03 August 2013

Descending on Düsseldorf

Our last leg of our German vacation spent in Düsseldorf was quite the adventure. We left Cologne and headed north to Düsseldorf on Wednesday, feeling like we had just about maxed out our options in Cologne's city centre. The Deutchbahn ride is short, just about a half hour. The main train station in Düsseldorf is a little ways from the city centre, but our hotel was conveniently situated close to the train station. This was a great place for us to stay - away from the hustle of town but close to the train station when it came time to drag our luggage in and out. After checking in, we made our way through the town. 

The greater portion of our time in the citywas spent learning the history. Right on our first day, we took advantage of a great 90-minute guided walking tour of the historic "Old Town" neighborhood (in both German and English) offered by the Tourist Office in Düsseldorf for just 
10 per adult. The city is celebrating the 725th anniversary of its incorporation, so there's a lot of history. Our guide was fantastic - not only was he clearly personally interested in the history of the city and neighborhood  (being a native of Düsseldorf), he came prepared with images of artwork to help make the stories more interesting and feel more accessible. 

Düsseldorf's City Hall, built in the late 1500s

Düsseldorf's oldest building - the first stone structure built in 1288

For instance, our guide took us to the Saint Lambertus Basilica which can be seen from many parts of the city and the Rhine River and is noted for its twisted spire. Our guide shared with use that a fire destroyed the original spire a new one was built in 1815, but the wood was wet. Because of the winds blowing off the river, the roof became twisted. The spire was again destroyed when the city was bombed during the Second World War. When it came time to rebuild, the new tower was purposely built "twisted" since it had given the church even more "landmark" status and the people liked the way it looked.

Saint Lambertus Basilica - view from the Rhine River

Baptismal font - the base is from the 15th century, the cover
is from the 17th century.

One of the best stories in Düsseldorf's lore is the history of how the cartwheel (the gymnastic-flippy cartwheel) became an important symbol of the city. According to legend, upon seeing their fathers returning triumphantly from the Battle of Worringen in 1288 (one of the largest battles in medieval Europe) the young boys started turning flips in celebration. This became part of the city's identity, and today children's cartwheeling tournaments are held annually and the cartwheeler is seen around town in different forms. We even found some official looking cartwheeling tracks and tried our hands (and feet) at it.

Look, Mom! Those early years of gymnastics lessons paid off!
And for the record, I did manage to get my feet (mostly) over my head.

Little Man also gave a cartwheel a try.

We also took advantage of a chance to explore Kaiserswerth, a northern district of Düsseldorf. In about the year 700, Saint Suitbertus formed a Benedictine abbey. The abbey has been gone for some time, but some sort of chapel or church has stood on the spot ever since. Saint Suitbert's remains were discovered in the 1600s and have been on display at the Saint Suitbertus Basilica as holy relics. 

Saint Suitbertus Basilica

View of the organ in Saint Suitbertus Basilica. Befor WWII, the ceiling was
lavishly decorated with a large fresco. Repairs after the war left a simple
(though still beautiful) ceiling.

The other "big thing" to see in Kaiserswerth is check out and climb around Kaiserpfalz, castle ruins left from the Holy Roman Empire. A castle has been on the spot since the 10th century. Shortly after its initial completion, the Archbishop of Cologne kidnapped the underage Emperor Heinrich IV from the castle and essentially stole the regency of the empire. I don't know how that story eventually played out, but the castle continued to stand and Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa enlarged it at the end of the 12th century. Normally, you can climb in and around the castle (special projects in the 1970s and 1990s made it safe for tourists to do so), but unfortunately, the television station RTL12 was filming on the site and had the entire castle blocked off for the day. We did manage to take some decent pictures without their junk in the way, though.

View of the castle from the Rhine River

North end of the castle

Underside of a bridge. Based on some maps we saw, we think
the moat ran under here.

To make it to and back from Kaiserswerth we purchased round-trip tickets from Weisse Flotte, which gives you a ride up and down the Rhine River and as many drinks as you can gulp down in the hour's journey. It's a pleasant ride and it's impressive to watch the massive shipping boats move up and down the Rhine. At 
18 per adult it's more expensive than taking the train, but you get a nice, relaxing ride... and did I mention all you can drink in the hour?

The ship coming to dock.

On a boat!

Our last day in Düsseldorf was HOT (36C/96.8F), so we did our best to do most of our walking around in the morning before the heat became merciless. We started the morning at Medienhafen, one of the old harbors in the city that now has several architecturally interesting buildings. Most of the buildings in the area are designed by world famous architects, but there are also a few old buildings still standing in between and well preserved. The most eye catching building is the "Flossis" building, which looks like several large colorful people are climbing up the building's face.

The Medienhafen has fantastic architecture in the old harbor.

Notice the old still tucked in among the new

Flossis up close

We then walked over to the Rheinturm, a 240.5 meter tower that has amazing views of the Rhine, Düsseldorf, and the outlying areas from the observation deck. There are so few opportunities to get arial views of many old European cities, that the trip up the tower is well worth it. 

The Rheinturm, view from the Medienhafen.

View of Düsseldorf from the Rheinturm

Our final stop in the city was the K20. The K20 and K21 are sister contemporary art museums, but we made the visit just to the K20 so we didn't burn out Little Man's patience for looking at cool things you can't touch. We didn't know much about the K20 going in, but we were pleasantly surprised by what it offers. The museum has several pieces by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollack, Andy Wharhol, Francis Bacon, and Roy Lichtenstein, among many others. It's an impressive collection, especially when you aren't expecting to see so many great artists' work.

Of our trip, we'd recommend Bonn, Cologne, and Düsseldorf, especially because their proximity to each other make travel easy. From what we saw, we enjoyed Düsseldorf the best, especially because locals and tourists seem to hang out in many of the same places; but Cologne and Bonn are great places to visit and have plenty of great sights, even with higher tourist traffic.

We made our way back to Tilburg today, and managed to get home with enough time to do the food shopping, clear a few spider webs, and pet some attention-starved cats. Vacation was great, but we're willing to get back in the routine for a while and enjoy the little bit of summer that's left - though I'll take some cooler temps to finish out the season.

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