Do It in Düsseldorf You’ll Have a Great Time on the Rhine
By Alison Blackman
Are you looking for a new and different place to vacation this Spring or Summer, or maybe even a romantic place to propose? Do it in Düsseldorf Germany!
Whether you’re craving nightlife, history, fashion, art, or just a place to stroll and enjoy life, find that you can have a great time on the Rhine. If you are a devotee or art, architecture, fashion and eletronic music, you will be pleasantly surprised to know that Düsseldorf is well known for fashion, its academy of fine arts and it’s influence on electronic/experimental music (think: Kraftwerk).
No matter what your interests, you’ll find that the Dusseldorfers (yes, Dusseldorfers) themselves friendly and they know how to enjoy life. I learned this myself, when I was invited by Air Berlin and the Düsseldorf Council of Tourism to come to Dussesldorf for Karneval and be a guest of honor on the Council of tourism’s parade float. Like a number of German Cities, Düsseldorf is known for it’s Karneval, which reaches it’s peak on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) when virtually everyone dresses up in some kind of colorful costume and watches a parade in which large, colorful, politically-themed floats are the focus. Sweets are thrown from the floats making their way through the streets, and there are bands, dancing, singing and plenty of drinking.
Unfortunately, the floats are made of lightweight materials such as paper mache and Düsseldorf was having a great deal of soaking rain and high winds during Karneval season. Hopes that the parade would continue were kept alive until literally hours before the parade was to begin, but eventually, the powers that decided to be safe and cancelled it. The parade floats were brought to the City Hall, and the Dusseldorfers held their own kind of Karneval celebration anyway. All had a fine time on the Rhine!
Balloons were flying, music played, and despite chilly, wet weather, people in costumes of all types danced and sang. The tradition is for people to yell out a hearty “Helau!” to everyone passing by. and our small group of journalists couldn’t help but get caught up in the tradition as well. Everywhere you looked people were dressed as something: leopards, cows, drag queens, nuns, policemen, firemen,clowns, superheros, aviators, and all sorts of strange outfits, even dogs sported decorated leashes or costumes of their own. Groups of teenagers held cups of beer instead of selfie sticks, connecting with each other instead of with the Internet. On the trams, people carried plastic bottles filled with alcoholic concoctions, but even when tipsy, they were happy and polite and despite the major event of the year being cancelled, everyone had a great time.
The big focus of the Karneval parade is the floats with political themes that are not always politically correct. It’s a chance for people to speak their minds, and this is an accepted tradition, a part of the national culture. This year, a few of the floats raised more than a few eyebrows. One in particular depicted the leader of Poland’s ruling party as a dictator crushing a woman under his boot. Another made fun of America’s Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, and another showing Amazon as a red devil. A favorite was that of a woman lighting a rocket to which two immigrants labelled “Sexual offender, ” were tied. Not requiring much interpretation was showing a ‘refugee wave’ sweeping away Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel.
Our group of journalists was invited into the Town Hall to meet the Lord Mayor and enjoy a party complete with a band, singing, sausages and beer. But as we walked around town, the Karneval spirit was everywhere. There was a lot of singing, much less “selfie-ing” than I would have seen at a festival in the States. Although there was lots of drinking, people were just “happy.” No fighting, no brawling/ If you ever thought of Germany as a dreary place, one day in Düsseldorf would change that perception. Rhinelanders have a “joie de vivre” that is contagious. The only person with a frown was the caricature of Donald Trump depicted on a Karneval float.
On Rose Monday, with the parade cancelled, the shops, museums and restaurants were closed, but it gave me a chance to walk around the City and see it in a different way. Most of the city’s historic buildings were destroyed during World War II, but Düsseldorf today is a wonderful mix of architectural styles. The bus, tramway and subway network is operated by Rheinbahn . For just a few Euros a visitor can purchase a Düsseldorf card that offers unlimited use of trams and buses within the city area and free or reduced entry to museums and various attractions. Most of the City is quite walkable. A short tram ride takes you Media Harbor featuring modern art and building that look like modern art, some from noteables German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and American architect Frank O. Gehry. You’ll find restaurants, bars, coffee shops, discotheques and hotels. also plenty of public artwork. Düsseldorf has plenty to offer even when it’s not Karneval time.
Walking along a lovely promenade on the left bank of the Rhine River, there are shops, cafes and bars. In the warmer weather there’s a lot of activity around this area. I can see it as a perfect place for lovers and maybe even a great place to propose to your special someone. During the rainy weather we had in February, a stroll down the riverfront was still lovely. Walk to the Altstadt (old town), the historic town center filled with hundreds of pubs and restaurants and proverbially known by Germans as “the longest bar in the world.” If you’re partied out, plan for some time at one of the art museums or walk around the City and enjoy the public art which seems to be everywhere. If you’re into the outdoors, there are parks and places for picnics, and for the kids to run around and play. You’ll never be bored!
History buffs will find what they are seeking just a short trip out of the City Center. About 20 minutes by tram gets you to Kaiserwerth, a medieval village, with it’s charming little shops and cobblestone streets (Florence Nightingale trained here), The historical district features the ruined castle of The Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa Frederick I. Also a short trip out of Dusseldof center you’ll find the charming, pink and white Benrath Castle and Park Benrath in Nordrhein-Westfalen ((Thomas Jefferson stayed there). It is a favorite place for brides to take photos. Tour the Castle and watch the swans swimming in a tranquil lake in the front. Stroll the expansive garden in the back, where the locals enjoy music and picnics in the Summer months.
It’s worth a visit to the famed Breuninger Department store with five floors of fashion and accessories (department stores allow you to bring in your dog). Brueninger has the largest shoe collection in the area plus bespoke tailoring. If you need something special, they have personal shopping services ( you can even arrange for a Mercedes to pick you up and drop you off for the ultimate in luxury). High end shops can be found on the Kö (Königsallee) or stroll around Old Town and pick up something unique.
You can find everything from youth hostels to high end hotels, My home away form home was the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel in the heart of the fashion district was my home away from home, offering a full service hotel and a very good restaurant (I’m still missing the breakfast buffet), pool and exercise facilities (Karl-Arnold Platz 5, 4074 Dusseldorf ) . It is very conveniently situated in the heart of the fashion district steps away from Metro (U78 & U79) stop at Golzheimer Platz just about 10 minutes to the center of the City or a 25 minute walk along the beautiful river Promenade to Old Town. The Hyatt Regency Dusseldorf Hotel is also a great place to stay in the Media Harbor area (perhaps come back for your wedding ceremony). Some of the rooms have spectacular views of the harbor plus, a wide range of meeting rooms for conferences, weddings or special events. If you want to try a chefs’s table try the DOX Restaurant & Bar at the Hyatt in Media Harbor.
If you are in Germany you’ll want to try some of the local dishes and local breweries featuring Düsseldorf ‘s Alt Bier. Although I’m not a beer drinker, it was hard not to drink several glasses of the smooth Düsseldorf Schlosser Ale, and with it (after a deliciously large meal of Sauerbraten) a glass of Killipitsch, a digestiv made in Dusseldorf with a combination of 90 fruits, berries, herbs and spices, very hard to find elsewhere. A Good place to try typical German food is the charming brewery Zum Schiffchen in the Old Town. If you are looking for something different than sausages and schnitzel, gourmet offerings are definitely available. Try the chefs table at DOX Restaurant & Bar at the Hyatt Regency Media Harbor which was a fabulous experience with course after course of beautifully prepared small plates. The Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel offers tempting buffet and a la carte offerings. Restaurant Klee next to the K20 art museum makes every dish a delicious work of art. Should your flight be delayed or if you just happen to want a good meal by the airport, The new Palavrion Urban Grill restaurant in Terminal B with excellent steak and grill options, may make you forget you’re actually in the airport. Also be sure to visit some of Düsseldorf ‘s chocolate and pastry shops and take home some Germany’s world famous chocolate.
Getting around: The city is very walkable, but the Düsseldorf Card is the best deal in town and the easiest way to get around the City by public transportation. It gives you unlimited access to public transportation and free entree or discounts to some museums, tourist attractions, restaurants and bars. For more information Visit www.dusseldorf-tourismus.de
There is so much more that I could write about Düsseldorf , but it’s time for you to “do Düsseldorf ” on your own. Fortunately, it’s easy to get there. Air Berlin air offers non stop flights from JFK to Düsseldorf International Airport (DUS). If you are planning to go to other cities in Europe as well, the airport is designed for user-friendly transfers.
For more information about how you might do Düsseldorf” for your next vacation, a good place to start is at Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourism: http://www.duesseldorf-tourismus.de/en/home/.You can also Find the Düsseldorf Tourist Board on Facebook
*all photos and video by Alison Blackman (c) 2016