Dusseldorf

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Altstadt

The 'Altstadt' or old town, located between the Rhine and Heinrich-Heine-Allee, is the heart of Dusseldorf. This pedestrian zone is said to be the 'longest bar in the world' and most of the city's out- and indoor-events take place here, i.e. the Dusseldorfer Altstadtherbst, an end-of-summer festival.

The Altstadt attracts both tourists and locals thanks to its beautiful location on the banks of the Rhine. You can find food from all over the world, local and international drinks, trendy and traditional pubs, bars and 'Ballermann' (referring to the German pubs in Mallorca).

Pubs, haute cuisine, snack bars and shops are all packed into this part of the city. Take the U-Bahn or a taxi to Heinrich-Heine-Allee (finding a parking place costs nerves and plenty of money - and cars don't just get clamped, they get toed away!) and dive into the crowd. If the weather is nice, go for a stroll along the Rhine promenade, where you'll have a beautiful view of the houses of Oberkassel, across the river. You can join the sporty crowd by renting a pair of inline skates from the G@rden Internet café, or simply sit down on one of the benches and relax.

A few sights you shouldn't miss in the 'Altstadt' are the 'Schlossturm' tower at Burgplatz and the Stadterhebungsdenkmal, which documents the history of the city, and the statue of Jan-Wellem-Reiterdenkmal on horseback at the Rathausplatz. Touring and sightseeing boats leave for Kaiserswerth, Köln, Bonn and other places from the river promenade.

It's worth exploring around the Stadtmuseum up to the Bilker- and Hohe Straße, with beautiful cobbled streets lined with 18th-century patrician houses, exquisite antique shops, galleries, restaurants and pubs. At the end of the Bilker Straße you will find Bert Gerresheim's Heinrich Heine monument. Heine was a poet, best known for his lyrics to the famous Loreley song.

Hafen

Follow the promenade past the 234 metre-high Rheinturm telecom tower, and you'll find yourself at the harbour. This area has changed in appearance a few times over the last century. Many parts of the once active harbour were closed in 1976. Others were simply abandoned.

The Landtag brought new prestige to this area in 1988. About ten years of construction have made the harbour the most modern and trendy area of the city. In the early 1990s a tunnel was built to keep the traffic out of the city centre. The regional broadcaster WDR finished its light-blue building in 1991. In 1998 the Stadttor, a glass-column gate to the city, opened its doors. The unusual buildings directly at the shore, one white, one red, one silvery, were finished last year. The architect: is Frank O. Gehry, who also built the Guggenheim museum in Barcelona. The area is becoming a central location for media firms, broadcasters and production companies.

Many new bars and stylish restaurants have joined the so-called 'media-mile' and the first club, the mk-2, opened recently. In a few years time the opposite stretch of land will have been modernised.

Bilk

Bilk is the students' part of town. This is mainly due to its location directly between the town and the university campus, as well as the public transportation hub at Bilk S-Bahnhof. There are many little shops in this area, including a few second-hand bookshops.

Königsallee/Hofgarten

You can't leave Dusseldorf without having done some window-shopping along the Königsallee. It's one of the things people will ask you back at home: Did you see the 'Kö'? Every reputable designer label can be found here somewhere.

If you're interested in architecture you should have a look at the listed Thyssen-Haus, the slender, three-layered house next to the white, piano-shaped Theatermuseum. It's best viewed when strolling through the Hofgarten (just walk to the end of the Kö - direction of the Rhine - and then through the tunnel). If you walk on, you will see the Theatermuseum and the Jägerhof, which houses the Goethe-collection.

Oberkassel

Watching the sun go down behind the beautiful facade of Oberkassel is a favourite pass-time for many Dusseldorfers.

After sunset you can walk to the Oberkasseler Bridge, get into the tram, get out at the other side of the Rhine and walk along the banks - you may even come across a flock of sheep - or go window-shopping along the Luegallee.

Kaiserswerth

Kaiserswerth is a beautiful historic site, and wasn't actually part of Dusseldorf until 1929. It is reachable by tram or car, and functions as a recreation area for the city folk. Go for a walk by the ruins of the castle along the Rhine, have a break at one of the beer gardens or market cafés, or treat yourself to a three-star meal by Jean-Claude Bourgueil.

Benrath

Benrath - about 10 kilometres from the city centre - is home to a beautiful 18th century palace, complete with pond and gardens. Once the residence of Theodor zu Pfalz, it was designed by Nicolas de Pigage.

History of Dusseldorf

Dusseldorf's development from an insignificant farming settlement on the banks of the Dussel into a lively cosmopolitan metropolis bursting with culture, fashion, media, and shopping is an outstanding success story.

At the time when Roman civilisation was making itself felt through the rapid construction of roads and buildings, only a few Germanic tribes stubbornly clung on to their marshy territory on the other side of the Rhine, where the city was later to spring up. In the Frankish period of the 7th and 8th centuries, the odd farming or fishing settlement could be found at the point where the small river Dussel flows into the Rhine. The first written mention of the town ' Dusseldorp ' dates back to 1135. Under Kaiser Friedrich Barbarossa the little town of Kaiserswerth, lying at the northern edge of Dusseldorf, became a well fortified outpost of the Empire. From the Palace of Barbarossa, a heavily fortified castle built between 1174 and 1184, soldiers kept a watchful eye on every movement over the Rhine. Kaiserswerth was made into an official district of Dusseldorf in 1929.

August 14th, 1288 is an important date in the annals of Dusseldorf. On this day the sovereign, Count Adolf V von Berg, granted the village on the banks of the Dussel the right to call itself a city. Prior to that a bloody power struggle between the powerful Archbishop of Cologne and the Berg nobility had taken place, culminating in the battle of Worringen. Enemy forces wiped out the army of Cologne on 5 June 1288 and dashed the Archbishop's ambitions. The Stadterhebungsmonument (monument celebrating Dusseldorf's elevation to city status) on the Burgplatz serves as a reminder of this epic event.

A market square subsequently sprang up right on the banks of the Rhine over an area of land no larger than four hectares. This square was protected by city walls on each side. In 1380 Dusseldorf was named regional capital of the Duchy of Berg. Building works proceeded at a fast pace. The collegiate church of St. Lambertus dates back to this period of rapid expansion. The pace of development accelerated further when Duke Wilhelm consolidated the status of the youthful capital (which then presided over the Duchies of Julich, Kleve and Berg as well as the Earldoms of Mark and Ravensburg) by building an imposing castle in the 16th century. The excellently preserved town hall was built in 1573 in the style of the Lower Rhine Renaissance.

Dusseldorf's growth was rampant under the new Pfalz-Neuburger Regent. Elector Johann Wilhelm II ' affectionately known to his people as Jan Wellem ' was particularly notable for his services to the city. This old rake and art lover married a Medici daughter and designed a vast gallery with an astonishing selection of paintings and sculptures, even by contemporary standards (including works by Rubens and Rembrandt). This gallery is housed in the Stadtschloss. Jan Wellem also did much for the growth of Dusseldorf's trade and infrastructure.

After the death of the childless Jan Wellem, however, the hitherto flourishing royal capital saw a reversal of its fortunes. Under his successors, who tended to avoid living in the city itself ' Elector Carl Theodor (1742-1799) eventually decided to move his court to Munich for good ' Dusseldorf lost its former dynamism. The Seven-Year War and the Napoleonic Wars (during which the city was occupied and the fort razed to the ground) sowed destruction and poverty. Even Prussia's acquisition of Dusseldorf at the Vienna Congress of 1815 failed to arrest the decline. Nevertheless, Dusseldorf's decay into a provincial backwater was in some ways a blessing in disguise. The razing of the fort had endowed the city with a large amount of unused space. The architect Maximilian Weyhe designed the expansive Hofgarten, a splendid landscaped garden in English style. He also designed the adjacent Königsallee, a magnificent boulevard which runs parallel to the river Dussel. In the early 19th century, at the Kunstakademie, Wilhelm von Schadow presided over the development of the Dusseldorf School, whose paintings soon gained a worldwide reputation. Eminent figures like Goethe and Diderot frequented the Malkasten, which was the seat of this group of artists.

By the mid-19th century the Industrial Revolution had left an indelible mark on the city's infrastructure and propelled its population statistics to new records: in 1882 Dusseldorf had over 100,000 inhabitants, and this figure doubled by 1892. Dusseldorf was becoming a large modern city. Two bridges ' the Hammer and the Oberkasseler Brucke - were key in furthering the city's growth on the left bank of the Rhine. The Grunderjahre (founder years) brought a new dynamism and sense of excitement as the city developed into an industrial and administrative metropolis.

However, the First World War and the Great Depression provided a sobering check to this new-found optimism. The Nazi period plunged Dusseldorf into a catastrophe. During World War 2 the city was transformed into a heap of rubble. Round-the-clock air attacks and a seven week-long bombardment in the spring of 1945 destroyed about half of the residential and industrial areas, claiming many civilian casualties in the process. 370,000 civilians were left in this desert of ruins by the end of the War (as compared with 540,000 in 1939). The Jewish community was decimated through deportation and murder (only 249 survived out of a pre-War population of 5,100). The Mahn- und Gedenkstätte fur die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus (Memorial to the Victims of National Socialism), located on Muhlenstraße, provides a grizzly account of the darkest chapter in Dusseldorf's history.

The British occupation of the Rhineland and Westfalia turned out to be a piece of good luck for the city. In 1946 the British named Dusseldorf capital of the newly created county of Nordrhein-Westfalia. The city's reconstruction proceeded at breakneck pace. The economic miracle transformed Dusseldorf into a metropolis of trade, administration and service industries, thereby giving it a new lease of life which nobody could have dreamed of in 1945. New buildings spring up everywhere, and international companies set up their businesses here. The ongoing success of the Messe (trade fair) and the continuing attraction of Dusseldorf to international companies makes for a high standard of living and a cosmopolitan feel. Although Dusseldorf's population of 570,000 (another 200,000 live in the commuter belt) certainly does not make it a metropolis of the size of, say, Hamburg or Munich, the range of possibilities in terms of culture, shopping, dining and nightlife can match anything offered by bigger cities, without the accompanying drawbacks. Come and see for yourself!

 

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