Its name may translate as the 'village on the Dussel' but these days it's hard to imagine Düsseldorf as anything other than a sprawling modern metropolis; it blends almost imperceptibly with nearby Duisberg and Dortmund and is just a stone's throw from magnificent Cologne to the south. Düsseldorf has almost 600,000 inhabitants but merits just three pages or so in my massive Rough Guide to Germany. So is Düsseldorf worth a visit, or is it merely a soulless hub for commerce in northern Germany?
Admittedly the Altstadt, or Old Town, is quite small, especially in comparison with the rest of the city; however there are a few interesting older buildings, some of which have been rebuilt exactly as they had been before the war, or before fire damaged them. From the commentary on a river cruise we enjoyed on the Rhine, we learned that until the mid-1990s a four lane highway separated the city from the river but a tunnel now carries the traffic and a lovely wide boulevard occupies the ground above the tunnel. There are a few bars and restaurants clustered in a group on the promenade but many people prefer to just to sit on a bench, or even on the steps in front of the old castle tower, now a museum covering the history of navigation on the Rhine, to enjoy a beer they've brought with them.
Düsseldorf is, for the main part, a very walkable city; you can walk from the Altstadt to the Medien-Hafen (Media Harbour) in fifteen to twenty minutes, or from the Altstadt to glitzy Königsallee with its luxury stores in less than ten, with the main museum quarter and the excellent Karlsplatz market situated midway between the two. Messe, the centre where international trade fairs are held, is a short journey outside of the city centre but is still easy to reach on public transport. Our hotel was situated ten minutes from the Altstadt by tram and we found the system easy to use with frequent services.
Anyone who has ever been to Düsseldorf will tell you about the bar scene/nightlife. The Altstadt is often referred to as the 'longest bar in the world' because there are so many pubs and bars: the majority are on Bolkerstrasse but there are lots on the streets that run parallel and on the little lanes that connect them. In Düsseldorf you drink on the street at high wooden tables; the waiters come outside with the drinks but there's no need to order - there's only one beer drunk round here - Altbier. Translated simply as 'old beer', Altbier is made according to brewing rules regarding purity which date back to the 16th century.
Bearing in mind that there are so many bars and that the whole Altbier experience is so compelling, you should reckon on halving the amount of time you think you have at your disposal for sightseeing. Düsseldorf's main airport (another one at Weeze is used mainly by budget airlines but is a considerable drive from the city) is only a few minutes from the city centre and is the third largest in Germany. The tourism people in Düsseldorf make a big thing of the proximity of the airport and, in particular, how it's a viable option to get into the city centre even if you only have a couple of hours when changing planes there. There are open top hop on/hop off tour buses which could give you a quick overview of the city, alternatively you could do what we did on Sunday morning when very little else is open, and take an hour long cruise on the Rhine; this took us from the old town down to the Medien-Hafen, back past the Altstadt and as far as Düsseldorf Messe. There was a minmal amount of commentary but what there was I found interesting, and at Euro7.50 it was not excessively priced.
Düsseldorf is the capital of the Nord Rhine Westphalia state of Germany and has all the culture and entertainment you'd expect of it. Had the weather not been so good we might well have stopped at a couple of the museums (the Film Museum and the Hetjens Museum which is the only museum in the whole of Germany devoted to ceramics appealed in particular nd there are many, many galleries and art spaces) but it was a perfect day for walking so we set off on foot to the Medien-Hafen by way of the Rheinturm, the 204.5 metre high television tower which overlooks the Rhine and the magnificent Zollhof Arts and Media complex blocks designed by Frank O. Gehry.
Back with our feet planted firmly on the ground we toured the Medien-Hafen by foot. The area was regenerated back in the 1990s and some of the world's greatest modern architects have contributed to this impressive collection of buildings.
The "Mustard Museum" may be described as a museum but it's really just a small exhibition at the rear of the Löwensenf Mustard shop on Berger Strasse; the exhibition consists of a few examples of the machinery used in the production of mustard by the company over the decades, numerous old photographs of staff working in the family run business and a wonderful collection of old ceramic mustard pots including some made for export to the United States in the early twentieth century.
The wide tree-lined Königsallee (also known informally as the 'Kö') Düsseldorf's most upmarket shopping area but is a nice place to enjoy a stroll because between its two lanes of traffic, there's a peaceful park with a canal running through it. Look out on Königsallee for the 'Radschläger' or cartwheelers; this Düsseldorf tradition dates back to the thirteenth century when children are said to have turned wheels of joy on the Burgplatz when Düsseldorf was granted its city rights.
Another good place to shop is the Karlsplatz market which sells mainly fresh produce: many of the stall holders will let you taste cheeses or cured meats. There are also a couple of excellent hot food stalls: one sells delicious (and very spicy) falafels which make a filling and cheap lunch. The streets running between the market and Königsallee teem with one off boutiques, jewellery stores and designer homewares shops.
The city's eating places reflect the wealth of the city and the diversity of its inhabitants. Within just a few streets in the Altsadt there are several Spanish restaurants, a couple of Lebanese restaurants, plenty of Italian places, a Greek restaurant and loads of places serving traditionally German food. Almost every restaurant has some outdoor seating.
One thing I really liked about Düsseldorf is that in terms of nightlife there's no great segregation between old and young (of course the night clubs will be different); as far as the bars go, Bolkerstrasse included, the age range of drinkers is wide and the behaviour is on the whole pretty good. There are groups of stags and hens, or young birthday groups, but there's virtually none of the nuisance behaviour you'd get if everyone in a British town was out drinking on the streets. Teenagers tend to gather on the steps on the river front but even there the behaviour is restrained, in spite of many bottles of beer being enjoyed each night; we saw groups jumping off the tram with crates of beer to take down to the river and nobody bats an eye.
I flew with Lufthansa from Newcastle which I guess may be one reason you don't get hordes of daft Geordies on stag weekends in this city; it's simply not a cheap option. Although there are a few cheaper hotels there's only one hostel anywhere near the centre and most hotels are geared towards business travellers. I was pleasantly surprised by Düsseldorf: I found plenty to do and could easily have stayed longer. It's a very attractive and easy-going city and although its old town may be small, its scenic Rhine promenade makes up for the lack of "olde worlde" charm that other German cities enjoy.
Would I go back? Probably not, there are so many other places to see and it's not that cheap. But I certainly recommend that you go.