The beauty of being part of Europe is how easily and relatively quickly we can visit and experience lots of different cities. My latest city break adventure was to the beautiful Düsseldorf, which straddles the Rhine River in western Germany.
I was there visiting a friend, which is always one of the best ways to experience a city as you really embed yourself in day to day life. Suddenly, things I find mundane and time consuming at home (Morrison’s and Tesco, I’m looking at you) become little windows into the kitchens of another culture, and anyone who has been abroad with me knows I just love a trip to the local supermarket! Staying with a local you are treated to some of the hidden gems of a city and the first of such gems we encountered in Düsseldorf was the tiny Spatz Up – Spätzle & Friends, right in the centre of town. The perfect hole in the wall style eatery to enjoy one of Germany’s finest and most vegetarian friendly foods, Spatzle.
Supremely affordable, and the ideal way to line your stomach if you plan on hitting the Düsseldorfer Altstadt (known as the ‘longest bar in the world’) later that day. Speaking of, the Old Town of Düsseldorf plays host to over 300 bars, many of which operate a system many Oktoberfest veterans will be familiar with – you take a seat, or perch on a stool and are offered a choice of one or two different beers which soon arrive in small glasses and will continue to be replaced (your tally of beers marked on your beer mat) until you pop your beer mat on top of your glass and ask for your bill. It’s surprisingly civilised, reasonably priced, and if you find which beers you are partial to you can really enjoy yourself. I’m told that German tradition suggests you should have finished your beer before the head on top has melted away, hence the smaller servings.
For a traditional European market experience, head to Carlzplatz in the centre of town. There you can purchase almost anything you can think of, but the food and flowers on display were particularly stunning when we dropped by. It’s the perfect spot to sightsee from, grab a bite to eat and soak up some of the historic atmosphere of the city.
Understandably, like almost all of Germany, Düsseldorf grieves and pays its respect for those murdered in the Second World War in many ways. One of the most moving is the Stolpersteine, or Stumbling Stones, which aim to commemorate individuals at the last place they freely lived, before they fell victim to Nazi terror. Seeing these brass cubes dotted around the streets of the city is heart breaking and a constant reminder of the number of lives lost, and that those lives are far more than just a number. They are a life, a person, a house, a job, a family and so much more.
Beyond the confines of the city, Dusseldorf plays host to many beautiful parks. The one we found most appealing to visit was the Wildpark, on Rennbahnstraße. A park combined with a city farm, it is home to herds of deer, some rather adorable pigs and a collection of other animals. It was the ideal spot to enjoy the sunshine, have a catch up and take our chance to hand feed some of the gorgeous deer who wander freely around huge swathes of the parkland.
The Wildpark proved to be exactly the tonic we both needed, providing the ideal escape from city life and I’m a firm believer that not much soothes the mind like some time up close and personal with some friendly animals.