Düsseldorf: the art city

The Rhine Embankment Promenade
© Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH

In the third of our new series ‘On the European City Trail’, Abbe Bates visits the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf to reveal a destination home to an electic artistic, musical, fashion and media elite.

Amongst the major German cities, the role and character of Düsseldorf sets it apart as one of the more creative, even oddball, places. Lying on the Rhine, in the west of Germany, it has carved out a reputation for having a thriving artistic community, centred around the Kunstakademie. It saw the birth of electronica music thanks to the influential Kraftwerk, the band that still calls Düsseldorf home. Its Opera House is the base for the largest ballet ensemble in the country and its current director is notorious for pushing the boundaries in the genre. It is the fashion capital of Germany, with many high profile designers based here, has an enviable avant-garde media scene, and over 100 museums and art galleries, many centred around the Arts Axis, not to mention a reputation as a ‘garden city’.

With a history stretching back over 800 years, which includes a spell being governed by Napoleon, Düsseldorf also houses an historic Altstadt (Old Town) and has grown from a small fishing village into a bustling metropolis with a multicultural population of nearly 600,000 people. As the capital of the North Rhine-Westphalia region, it has much to attract visiting groups.

As Düsseldorf is compact – it is known as the city of small distances – guided tours are a great way to explore the varied streetscapes. You can read more about the different types and themes below in The düsseldorf guides.

It is often useful to arrange for your group to have Düsseldorf WelcomeCards, which offer unlimited use of the efficient network of trams and buses within the city and also free or discounted admission to museums and other attractions and leisure facilities.The cards can be bought in bulk for groups, with a 10% reduction for 100.

 

ARTS AXIS AND RIVERSIDE

Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk.

Düsseldorf is well known as the city of art in Germany. Its world famous academy of art – the Kunstakademie – is where internationally renowned artists such as Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Jörg Immendorff studied and taught, and where the founding members of the electronica band Kraftwerk met. For more on the band, see the panel on page 64.

A good place to start a tour then is at the Museum Kunstpalast, at the top of the city’s Arts Axis, which reaches from the Ehrenhof complex in the north to the Ständehaus in the south, and links nearly all the city’s large cultural institutions. The museum re-opened in May 2011 after a two-year renovation project, which saw a better displaying of the varied collections, one of the few in the Rhineland to house important paintings, sculpture, graphic works, crafts and new media all under one roof. Visiting groups are able to view some 450 selected artworks from the Middle Ages to the present day including the famous ‘Creamcheese’ installation, which recreates the interior of Düsseldorf’s former Cream Cheese club using 1967 artworks by Gerhard Richter, Heinz Mack, Ferdinand Kriwet and Günther Uecker. For more on the Cream Cheese club see the panel on page 64. Tours are available that highlight particular artwork along with ‘have a go’ workshops. Within the Kunstpalast complex, you will also find the Hentrich Glass Museum, with the world’s most important collection of medieval glass.

The Ehrenhof complex, built in 1926 to create a new home for the city’s burgeoning exhibition fair culture, is also home to the domed Tonhalle Düsseldorf, which was Germany’s first planetarium and is now the city’s concert hall, and the NRW-Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft, which presents exhibitions on the subjects of media, photography, architecture, fashion and design.

Making your way further south from the Ehrenhof complex down Oederallee and onto Grabbeplatz you will come to the K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. This gallery presents an enviable collection of 20th century art and was recently renovated to include a new extension. Groups can book tours of the permanent collection or current special exhibitions.

Close by, the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf offers changing exhibitions of cutting edge modern and contemporary art, and its concrete-block construction at the end of the 1960s is an ex­am­ple of the type of architecture that arose from the frugality of the immediate post-war years in Germany. It was extensively renovated at the beginning of this century but still retains its original cubist exterior and over its nearly 50-year history it has been responsible for introducing a num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al artists into the Eu­ro­pean art mar­ket.

If you continue south through Hunsrückenstrasse, onto Kasernenstrasse, you eventually come to Ständehausstrasse and the K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, the sister gallery to K20, which celebrates 21st century art, and is set in the city’s former parliament building.

As well as the Tonhalle, Düsseldorf has many other celebrated theatre and music venues including the Kom(m)ödchen, Germany’s first political cabaret, and the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, both close to the K20. More than 300 performances a year take place at the Opera House, which dates from the 19th century. It was extensively rebuilt after war damage in the 1950s and the interior is a lovely example of architecture and design from this era. The 1342-performance space is also home to the Ballet am Rhein, the largest ballet ensemble in Germany, which has been under the progressive charge of Martin Schläpfer since 2009, as well as two orchestras – the Düsseldorf Symphonic and the Duisburg Philharmonic. An extra-special option for groups is to arrange a tour of the Opera House’s costume department with a historian, who will take you through the backstage areas where some 50,000 costumes are stored!

The Rhine is a major feature of the city, running for 40 kilometres through its centre. As part of a stroll around the Arts Axis, take a walk down the Rhine Embankment Promenade, which is a great place to enjoy a drink or bite to eat, as well as being the base for river trips along the Rhine. It begins at Burgplatz, the centrepiece of which is a Cartwheeler Fountain, the cartwheel being the symbol of the city, and where it is said to have originated in the 13th century – there is even an annual cartwheeling competition in July (see panel on page 66)! The promenade is also home to several museums including the SchifffahrtMuseum im Schlossturm – the city’s maritime museum, set in the last remaining tower of Düsseldorf’s former castle, which was destroyed by fire in 1872.

Below the promenade is the KIT – Kunst im Tunnel, which sits nestled between two road traffic tunnels. Since it opened in 2007, this space has developed into a hub for contemporary art. The entrance is a glass pavilion on the promenade facing out towards the Rhine. It houses the KIT Bar, a terrace and a cafe, through which the 888 square-metre submarine-shaped exhibition space can be accessed. Each year, four to six temporary exhibitions take place and the programme focuses on contemporary art, and the fields of sculpture, painting, photography, video and installation art.

Just behind the Rhine Embankment Promenade is the Stadtmuseum, or City Museum, which is vast, and takes at least two days to explore to get the fullest experience. It is the oldest museum in Düsseldorf, founded in 1873, and is set over three floors; its permanent collection documents the development of Düsseldorf and the surrounding area from its early history to the present day.

Further outside the main city centre, if you talk a walk from the top of the Rhine Embankment Promenade and on up the river, you will come to one of many picturesque green spaces that give Düsseldorf a reputation as a garden city, the Nordpark. This is home to delightful Japanese Gardens, reflecting the influence of this culture in the city, which grew during the years after the Second World War, when an influx of Japanese came to the city to work in the steel industry. Further out still in this direction is the Kaiserswerth area, the oldest part of Düsseldorf, dating from the 12th century, which houses the ruins of Emperor Barbarossa’s imperial fortress.

 

OLD TOWN

The city’s Old Town or Altstadt has its origins in the 13th century, when the first brick buildings emerged in the city, although much of it now dates from the 17th century; as with many of Germany’s cities, parts of it have been largely reconstructed following bomb damage during the Second World War. It covers a square kilometre and houses 260 restaurants, inns and pubs, home to the region’s famous dark Alt beer, which has earned it the nickname ‘the longest bar in the world’.

St Lambertus Church with its twisted spire.

Hunsrückenstrasse is one of the main streets within the Old Town. At the northern end of this street is the 17th century St Andreas Church, one of a number of ancient churches that your group will find within the narrow streets, and amongst the Rhineland’s most beautiful baroque examples.

Walking past St Andreas Church and turning left onto Mühlenstrasse leads you to Liefergasse, at the end of which is another of the city’s religious architectural highlights, St Lambertus Church. This 14th century Gothic structure, set on the site of a former 12th century Romanesque church, has a distinctive twisted spire that easily identifies it.

Walking round the corner onto Burgplatz, you will find an interesting bronze sculpture by Bert Gerresheim, depicting the history of Düsseldorf and the date of 1288, when it was granted town status by Count Adolf von Berg.

Elector Jan-Wellem-Denkmal

The statue of Elector Jan-Wellem-Denkmal in the Altstadt.

Moving south again eventually brings you to Bolkerstrasse. It is worth a stop at the Heinrich Heine Birth Place here, the former home of one of Germany’s most important poets. At the western end of Bolkerstrasse is the Marktplatz, where you will find the Rathaus or Town Hall, which actually consists of three buildings, the ‘old town hall’, the ‘Wilhelminischer Bau’ (from the period of Emperor Wilhelm II) and the ‘Grupello house’. At the centre of the square is a statue of Elector Jan-Wellem-Denkmal – who ruled the Rhineland during the 17th and 18th centuries – on horseback. The monument is considered one of the most important Baroque equestrian statues north of the Alps and its sculptor lived at the Grupello house, named in his honour.

Not far from Marktplatz on Schulstrasse is the Maxhaus, a former Franciscan monastery that is now a restaurant; look out too for a more modern building, the Mannesmann Tower on the outskirts of the Old Town on Mannesmannufer, now home to Vodafone, but one of the city’s first skyscrapers, built by renowned German architect Paul Schneider Esleben (father of Florian Schneider, one of the founders of the band Kraftwerk) in the 1950s and now a protected monument.

 

MEDIA HARBOUR 

Dancing Houses

Frank O. Gehry’s Dancing Houses.

The area to the south of the Rhine Embankment Promenade and Düsseldorf’s Old Town has now become known as the Media Harbour and the city’s avant-garde mile. This former industrial harbour area has been transformed into a hub for Düsseldorf’s TV, film and radio industry in recent years. Signifying the area’s renaissance are the three Dancing Houses constructed in 1999 and designed by architect Frank O. Gehry who was responsible for the Guggenheim in Barcelona. These each reflect a different image – one of fish scales, one of an ocean liner and one of brick, and their uneven textures and lines give the impression that they are ‘dancing’.

The Rhine Tower.
© Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH

A great way to view not only the sights of the Media Harbour, including the Roggendorf Haus office building with its amazing ‘flossis’ (bright plastic figures that climb the outside), is to take a trip up the Rhine Tower, Düsseldorf’s most iconic landmark. The 240.5-metre high television tower also acts as a decimal clock of the world, and groups entering the building will see an electronic display explaining how this works. One of the most visited towers in Germany, it stands on more than 250 pillars over water in the former harbour. At its top is a revolving restaurant – the Top 180 – where groups can have a peaceful set menu meal. A viewing floor just below the restaurant allows panoramic views over the whole city. Highlights include the former 1930s police headquarters on Mühlenstrasse, now home to the Düsseldorf Memorial, which remembers local victims of the Nazi regime (currently closed for renovation), and the new parliament building, the Landtag, inaugurated in 1988.

Groups thinking of visiting Düsseldorf have a number of different accommodation options open to them. Those to consider include the four-star Hilton Düsseldorf hotel on Georg-Glock-Strasse with 375 rooms, and for something slightly different, DJH Hostels’ Youth Hostel Düsseldorf on Düsseldorferstrasse with 96 rooms.

 

HOW TO GET THERE 

The coach journey to Düsseldorf from the UK is fairly good taking around seven hours (from London to Düsseldorf Old Town it is 377 miles) using the short Channel Tunnel crossing or alternatively via the Harwich to the Hook of Holland ferry crossing, which takes slightly longer at around ten hours altogether. Düsseldorf is also well connected to the rest of Germany via the local autobahn network.

Düsseldorf is easily reached by rail too; perhaps the best route to take is via Eurostar from London St Pancras International or Ebbsfleet International in Kent to Brussels-Midi in Belgium and then onwards via Deutsche Bahn’s high speed ICE trains straight through to Cologne, with a short connecting train ride to Düsseldorf. This takes around four and a half hours at present but travelling time should be reduced by around an hour once planned direct ICE services from London St Pancras to Cologne begin. These were due to begin in 2013, but have now been postponed to 2015. Deutsche Bahn has an active groups department, with discounts starting at six or more people.

It is only a 10-minute drive from Düsseldorf International Airport to the city centre. Several airlines operate direct flights to the city from the UK including Lufthansa (from London Heathrow, Manchester and Newcastle) and easyJet (from London Gatwick).

 

THE DÜSSELDORF GUIDES

Tour guide Caroline West.

Caroline West and Joop Eskes were the very capable guides who took the author on her tour of Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus can arrange walking tours of the city for your group with a range of freelance guides.

Caroline in particular offers ‘We Love Music’ tours that come with a musical performance, first developed to coincide with the Eurovision Song Contest, which took place at the city’s ESPRIT arena in 2011, as well as ‘Arts in Düsseldorf’ itineraries.

Tour guide Joss Eskes.

Joop can offer tours on subjects such as architecture, history and breweries as well as tours designed specifically for less able bodied groups.

Another tour to look out for is ‘A City Changes its Face’, which focuses on the ongoing construction of the Werhahn Undergournd line and the redevelopment of the northern end of the Königsallee shopping area.

Open-top bus tours 

Hop-on, hop-off open top bus tours are a staple of any city offering and Düsseldorf is no exception. The HopOn HopOff CityTour lasts around 90 minutes and takes you around the whole city centre, before going right through the Old Town. It allows you to get on or off at any stop to explore areas in more detail, and you can learn further information enroute with a live tour guide commentary or through earphones. Reductions on prices are available for groups of 10 or more people. Bike and segway tours are also available, as are coach tours that include a visit up the Rhine Tower.

Airport tours 

Guided tour at Düsseldorf International Airport.
© Andreas Wiese

Tours of airports are popular in Germany and Düsseldorf International offers a chance to experience the apron – where the planes are parked – on guided tours. Lasting about two hours, there is the possibility to book an exclusive bus, just for your group. As well as the tour, the price includes free entrance to the observation deck and free use of the SkyTrain, which connects the Düsseldorf Flughafen airport railway station with the terminal. Web: www.dus-int.de/dus/besucherservice

 

Coach Parking Facilities 

For those travelling by coach, 17 free coach parking places are available near Fritz-Roeber-Strasse (north of the Old Town, parallel to the Oberkassel Bridge).

A number of charged for parking spaces are available on the Haroldstrasse (under the Rheinknie Bridge) for groups visiting the North Rhine-Westphalian Parliament (Landtag) and on the Tonhallenufer where there are 80 parking spaces near the concert hall.

Along with help in planning and booking itineraries, when special major events take place in Düsseldorf, the Düsseldorf tourist board offers a free coach parking reservation service.

 

THE AVANT-GARDE MUSIC SCENE 

Düsseldorf has an impressive avant-garde music scene. The most well-known artists to emerge from this are Kraftwerk, the influential electronic music band. The group was formed in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider and pioneered the revolutionary electronica sound, which relies heavily on computer generated speech. One of the favoured haunts of these and other creatives including perfomance artist Joseph Beuys was the Cream Cheese disco – Germany’s first – inspired by the character created by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. It is now a jewellery shop on Neubrückstrasse, but as a disco is mooted to be the first place to use strobe lighting in Western Europe, and it is certainly worth looking up; there are several Cream Cheese Revival Parties held each year, where the experience is recreated at various venues.

The stone club

The Stone Club on Ratingerstrasse.

The Stone club on Ratingerstrasse, just around the corner in the Old Town, is also worth looking out for and is still an influential music venue in the city. It is cited as the birthplace of punk in Germany, where the band Die Toten Hosen first began, who have since gone on to become one of the most popular punk bands in Germany. You can learn more about the scene on a ‘We Love Music’ tour (see The Düsseldorf Guides above).

 

FESTIVAL CITY 

Over 10 days in July each year, the ‘biggest fun fair on the Rhine’ – Kirmes – visits Düsseldorf and sets up on vast grounds spanning 165,000 square metres on the western bank of the Rhine. It houses an eclectic and impressive range of fairground rides, both nostalgic and modern, as well as traditional bars – some of which revolve (!) – and restaurants. This year the fair will take place between 13th and 22nd July and marks the 111th time it has visited the Rhine meadows in Oberkassel. The fair is accessed from the main city centre by a short ride on the Rhine Ferry.

Kirmes

Kirmes.

Summer is also the time of the ancient Cartwheeling Tournament,which takes place in June next year, whilst November marks the beginning of the popular carnival season in Düsseldorf on 11th of the month. This runs until the 20th February and is marked by an opening celebration called Hoppeditz’ Erwachen (or Hoppenditz awakes) in front of the Rathaus. Another highlight on the events calendar is, of course, the Düsseldorf Christmas Market, which takes place throughout the city centre and Old Town and runs from 22nd November to 23rd December this year.

 

FASHION 

As the location for one of the biggest fashion fairs in the world – the CPD – twice a year, it’s no surprise that Düsseldorf is a centre for shopping.

The Kö-Galerie.
© Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH

Königsallee – referred to as Kö by locals – is the most famous of the city’s shopping streets and is Germany’s equivalent of 5th Avenue in New York, with a wide range of exclusive shops and luxury malls including the Kö-Galerie along its one-kilometre stretch.

You will find high street bargains on Schadowstrasse, which features the Schadow Arkaden with 70 shops, cafes and restaurants, and Friedrichstrasse is home to the Düsseldorf Arcaden, with 120 shops on three floors. The Old Town, meanwhile, is home to cool boutique-style shops whilst the Carlstadt area to its south is a haven for antiques and art lovers.

 

Our thanks to nalogo! tourism & leisure for arranging Abbe Bates’ visit to Düsseldorf, in conjunction with Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus, Deutsche Bahn and the Hilton Düsseldorf.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Contact Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH, Postfach 10 21 63, D-40012 Düsseldorf

Telephone 00 49 (0) 211 17 202 854  Fax 00 49 (0) 211 17 202 3222

Email welcome@duesseldorf-tourismus.de  Web www.visitduesseldorf.de

 

Group Travel Organiser is interested in hearing about other towns and cities that have something to offer visitors to explore so please get in touch.