I have prepared a walk through the city to show old and new friends some parts of Dusseldorf in a day. We will meet in front of Apollo theatre and stroll along the Rhine southwards to the MediaHarbor. The Rhine embankment promenade links the Old Town (Altstadt) to the modern MedienHafen. It is a place to relax and watch the Rhine ships passing by.
When Düsseldorf’s old Rhine harbor was restructured, the concept was not to rehabilitate a large surface, but to treat each plot of land individually, adapting it to its future user. Instead of forcing the area into one uniform architectural corset, international star architects such as Frank O. Gehry, David Chipperfield, Joe Coenen, Steven Holl and Claude Vasconi were given the opportunity of making their creative contribution to the overall picture. Listed storage houses were fitted with state-of-the-art technology and creative interiors, old rooms today shine in new splendor.
In spite of all the innovations, the harbor atmosphere is tangible everywhere. The former industrial harbor owes its name ‘MedienHafen’ (media harbor) to the dense concentration of broadcasting corporations. Apart from different TV and radio stations, renowned advertising and TV agencies, digital media designers and design agencies have their headquarters in the harbor.
Der Neue Zollhof (The New Zollhof) by Frank O. Gehry (USA) consists of three contrasting building complexes and appears like a gigantic sculpture. The different materials chosen give each complex its own identity. The outer material of the central building reflects the buildings on its northern and southern side, thus creating a link between the three. The Gehry buildings are considered Düsseldorf’s new landmark.
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After visiting the new harbor we will turn north and walk along the Rhine embankment promenade. The promenade is considered one of the most beautiful on the Rhine. Upriver the MedienHafen is characterized by outstanding architectural creations, the elegant district of Oberkassel on the opposite bank by art-nouveau facades.
Hopefully the weather is fine and we are able to stroll along the wave-like pavement, especially designed for the Rhine embankment promenade. We will walk past the Rhine Tower, famous for it’s clock and, next to it, North Rhine-Westphalian Parliament, walk by the restored old harbor basin and the historic water gauge. Particularly in summer it is an expression of the city's Mediterranean lifestyle. The traffic that roars through the tunnel beneath its bluish, wave-patterned pavement remains unnoticed above. Foot and bicycle paths, 600 plane trees and a lot of space for strolling and leisure characterize the new Rhine frontage of the North Rhine-Westphalian capital.
Planned by Niklaus Fritschi and built between 1990 and 1997, the construction of the new Rhine embankment promenade along the inner city fulfilled an old dream: the return of the city to the Rhine. This was made possible by putting the Rheinuferstraße under ground. For several decades, the B1, a traffic artery used by more than 55.000 motor vehicles daily, had become an almost insuperable barrier between the city and the river. With this background, the urban century project had been based right from the beginning on considerations for the improvement of the quality of life and the reduction in traffic for large parts of the city center. Over a length of nearly 2 km, the most important north-south connection in the city was put under ground in a technical and financial tour de force. Nearly 300 Mio € went into the project.
The wide steps on Burgplatz have by now become the ultimate meeting point, a wonderful place to watch the ships passing by and see the sun setting over Oberkassel on the left hand side of the river. With 1.2 million single colored dots, Professor Hermann-Josef Kuhna has painted the side walls of the steps and of the neighboring bastion.
We proceed by tram to Klemensplatz in Kaiserswerth. Kaiserswerth, located in the northern part of Düsseldorf, is always worth a trip at any time of the year. The pretty heart with its charming baroque houses from the 17th and 18th centuries is always a great place for an excursion.
Cozy cafés and beer gardens tempt visitors to stay a while to enjoy the delights on offer. Additionally, St. Suitbertus Bascilica on Stiftsplatz, a triple-naved Romanesque pillar basilica with gilded shrine holding the relics of Saint Suitbertus, is also worth a visit. In the 19th century Kaiserswerth was famous for its deaconess clinic, where Florence Nightingale was educated.
The picturesque ruins of the "Kaiserpfalz", the legendary Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa's "Royal Palace", are located immediately on the banks of the River Rhine. Originally dating from the 10th century, the palace was built under the rule of Emperor Heinrich III and enlarged between 1174 – 1184 by Emperor Barbarossa, when he transferred the toll from the Netherlands to Kaiserswerth and needed a fortress to control the Rhine. Ships transported mighty stone blocks from the Drachenfels rocks in the Siebengebirge mountain range to Kaiserswerth.
To this day the castle possesses impressive walls that are up to 4.5 metres thick. The impressive ruins still measure more than 50 metres in length, only a part of the ancient imperial palace that was much bigger. The complex is accessible in summer daily from 09:00-18:00, while the idyllic Burgweg with its unique Linden Avenue affords a magnificent view of the palace throughout the year.
We will return to the Altstadt by boat on the river Rhine with the Weiße Flotte.
We will leave the boat at Burgplatz, the square with the cart wheeler fountain under plane trees. Since the opening of the Rhine embankment tunnel, Burgplatz is again situated directly on the Rhine. This is where Düsseldorf’s heart beats. Here the small river Düssel, which gave the town its name, flows into the Rhine. In the background is the former collegiate church St. Lambertus with the shrine of St. Apolinaris.
The mighty castle of the Count of Berg and the later Dukes of Jülich-Kleve-Berg stood at this place. Nowadays, a former side tower of a later baroque palace is all that remains. The palace burned down in 1872, the ruins were completely demolished in 1888. The old castle tower houses the SchifffahrtMuseum (shipping museum), which shows 2000 years of navigation on the Rhine.
Cart wheeling is one of the oldest traditions in Düsseldorf. It is said that, when Jan Wellem married Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici in 1691, one of the wheels of their carriage broke. A boy came to help and turned himself into a living cartwheel. But hey, the problem is: their marriage happened in the city of Ulm, about 500 km south of Düsseldorf. So maybe history proves the story incorrect? Anyhow, nowadays still kids do a cartwheel for citizens and tourists, asking for money.
We will take a look at another Monument, designed by artist Bert Gerresheim in 1988. Next to the bridge over the Düssel, the monument to Düsseldorf being granted the privileges of a town demonstrates impressively more than 700 years of town history (town status granted in 1288).
From here we will walk over to Marktplatz and have a look at Dusseldorf's Rathaus (city hall), which was built 1570–1573. The town hall complex consists of three buildings from different periods. The so-called "old town hall" at the northern side of Marktplatz, the "Wilhelminischer Bau" (period of the Emperor Wilhem II) and the "Grupello house" at the western side. The "Wilhelminischer Bau" was constructed in 1875 at the place of the old town theatre and was rebuilt after the war in a new design.
High on his horse, the Elector Jan Wellem looks down upon the square. Jan Wellem Equestrian Statue by artist Gabriel de Grupello (1711) is not only Düsseldorf’s landmark, but also one of the most important and most beautiful baroque equestrian statues north of the Alps.
The famous Altstadt is a wondrous square kilometer that has more to offer than any other district in Düsseldorf.
This is where waiters are notoriously unfriendly, rude, but basically still warm, where the next beer comes without it being ordered and where pork knuckles are a staple of people's diet as well as where tales are told and tranquility goes hand in hand with the city's hustle and bustle. More than 260 pubs line the "longest bar in the world": local breweries, lounges, cocktail bars, electro-clubs and sophisticated ambiences – here everybody is going to find a place to suit his personal taste.
The house Bolkerstraße 53 is the birthplace of the poet Heinrich Heine, the city’s most famous son. Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856), author of the Loreley song ("Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten...") was born in the rear part of the property. He is considered the most important German poet between Romanticism and Realism.
We'll end our walk through Dussseldorf at the famous "KÖ". Following a historic incident when a piece of horse dung was thrown at King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1848, the street that was originally called Kastanienallee (chestnut avenue) was renamed Königsallee (king’s avenue) in 1851 as a gesture of compensation. At the end of the ‘Kö’, where it meets Schadowstraße, is the Triton fountain, the Kö’s landmark – a place worth lingering a while. From here, we have a beautiful view of the whole moat and the Kaufhof building opposite, which was one of Germany’s first department stores in the beginning of the 20th century, built by architect Josef Maria Olbrich.
At the corner, we will find ‘Slim Matilda’, the clock that has been one of the city’s most popular meeting points for generations.
And, eventually, we will spend the evening in my favourite Dusseldorf Brauhaus, dem Stammhaus Schumacher.