Travelogue Dusselfdorf: Dusseldorf

DUSSELDORF

28 May – 2 June 2022

And just like that we were off into the world again!

After a very dry couple of years on the world travel front – thanks to the global pandemic – we had a windfall when Chris got invited to an international trade fair by one of his key suppliers. And the event happened to be in Dusseldorf!

What’s more, there were to be follow-up meetings in London afterwards. Not only could we tag on a visit to our Colchester contingent, but dumb luck had us there over the Queen’s Jubilee weekend with 2 bank holidays on our side.

With only a couple of weeks’ notice, there was just enough time to revive our planning savvy and start counting down the sleeps.

After some debate, we reverted to trusty old favourite, Emirates, to transport us into the world. With miles to burn (gathering dust over the Lockdown and about to expire) we got free upgrades to Business Class quick-smart, which would help get the weary bones reaccustomed to the hard life on the road (or in the sky, as it were).

Soon enough we were landing in Dusseldorf and grabbing a taxi to our hotel, Das Carls, which was perfectly located on the Carls Platz, between the lively Old Town and the very lovely modern downtown.

Mid-afternoon by the time we arrived, we wasted no time dropping our bags, discarding our masks (not a thing in Germany, apparently) and heading out to adventure.

Being a Saturday in a notoriously festive neighbourhood, the Altstadt (Old Town) was teeming with people eating, drinking and making merry. Famed for being the longest bar in the world, it was hardly-surprisingly a popular Stag Do location. However, there were patrons of all lifestages harmoniously enjoying themselves.

We started with a choice that might be unconventional for visitors to the notoriously beer-mad Germany, but that was a classic for us. Seeing an Irish pub, we simply had to go in and get a pint of Guinness to mark on our Index, which had been dormant for way too long! At 6 Euros (R104) a pint, we noted the new #19 position-holder and moved on to more traditional sightseeing.

… which might be a strong word for what was essentially going to be a multi-day pubcrawl with a lovely view.

But first we needed what every modern trip absolutely needs. A local sim card so we could see where we were going and know what we had seen.

The (Irish) barman at the Irish bar directed us to the nearest Vodaphone store he knew, which required us to walk through the Old Town and into the swanky shopping district. Quite in contrast to our charming cobbled first impression, the new part of town was shiny and glamourous – and not at all what we wanted for our first day.

We used the new sim card (which had been 15 Euros for 5GB of data) to guide us to what the internet considered to be the best brewery in town.

The Altstadt local brew is called Altbier, which we stopped to sample at one of the town’s oldest breweries, Uerige. Part-museum and entirely functional bar and restaurant, Uerige can serve hundreds of patrons; the brewery housing several public rooms (where you can book a table), cosy alcoves and private function rooms of various shapes and sizes as well as the considerable collection of patrons on the sidewalk outside and opposite the brewery.

Uerige claims the secret of its success to be its strict adherence to Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Law dating from 1516, which is still adhered to because its results are good and lasting, relying, as it does, on nature to create and maintain the flavour of the beer. Each ‘yummy droplet’ as they refer to it in their brewery is made of nothing but water, barley, wheat malt, and their Uerige yeast.

And the people lap it up, 200ml at a time, in great volumes.

We were lucky to grab a ‘table’ right outside one of serving doors. No more than a metal basket on legs, the row of these tables along the pavement on either side of the street allowed natural congregation and an easy drop-off for empty glasses. A constant stream of waiters exited the brewery with large trays carried high above the shoulder, filled with small glasses of Altbier.

One beer, one flavour, one size. Your only choice was how many and how often. The waiter fulfilled your order and marked the number of beers on your beermat, which you could settle with him when you were ready to leave. It’s a real honour system and we had to put in quite some effort to find our waiter to pay our tab when the time came.

Satisfied that we’d ticked a big box, we proceeded to the promenade at the end of the road we’d been able to see from our vantage point at the brewery.

Built on the Rhine embankment, the promenade stretches almost 2km along the river. Only built in 1990, it features contemporary requirements that allow enjoyment of the sunsets and river breezes in a row of bars and restaurants along (and on!) the water’s edge, with wide tracks for exclusive bicycle and pedestrian use respectively. Several stretches have grassy banks, where stretchers and deck chairs are brought out in good weather.

In the background, the historical square and the museums provide an equally pretty backdrop and great photo opps in all directions.

We walked up and down to get a lay of the land and marked off things we’d like to do and see over the next few days. With an unusually long stay (for us, 5 nights) and having booked a walking tour for Sunday, there was no rush to preview so we decide that it was time to sample the local fare instead.

With pork and potatoes being the order of the day (everywhere!) we were spoilt for choice. We defaulted to a place called Ham Ham because it was the first to catch our eye (next door to the Irish restaurant), had a rotisserie in the window with several rows of sizzling pork roasts of all varieties and because one of our favourite restaurants in Spain was Jamon Jamon, so it felt like a homage to that.

With a pint of Warsteiner to wash down our meal, we were soon tucking into roast pork and schnitzel with yummy bratkartoffeln (roasted potato slices). What a delight!

Even though it was well into the night by this point, the sun was still high in the sky. Bushed from our travels and satisfied with our first outing, we called it a day and returned, through the Old Town, to our hotel.

SUNDAY

Our hotel restaurant only served breakfast… but did a good job of it. Open from 7-11am, there was no rush to get up or to get down to the restaurant, so we took advantage of the clear and crisp morning to take a run to stretch the long haul of the previous days out of our legs.

Since we were in Dusseldorf for Christian’s Trade Fair, we used our on-foot opportunity to find the exhibition grounds. We found it; almost 5km straight down the river, with promenade all the way, it couldn’t have been easier to get to. And also was confirmed as far enough to warrant a taxi rather than attempting to walk it in work gear and get all sweat!

Having worked up an appetite, we were very ready for Das Carl’s spread. Expecting a lacklustre continental breakfast, we were pleasantly surprised by the wide selection of meats, cheese, breads, eggs and a small hot selection of bacon, sausages and meatballs. To my great joy there was also a sweet section and I fell in love with the melt-in-your-mouth fresh ring doughnuts stuffed with custard.

By the time we were showered and dressed, it was time to get to our 12h30 walking tour. We met our tourguide, a Welshman named Michael, at Heinrich Heine Platz.

We were a bit early thanks to skilfully navigating our way there from our experience of the reccie the previous day, so we took a walk up and down glitzy Konigsallee, a grand boulevard with all the biggest names in fashion that you can think of. None of the shop windows had prices on any of the items, so you just know they must cost a fortune!

Michael welcomed our mixed bag group of travellers from Spain, Poland, Ukraine, Greece and us. He’d been living in Dusseldorf for 16 years, was a professional museum and had been running a fairly successful music school which had been wiped out by the pandemic. He warned us that he was relatively new to guiding and begged our forgiveness of his known weakness for dates (and his hangover from too much altbier the night before).

He walked us through the Old Town, recounting interesting stories and fumbling through dates (that didn’t really matter) so that by the end it felt like we had a reasonable idea of what was what.

It was hard to believe that Düsseldorf was so heavily bombed during WWII. Most of the city was destroyed and more than a third of the population killed by the weeks of incessant air raids. The Old Town has been beautifully restored though and of course, the newer part of the city established in grand style.

Michael also clarified Dusselfdorf’s claim as the world’s longest bar. Allegedly in olden times, drinking in the streets was frowned upon so the long row of side-by-side pubs had a bar counter that stretched between establishments and allowed customers to move between each bar using doors within the pub. Whether the tale is fact or fiction is irrelevant, with around 300 pubs and clubs within the half a square kilometre radius, it’s easy enough to allow the title even with a lot of poetic licence.

As is typical, it had been drizzling on and off throughout the tour but, credit to his performance (and our travel brollies), it didn’t dampen the experience at all.

Needing to whet our whistle after the long tour, we tried one of the other classic public houses, the Haubrauerei Zum Schlussel. Again, with the standing patrons on the pavement outside, but this time with a high cocktail table.

Wanting to get the authentic longest bar experience, we bounced from pub to pub, resting longer at some that appealed more than others, most notably a rock bar called Auberge that was playing an excellent playlist befitting a Sunday afternoon.

Cautious with a workday the next day and getting too much of a good thing too soon, we soaked up the beer with a hearty early supper at Schweine Jane’s, which Michael had recommended as best known for its pork buns. Ratified by the pork rotisserie in its window, we tucked into a massive fresh chewy bun, stuffed with slabs of juicy roast pork and creamy mayo. Not a veggie in sight.

MONDAY

Having a lot of Sunday to work off before being entitled to another hotel breakfast feast, we ran through the Old Town and then onto the beautiful Konigsallee. Almost devoid of people, the glass windows of the label-brand shops that lined the street seemed even bigger and shinier and the window-shopping at pace made both experiences more enjoyable.

Both of us were working an as-usual Monday so our run and breakfast needed to be done by 08h30 so that we could kick off our “Work From Anywhere” workday as if we were at our desk at home or hotdesk at the office. Fortunately, the hotel internet was solid and stable and we had both the benefit of a desk in our suite as well as almost exclusive free reign of the hotel since the other guests were presumably all out and about, enjoying their holiday or fulfilling their work commitments.

It was a treat to sit in the empty dining room that had bay windows along 2 sides, and people-watch the activities in the Carls Platz open-air market across the road while listening in to squads debating what to do about challenges they were facing with this, that and the other.

Taking no advantage, we put in a full day and it was almost 6pm by the time we were finished what we needed to do for the day.

The sun was still high in the sky though, so we still had a good few hours to use for our own adventuring.

With a curiously high Japanese population in Dusseldorf (almost 10% of the population), the Japanese Quarter has become very popular with locals and tourists alike, offering all sorts of Far Eastern cuisine.

Barely a kilometre or so from our hotel, we enjoyed the walk to exorcise the workday and – believe it or not – try and work up an appetite since our breakfast feast was still going the distance!

Having been to Japan twice, we were well versed in the various types of dishes and look for our favourite by far, tonkatsu! A perfect compromise with our commitment to an authentic German experience, tonkatsu is a breaded pork steak served with all the traditionally Japanese trimmings. This restaurant also had served it with a bowl of sesame seeds with mortar and pestle to grind out the flavours, mix with tonkatsu sauce and use it to dunk the already delicious pork cutlets into even more deliciousness. Again, not a veggie in sight.

It was a simple pleasure to be able to walk home after our meal. And quite difficult to resist stopping off en route since it was still light and bright. But with the Trade Fair the next day, we needed to get a good night’s sleep to make the most of the primary reason for the trip.

TUESDAY

Now in the habit of a morning trot before breakfast, we ran through the Old Town and along the promenade. Taking the bridge to the West, we crossed over to Oberkasse, a well-to-do suburb on the other side of the Rhine. We ran along the far riverbank and then crossed back to our side using the East bridge. A wonderful crisp easy-pace run that gave us the 5km and 30 mins we needed to dive into the buffet guilt-free.

We were ready well in time to grab an Uber to the Trade Fair for opening.

Christian had made several appointments in advance while I was going to have a gander at some of the stands that were relevant to my industry to see if there were any nuggets that I could take home to change our world.

The show was in the Messe complex, well-established in the world of exhibitions. There were hundreds of exhibitors spread across 2 giant halls. Everything to do with retail, both brick-and-mortar and online. Security, point of sale solutions, safes, software, analytics… you name it, there was someone that did it and wanted to tell you all about it.

I left Christian to his business and did a wander round, asking questions and gathering business cards where I felt there might be a connection to my world of work. A lot of the stands had quite impressive swag to draw the best leads, but it wasn’t worth having to endure superfluous banter so I came away with a mere 2 pens and a cup of ice-cream for my troubles.

A couple of hours was all I needed so when I’d seen all I wanted to see, I walked back to the hotel. It was a beautiful day and a treat to be out in the sunshine and fresh air in the middle of the day, let alone walking along the Rhine!

Back at my desk to resume my usual schedule, the afternoon flew by and soon Christian was knocking at the door back from his full day at the Fair. He was pleased with what he’d accomplished and eager to send the topline feedback home to the team that had deployed him on this mission.

By the time he was done it was past 7pm, although you wouldn’t tell it by the light of day. And, not in the slightest bit hungry yet, I was starting to think that my appetite was aligning to my Circadian rhythms because my belly clearly didn’t know when dinnertime was anymore!

We decided to walk along the promenade to have a sundowner at the Dusseldorf Tower, from where you could apparently get a panoramic view that stretched as far as neighbouring city, Cologne, on a clear day. And today was a clear day.

Ambling along the wide walkway, we soaked in the sunshine and atmosphere on our trundle to the Tower.

On arrival, we were disappointed to find that it was closed for a private party. Bummer. No mind, we still had another evening to have another go at it.

Tired from a long day and with another ahead of us, we opted for a cheap and cheerful dinner rather than a lengthy sit-down. We’d noticed a few chippies that were very popular and gave the Wurtsmeister a go. With a footlong hotdog, a tub of currywurst and chips (drenched in mayo) to share, we were eating in minutes, soaking up the atmosphere of the Old Town at our standing table outside.

Weird as it was to go home in the daylight – and to attempt sleep as it was only just getting dark, the day caught up with us and we were soon recharging our body batteries in preparation for our last day in Dusseldorf.

WEDNESDAY

Old hat at our Dusseldorf routine by now, we sped through our run, buffet and preparation routine and were ready well in time to start our work commitments for the day.

Christian had an even more jam-packed schedule for his second day at the Trade Fair, so packed himself off into an Uber to get cracking. I popped a Do Not Disturb sign on our door and settled in for my morning meetings.

Having taken leave for the Thursday and Friday, it was a busy day handling the usual routine as well as preparing for the time off and monthly reporting due early the next week.

The day went by in a flash and soon Chris was knocking on the door, very pleased with another productive day of meetings, both planned and opportune.

It had been drizzling on and off all afternoon but had turned into a lovely evening. We headed out of Das Carls Hotel for our last outing in Dusseldorf, opting to start with a last-blast pint of pils at Auberge before having dinner at another of Michael’s recommendations, known for their schnitzels.

With the sun still up and the sky clear and blue, there were still loads of people on the promenade when we’d finished dinner so, paradoxically compared to the running order at home, we decided to go for a sundowner. We had yet to tick the Dusseldorf Tower off our list and welcomed the walk along the river to settle our dinner and enjoy the moderate weather.

To our dismay, we were turned away from the Tower for not having masks with us! Having taken days to undo the habit that had been entrenched with our mandatory mask-wearing laws at home, it was bitterly ironic that when we finally shook the habit, we were called on it! Clearly it was not meant to be.

We settled instead for a pint of Warsteiner at the café at the base of the Tower and did very little but watch the sunbathers, the men throwing frisbees back and forth, the dog-walkers, the wedding party taking their photos, the cyclists whizzing past, the joggers puffing and panting and all the other shapes and sizes that were making the most of another lovely day in Dusseldorf.