reflected on the water like confetti.
After a morning of gazing wistfully around us, we stopped off for Currywurst at an unassuming place in the shadow of the dancing towers. According to our guide, this was the best Currywurst in the city, and the fragrant aromas emanating from the small restaurant convinced me he was probably right. The signature fat, red German sausage had spiced meat and a thick, tangy curry sauce poured over the top. One bite and I knew why the Germans had such fondness for this junk food dish.
Next we headed to the K21 gallery, a former parliament building, decapitated by war, reborn with a stunning tessellated glass roof that flooded it with natural light.
Above the atrium, a spider web of silver stretched the width of the building, with huge inflatable balls entangled in it. People like insects clambered over the netting, while others reclined in the highest corners, faces to the sky, bathing in the sun’s warmth. In Düsseldorf, art is to be experienced.
We spent the late afternoon south of the city at Schlöss Benrath, the pink palace that the Emperor of West-Rhine Westphalia built for his wife. The dreamy hued palace was fronted by a lake that reflected like a mirror, and backed by ornate French gardens with long paths stretching outwards from the palace. The late afternoon sun was glorious, basking the palace and gardens in that golden light photographers talk about.
Of course, we couldn’t miss the luxurious Königsallee, the famed shopping destination. At the one end sit 5 star hotels and the imposing Breuninger department store with its avant-garde design and undulating curves.
At the other end, a canal flows down the centre with water diverted from the Rhine, its banks lined with luscious green trees and designer boutiques and coffee shops full of women in tailored suits and expensive sunglasses sipping espresso. We jostled with tourists for the perfect spot to capture the symmetry of the avenue on smartphones and cameras as the sun set: a lasting memory from our last day in the city.
With just enough energy for the evening, it was back to Aldstadt and to the Eurige brewery.
The gleaming copper stills took pride of place in the middle of the pub, while upstairs behind closed doors we were shown the secrets of the Altbier brewing process with a guided tour.
We decided to stay for dinner and a few beers to see out our final night in true Düsseldorf style. I tried the Blutwurst, the traditional sausage of Düsseldorf, and a plate of amazing cheese including local favourite, Gouda, all washed down with a few glasses of Altbier.
The cheeky waiters replenished our glasses sooner than we could finish them, and clearly didn’t want us to leave as we made our way out. I could get used to that kind of German hospitality!
We went back to the airport with heavy hearts as we headed back to England and, sadly, the office, but even this short trip had me convinced that Düsseldorf should definitely be considered a must-visit place in Germany.
I travelled to Düsseldorf as part of a business trip for my day job, therefore my expenses were covered under the terms of my employment, many thanks to Eurowings and East Midlands Airport. The experiences I enjoyed were organised by Düsseldorf Tourism, many thanks to them too. All opinions are of course my own, and this post is in no way related to any commercial activity undertaken as part of my employment.