Along the Rhine in Düsseldorf

In retrospect, visiting Düsseldorf in temperatures of 38ºC was a mistake. It was way too hot to enjoy a stroll along the shadeless banks of the River Rhine, especially when the water levels were shockingly low. Only a few weeks earlier Hunger Stones, erected to memorialise historic famines caused by drought, had been revealed by low water levels. The rest of the city wasn’t any cooler.

Düsseldorf is one of the wealthiest cities in Germany. The luxury cars racing up and down Königsallee, a street lined with pricey boutiques, are just one way for locals to flaunt that wealth. Which contrasted starkly with the stag and hen parties getting sloshed alongside football fans in the early afternoon in the Altstadt. It felt like a British seaside resort had been transplanted into major German centre of finance and industry.

River Rhine, Dusseldorf, Germany
Tonhalle, Dusseldorf, Germany
Altstadt, Dusseldorf, Germany
Church of St. Lambertus, Dusseldorf, Germany
Kunstsammlung, Dusseldorf, Germany
Altstadt, Dusseldorf, Germany

Talk to someone from arch rival Cologne, and you’ll hear that Düsseldorf has a reputation for being boring and straight laced. The capital of North Rhine–Westphalia has gone through a huge transformation in recent years though. Friends who live here talk about world class museums and galleries, fantastic restaurants and, as the Düsseldorf Hafen redevelopment shows, they can also attract world class architects.

Named after the River Düssel where it joins the Rhine, the first record of the town dates from the mid-12th century. It was probably a fishing village then, but it would go on to become a strategically important town on one of Europe’s great navigable rivers. Its harbour grew as more and more trade flowed through the town, and in the 19th century it boomed off the back of its iron and steel industries.

The harbour, railway and heavy industry producing war materials made Düsseldorf a big target for Allied bombing in the Second World War. The city was devastated by massed raids of up to seven hundred planes at a time. Few buildings were left undamaged and the rapid reconstruction that followed wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as it might have been. Still, it quickly emerged as a post-war powerhouse.

Düsseldorf was just one of a string of industrial towns across this region that became a byword for the German economic miracle of the 1950s. It has left a lasting imprint on the town. We set off on foot from close to the pleasant Ständehaus Park, where the Kunstsammlung museum looks out over a lake. Soon we found ourselves at the river close to the town’s best known site, the Rheinturm.

The tallest building in Düsseldorf stands 240 meters high and can be seen from pretty much everywhere. It is a legacy of a time in history when revolving restaurants were the absolute coolest thing. From here we wandered along the Rheinuferpromenade, watching boats on the river and heading into the Old Town. Along the riverfront are a string of bars that, despite the heat, were packed with drinkers.

An indication of just how effective all that Allied bombing was, Düsseldorf’s Altstadt is pretty small and there are only a few of the original buildings left. What it lacks in historic architecture is made up for in a wild energy that flows out of the more that 300 bars and nightclubs that are packed into this small area. It was only mid-afternoon and the atmosphere was already pretty ‘spicy’.

Kö-Bogen, Dusseldorf, Germany
Altstadt, Dusseldorf, Germany
Rheinturm, Dusseldorf, Germany
Football fans, Altstadt, Dusseldorf, Germany
River Rhine, Dusseldorf, Germany
Altstadt, Dusseldorf, Germany

All those bars serve the local brew, a reddish beer called Altbier. There are a number of microbreweries making it in Düsseldorf. We wandered through the Marktplatz, which has some of the most attractive buildings in the Old Town, and then to the Burgplatz, where the extraordinarily named, Stadterhebungsmonument, is found. Just behind is the Church of St. Lambertus with its famed twisted tower.

We made our way to the Tonhalle concert venue and then wandered back through a peaceful and shady city park, the Hofgarten. One end of the park connects with Königsallee. It seemed improbable that, walking down this high-end luxury shopping street, only a few minutes walk away low-rent drinking dens in the Altstadt were doing a roaring trade.

7 thoughts on “Along the Rhine in Düsseldorf

  1. Don’t quote me, but I was told it’s the largest Japanese community outside Japan.

  2. I now know more about Dussedorf than I did, which is ironic considering I went there several times a year for work back in the mid-2000s. Then again, the office was 3 stops from the airport on the local train line, and the hotel we all used was also there, right at the very end of one of the tramlines. I think I only ever got to go into town a couple of times. I missed out.

    1. It’s also got historic ties with Japan, apparently there’s a sizeable Japanese community, Japanese art and culture institutions and, according to my contacts, the ‘best Japanese food outside of Japan’. For the latter alone, I think another trip is in order.

      1. That’s one of the few things I do know. I did actually find some of the Japanese restaurants.

        1. I had no idea, really interesting though. I’ll definitely visit the Japanese gardens and cultural centre next time.

  3. That is a very strange church steeple. I haven’t seen one like that before.

    1. There are several folk tales associated with it. At least one involves an un-virtuous woman who was married in the church. Forcing the tower to twist.

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