FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Düsseldorf: Discover Düsseldorf

Jul 1, 2005
2005 / June-July 2005

The atmosphere was tranquil on this cool and crisp afternoon in Düsseldorf. Swans floated lazily under grand chestnut trees shading the wide canal that cut through the brick-lined avenue. I strolled around the corner from my hotel to one of the most famous shopping boulevards in the world, the 200-year-old Königsallee, dubbed the “Kö” by the locals.

The eastern side of the Kö is lined with one designer shop after another, housed in quaint storefronts sporting distinctive window dressings. In one shop window, mannequins were dressed in shopping bags. Another featured just black and yellow items. Wider entryways lead to multilevel indoor malls, where vendors sell clothing, jewelry, leather goods and antiques.

After browsing long enough to price the opulent merchandise, I crossed a cast-iron bridge to the other side of the canal, where I discovered a completely different landscape. Here the mid-rise brownstone buildings house mostly offices and banks. I was fascinated by the 100-year-old Deutsche Bank, lined on two sides, as you would expect, by teller windows. The rest of the interior, though, resembles a hotel lobby complete with couches and benches, paintings on the walls and a coffee bar, where I enjoyed a cup while watching Düsseldorfers go about their daily business.

I exited the bank through doors on its west side leading to Altstadt, or Old Town, which was almost destroyed by bombing during World War II. Today, Düsseldorf’s oldest quarter is a wonderful maze of vintage stone buildings, narrow alleys, towering church spires and historical monuments. Boutiques, restaurants and pubs occupy most storefronts, while museums pay homage to the works of such noted Germans as 18th century writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and 20th century painter Paul Klee.

It’s no secret that Germans enjoy a good beer. In fact, a friendly rivalry exists between the cities of Cologne and Düsseldorf. The question: who brews the best? Is it Düsseldorf’s Alt or Cologne’s Kolsch? It’s tough to decide — especially given that these are just two of the more than 5,000 different types of beer produced in Germany.

One evening, my friends and I managed to squeeze our way into a crowded tavern. Waiters rushed around, arms overhead, bearing trays of sloshing steins. As they slapped the beers onto the table, they ticked a card with a black marker, keeping count of our tab. Patrons came in all shapes and sizes. Gray-haired couples in sturdy pants and walking boots raised their glasses next to long-legged fraüleins decked out in fishnet stockings and impossibly high heels while young men — cool and blasé — lounged against the wall, taking in the scene.

Two or three days is not enough to see all of Düsseldorf’s highlights. We had to choose from among the Navigational Museum in the Old Tower, Barbarossa’s 12th century castle ruins and the 18th century landmark Benrath Castle. We chose Benrath Castle.

Overlooking the Rhine River, the castle is situated on 156 acres of extravagant landscape adorned with ornamental shrubs, spouting fountains and English gardens. The baroque-style castle has sprawling wings and a grand center topped by a towering dome, and features parquet floors, polished paneled walls and a beautifully carved stucco ceiling. Period furniture, old-world paintings and ornate mirrors decorate the magnificent main hall. The east wing houses the Museum of European Garden Art and the west wing contains a natural history museum.

Our plans that afternoon included touring Düsseldorf’s newest enterprise, the Media Mile. Once the site of dilapidated harborside warehouses, it was redeveloped by foreign and local investors and now is home to an assortment of communications firms, fashion designers and advertising agencies, among others. We walked along the river’s promenade past a group of oddly shaped steel high-rises sparkling in the sun. Designed by Frank O. Gehry, the award-winning Canadian-born architect who built the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the buildings seemed to tilt and sway in the light.

As we made our way around the city’s distinctive districts, it became obvious that life is good in Düsseldorf. The streets are clean and spacious, not congested. There is plenty of open green space, and the river bustles with the activity of barges and sightseeing charters. Promenades and plazas throughout the city overflow with visitors perusing dozens upon dozens of outdoor booths brimming with crafts and souvenirs.

I wandered alone on my final day in Düsseldorf. Taking a solitary stroll along the Königsallee, I found myself drawn again to Deutsche Bank. It occurred to me the bank is like a microcosm of the city and its people, their culture and spirit. It’s a place where Düsseldorfers go about their daily business, bank statement in one hand and a cup of steaming coffee in the other.

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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