In the capital of North-Rhine Westphalia, Lucy Fitzgeorge-Parker finds a world of art and culture among the alleys of the Old Town and the futuristic curves of the Media Harbour, showcasing work by some of the world’s leading architects
Start your tour in “Castle Square”, a pretty, pedestrianised area on the banks of the Rhine. The castle itself burnt down in the late 19th century but one round tower, painted in shades of cream and brown, has survived. It now houses a shipping museum and a café with excellent views of the river. At the north-east corner of the square, peer over a low wall at the narrow waters of the Dussel, the stream that gives the city its name (dorf means village). Next to it sits an intricate bronze statue, erected in 1988 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the city’s foundation. Local sculptor Bert Gerresheim graphically depicts the horrors of the medieval Battle of Worringen, where the city won its charter, while overlapping maps trace Dusseldorf’s expansion and a wicker basket holds examples of the local produce – mussels, fish, beer and flowers.
Head past the old Prussian courthouse on MÃ¼hlenstrasse to Grabbeplatz, where an elegantly curved building of polished grey stone houses the 20th-century art collection of North-Rhine Westphalia. At the heart of the collection are more than 90 works by the abstract artist Paul Klee, who was a professor at the Dusseldorf Academy until removed in the Nazi purges of 1933. After the war, the federal state made belated amends by buying these examples of Klee’s work from an American source, and they now form the nucleus of an impressive modern art collection. Other artists represented include Kandinsky, Magritte, Modigliani, Chagall, Picasso and Warhol, as well as local hero Joseph Beuys. Open Tues-Fri 1000-1800, Sat-Sun 1100-1800. Admission E6.50. Visit kunstammlung.de for more details.
3. ‘Mother’ Ey
Across the square from K20 stands the civic art centre, whose bland concrete bulk is relieved on the right-hand side by a small stovepipe, controversially stuck on by Beuys as part of an exhibition on the colour black. Another local insitution which courts controversy is the Kom(m)ödchen, a tiny theatre at the south-west corner of the building famous throughout Germany for its political cabarets. On the west side of the next block to the south, look up to see a portrait of one of Dusseldorf’s favourite women, Johanna Ey. A matronly figure in round glasses, she ran a bakery in the city in the early 20th century and fed the local art students in return for paintings. Eventually “Mother” Ey closed the bakery and opened a gallery, but she lost everything when the Nazis banned works by “degenerate” artists and died in poverty in the 1940s.
Wander past the bars and clubs of Bolkerstrasse to Marktplatz, site of the Christmas market, and carry on down Zollstrasse to the river. Directly ahead, a small tower with three clock faces shows the time on two and the river’s depth in metres on the third. Here, along the banks of the Rhine, is possibly the perfect place to relax in Dusseldorf, weather permitting. Until 20 years ago, a main road ran along the embankment but now the traffic roars through a tunnel, leaving the overground level to hordes of pedestrians, cyclists and rollerbladers. Sip a cappuccino at one of the many café along the water’s edge and admire the elegant town houses and art deco villas of exclusive Oberkassel on the opposite bank. (If you were wondering, the sheep under the bridge are there to keep the grass down.)
At the end of the promenade, carry on south towards Dusseldorf’s tallest building, a 240-metre radio tower which soars above the city harbour. Three levels of the tower are accessible via an express lift: an open platform at 164 metres, a café and viewing area at 168 metres and a revolving restaurant at 172 metres. The café is probably the most comfortable for a brief visit, but fabulous views of the city and surrounding countryside are available at any level. Directly to the north of the tower, look down on the geometric complexities of the new parliament building of North-Rhine Westphalia. To the south, admire the creative architecture of the Mediahafen (see below) and the sinuous curves of the river – on a clear day, look out for the gothic spire of Cologne cathedral away to the south-east. Before leaving, glance at the diagram by the lift which explains the complex workings of the vast digital clock embedded in the tower’s side, which spells out the time in red and yellow lights. Open Mon-Fri 1100-2330, Sat-Sun 1000-2330. Admission €2.70.
Just to the south of the Rheinturm, the glamorous new “Media Harbour” showcases work by some of the world’s leading architects. These slinky offices house a glitzy array of advertising and fashion firms, as well as some of the city’s trendiest bars and restaurants. Most prominent are the Frank Gehry buildings, a trio of interlocking blocks in red, white and rippling silver with the architect’s trademark protruding windows, set back from the water’s edge. The major part of the development is clustered around the old harbour and includes Brit architect Will Alsop’s Colorium Tower – a cubist extravaganza with a model of an old crane on top – and an elegant bridge where Dusseldorfers picnic in summer. Look out for the “Flossies”, a flock of rubber-flex figures in primary colours with huge hands and feet which swarm up the sides of an office block at the far end of the bridge.
7. Uerige Brauerei
Head back into the Altstadt for a well-deserved bevvy and a bite to eat. Dusseldorf is famous for its alt (old) beer, made in accordance with a Purity Law dating back to 1516, and no trip to the city would be complete without a visit to one of its traditional breweries. The most famous, the Uerige, has a national reputation and is one of the most popular local meeting places. Stand at one of the tables outside with a horde of friendly natives and grab a glass of the bitter brew from one of the bustling, blue-shirted waiters, or take a tour of the interior and marvel at the way in which a brewing operation that turns out 2.5 million litres of beer a year is squeezed into a couple of town houses. Open Sun-Thurs 1000-0000, Fri-Sat 1000-0100. Tours €31.50, including two beers and a pork-knuckle lunch. Tel +49 211 866 990, uerige.de.