The Delights of Dusseldorf, Germany

Karen Bowerman offers suggestions on what to see in a city which has a little of everything

Karen Bowerman offers suggestions on what to see in a city which has a little of everything

Dusseldorf is the capital of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and just over an hour’s flight from London’s Stansted airport. The city’s famous for its alt beer but it also has a historic city centre, a commercial district known for its unusual architecture, picturesque squares and countless cafes. Karen Bowerman offers her pick of what to see in a city which has a little of everything.

Dusseldorf’s squares


Dusseldorf has several pretty squares. For history, head to Marktplatz in Altstadt (the old town). Marktplatz was the original heart of the city and incorporates the historic Rathaus (city hall), cafes and the bronze “man on the horse” statue.

He’s actually Jan Wellem (1658-1716) a former elector and according to the inscription a “highly meritorious prince - that’s what the city’s 18th century citizens thought of him anyway. My guide described the statue as the most beautiful equestrian monument north of the Alps.

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For a square with a view you can’t beat Burgplatz, once the site of the castle of the count of Berg. Today all that remains is the tower of a later baroque palace. The square overlooks the Rhine and is popular with locals for its views of the river.

Somewhere to stroll

You can’t beat the Rhine Embankment: look out for the curvy lines embedded in the pavement – added, my guide informed me, to “reflect the river.” If you manage to dodge the roller bladers, cyclists and mothers with buggies, it’s a pleasant, breezy stroll with views of the city’s famous media harbour (see below).

How about an interactive monument?

At Burgplatz you’ll find the monument that commemorates Dusseldorf being awarded its town charter after the Battle of Worringen in the 13th century. The small pedestrian footbridge next to it runs over the river Dussel – the only point you can see the river which gave the city its name.

If you stand at a spot (marked) on the pavement you’ll see the date of the battle, 1288, in the twists and curves of sculptured weapons. The grotesque skull and the contorted faces of the poor horses are particularly gruesome.

The monument also traces Dusseldorf’s 700 year history and has the city’s emblem (a rose, a lion and anchor) above a sculptured certificate which represents the town being granted its charter.

Fancy cartwheeling?

If you’re a fan of cartwheeling, then Dusseldorf is the place to do it! The custom apparently originated here, as children threw themselves head over heels to mark victory after the battle of Worringen. Look out for the statue under the plane trees in Burgplatz.

Best city anecdote

If you’re interested in anecdotes the most amusing one centres round the renaming of a street in 1851. Konigsallee (King’s Avenue – more on this later) used to be called “Kastanienallee” but then there was this legendary “horse manure attack” on the Prussian King, Friedrick Wilhelm IV as he arrived on a visit in 1848 (the year of the German revolution).

City fathers were so ashamed at what had happened that they renamed a street to try to win back royal favours.

Alas, neither the guide nor the city’s tourist board can explain what prompted the attack. Do any readers know?!


Avant-garde architecture

If you’re looking for contemporary and avant-garde architecture you’ll find it at the MedienHafen (media harbour) where you’ll come across the twisting, silvery towers by renowned architect Frank O Gehry.

The media harbour is also home to the 172m Rhine Tower with its revolving restaurant, the Landtag (state parliament) of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Stadttor (city gate) – a 70m high square arch which has won a design award for best office building in Europe.

But the area’s best known for its 700 odd media companies plus those which specialise in design, advertising, telecoms and the internet. Nearly 80% of Dusseldorf’s main businesses are based here – not bad for an area which even the tourist office once described as “drab”.

Maritime heritage

Despite the regeneration, there are still hints of the harbour’s heritage. The walls of the quay, cast-iron bollards, wrought iron railings and old cranes have all been kept and are now listed. Yes, even the cranes.

Shop 'til you drop

The most well-known shopping street in Dusseldorf is Konigsallee, affectionately called the “K�” by residents. Lined with almost 120 chestnut trees and divided by what was once the city’s moat, the western side is home to banks and hotels, the east to designer labels.

Try the city’s tipple

Dusseldorf’s famous for Altbier, or Alta, brewed from a several different kinds of barley and hops, making it various shades of brown depending on the amount of malt.

It’s called Alt because it’s brewed using top-fermenting yeast, capable of converting malt sugar into alcohol at warm temperatures (up to 20 degrees) – the only method available before refrigeration. All this and more is explained in a tour of Zum Schlussel, the local brewery.

Best tip if you’re not a fan of Alt

If, unlike Aleida Guevara (the daughter of the legendary Cuban revolutionary leader, Che) you’re not a fan of the drink but have managed to discretely dispense your beer elsewhere, cover your empty glass with a bar mat! Do it quickly or the waiter will automatically pour you another!

Best place for coffee and cakes

If you want to indulge, head to the Schlossturm (Castle Tower) home to the SchifffahrtMuseum (shipping museum) near Burgplatz which traces 2000 years of navigation on the Rhine.

The tower is ignored by tourists because they think it’s only a museum, but it’s a museum with a fantastic caf�. Take the lift to the top floor and enjoy panoramic views of the city. The slices of cake are extremely generous (I recommend the cheesecake, although the apple tart was also good) and the cappuccinos are delightfully frothy.

Looking for bars, nightlife and eateries?

If you fancy partying head to the Altstadt (old town) that manages to pack 260 bars into an area that’s not even half a kilometre square.

Commonly referred to as the “the longest bar in the world” it’s bursting with traditional pubs, inns, cocktail and wine bars.

There’s also plenty to eat: with cuisine ranging from local to Lebanese. If you fancy local specialities, Zum Schluessel (the local alt brewery) offers generously-sized, tasty dishes: try beef, marinated in vinegar and herbs (Rheinischer Sauerbraten) or pork cutlet with fried potatoes, fried egg and salad (Schlussel-Krustchen).

If you’re set on dancing the night away, head to the ”Ko” or the ultra modern media harbour.

Dusseldorf’s foolish season

Dusseldorf’s famous carnival, which goes on for months (kind of) embodies the town’s joie de vivre. The so-called “foolish season” or 5th season kicks off at 11.11am on 11th of November, when the traditional Hoppeditz (jester) awakes.

But partying begins in earnest in February, finishing on Ash Wednesday. It’s a time when residents take to the streets and visitors surge to the city for nonstop revelry.

Never knew there was so much in Dusseldorf? Neither did I!

Dusseldorf Tourist board.

Local Brewery, brewing alt beer in the old town: Zum Schluessel

Martime museum;