5 Things You Don't Know About Dusseldorf, Germany

Steps overlooking the Rhine River, Dusseldorf. Photo: Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
By Christine Ryan

From shopping to barhopping, Düsseldorf has more than its share of diversions. Largely overlooked as little more than one of Germany's largest financial centers, Düsseldorf occupies enviable real estate on the Rhine River.

Unconvinced? Check out these five reasons to linger in this charming riverfront city.

Photo Caption: Steps overlooking the Rhine River, Dusseldorf. Courtesy Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
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The Altstadt, Dusseldorf. Photo: Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
Well, not a literal bar, but it's the moniker given to an approximately 1km square area in the Altstadt (Old Town) that is jam-packed with some 260 bars, restaurants, and clubs (start your tour at the east end of Bolkerstrasse). On weekends, you're bound to see a number of hen and stag parties here -- just look for the groups in matching T-shirts, often performing embarrassing stunts in exchange for beer money.

The local brew in Düsseldorf is Altbier, and you can get it fresh out of the vats at Hausbraueri zum Schlüssel (Bolkerstrasse 41-47), one of four breweries in the Altstadt that also serves traditional German food. For a less frenetic (though still lively) scene, make your way to the outdoor restaurants along the river promenade.

Photo Caption: The Altstadt, Düsseldorf. Courtesy Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
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Shopping along Konigsalle in Dusseldorf. Photo: Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
Prada. Armani. Bulgari. Hermès. You'll find all these and more along Königsalle, a 1km-long stretch adjacent to the Altstadt. A chestnut tree-lined canal, spanned by footbridges, runs down the center of the boulevard. The "Kö" gets most of the attention and attracts the big spenders (including increasing numbers of wealthy Muslim families who come to Düsseldorf to shop instead of Paris in response to France's recent headscarf ban), but the shopping streets of nearby Flingerstrasse and Shadowstrasse offer more budget-friendly options.

Come December, Christmas shoppers throng the city -- some of them arriving on tour buses from as far away as Belgium, France, and Netherlands -- to snap up gifts, enjoy the lights and decorations, and visit the outdoor Christmas Market (www.duesseldorf-weihnachtsmarkt.de). This market is spread across seven locations throughout the city center, each with a different theme.

Photo Caption: Shopping along Konigsalle in Düsseldorf. Courtesy Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
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The New Zollhof, designed by Frank Gehry, at Media Harbor on the Rhine River. Photo: Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
Beginning in 1989, work began to transform this former industrial harbor into a vibrant space with modern office buildings, shops, restaurants, and apartments. The stars of the harbor are the three side-by-side Frank Gehry creations; a shiny silver building with a wavy façade sits between two taller buildings with multi-level leaning towers (one white, one brick).

Further on, the pedestrian "living bridge" connects one side of the harbor to the other. Mid-bridge, you can have a meal or a drink at the glass-encased Lido restaurant and bar (www.lido1960.de). Further along, a 1897 brewery building sits next to a colorful, soaring skyscraper inspired by a Piet Mondrian painting ("Colorium," designed by William Alsop), which is a few doors down from a converted warehouse crawling with "flossis" -- bright red, orange, yellow, green, and blue plastic figures that resemble humans with flippers (by German artist Rosalie). It's a visual feast that many visitors to the city miss completely.

Photo Caption: The New Zollhof, designed by Frank Gehry, at Media Harbor on the Rhine River. Courtesy Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
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Children doing cartwheels along the Rhine. Photo: Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
You'll see symbols of cartwheeling children on souvenirs, a sculpture of cartwheeling boys on a fountain in Burgplatz, and you may even be approached by children offering to do cartwheels for you in exchange for a coin or two. There are a few stories floating around as to the origins of the tradition; the most popular claims that Düsseldorf's children began turning cartwheels in joy after the city won the Battle of Worringen and earned itself a town charter. Every year since 1937, Düsseldorf has held a cartwheeling tournament to celebrate this unique custom. The next one will be held in July 2011 (go to www.alde-duesseldorfer.de for more information).

Photo Caption: Children doing cartwheels along the Rhine. Courtesy Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
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Departure level at Dusseldorf International Airport. Photo: Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH Dusseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
Düsseldorf is Germany's third-largest airport, with more than 600 flights daily. Lufthansa (part of the Star Alliance network) is its main carrier, with direct flights from New York, Chicago, Toronto, and Miami, plus more than 60 European destinations. This makes Düsseldorf a convenient hub, especially if your travel itinerary includes the Netherlands or Belgium. The airport has its own train station (Düsseldorf Flughafen, not to be confused with Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof, the main city station), making train transfers a piece of cake as well.

The airport offers extensive VIP service as well (www.duesseldorf-international.de/dus_en/vip_service). The quiet, luxurious VIP lounges are set apart from the main airport; each contains a fully stocked bar, snacks, espresso machine, and flat-screen TV. Some even have reclining massage chairs. The VIP area has a dedicated security screening area (in other words -- no lines) and the staff takes care of passport control and check-in for you while you relax. When it's time to board, they'll drive you directly to the plane in a BMW. Anyone willing to shell out the €229 fee (plus €99 for each additional traveler) can take advantage of the service; you don't have to have a first-class ticket.

Photo Caption: Departure level at Düsseldorf International Airport. Courtesy Düsseldorf Marketing & Tourismus GmbH
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