Cologne & Düsseldorf 2011

Friday 18 February 2011

As Bart leaves for Tenerife on Friday, it’s the perfect weekend to visit Cologne and Düsseldorf.

In the morning, I wave Bart goodbye and within two hours I’m in a free parking spot off the Melaten Friedhof. The U-bahn takes me into town in no time. At the Neumarkt, I head to the homestores to drool over all the great and pricey accessoiries. At Starbucks I indulge in a wonderful carrot cake and jasmin-orange tea.

Rejuvenated, I walk through the shopping area of the Schillergasse to Heumarkt and down to the Dom. It’s visible above the houses long before you reach it. Restaurants and cafés open up. The city center of Cologne is fairly small, so by foot you can easily reach most sights. At the Heumarkt, a large somber building houses the Maritim Museum. The Heumarkt itself has many (ethnic) eateries.

Through a maze of alleys and small streets, I reach the Dom. It’s huge, grey and very gothic. On the square out front, a group of Moroccan musicians produces exhilarating music that makes you feel more like arriving at Djemaa el Fna than at the Dom.

There’re also a couple of mime players (yuk) and a large number of beggars, with at least one dog each and stacks of smelly blankets. But after seeing an alpaca, a small pony and a donkey in the Schillergasse, not much amazes me. In the Dom I enter on the last notes of a powerful organ concert. It is quite impressive, with the music thundering away and the glow of stained glass and hundreds of small votive candles. When mass ends, tourists are allowed into the entire hall to view the amazing windows up close.

It’s chilly outside. It takes but a few seconds to realize. No people watching today! The Moroccan musicians are recharging for the next round. The Hauptbahnhof is to the left of the Dom and looks out over the Rhine. Dozens of people travers the walkway. On the way to the commanding building that houses Museum Ludwig, you pass the entrance to the Römisch-Germanisches Museum. Museum Ludwig is amazing: this museum with 20th century art really cheers me up! There’s a large number of paintings that I truly enjoy. In the basement, I spend quite some time admiring several pieces by Lichtenstein and Warhol. Upstairs, Picasso is represented with a large number of paintings, ranging from very realistic to very cubist. They even have a selection of dishes like the ones I saw at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.

The museum even has the odd Paul Klee and Mondriaan, a couple of Macke’s and Emil Nolde. Terrific! And then there’s Max Ernst, whose paintings I got introduced to back when I lived in London. Not one of my favourites. The works of Kasimir Malevich aren’t either. But the temporary exhibit ‘Remembering Forward’ on the other hand, with paintings by Australian aboriginals, was beyond expectation. Some of the paintings, by the use of color (greyish, pink and salmon) and the use of pointillism, looked like impressionist pieces. I liked the paintings by Ronnie Tjampitjinpa best. It’s also one of his paintings that is used on the posters. This museum alone makes a trip to Cologne worthwhile.

Gross St. Martins church is next on my list and I walk along the Rheinufer (bank of the river Rhine) to the church and colourful houses of St. Martinswinkel. They don’t even stand out as most of the buildings are painted in soft yellows, beiges, salmon of baby blues. The use of these colors makes even the newest of houses look ‘really German’.
There’re restaurants and cafés everywhere, in the summer this place must be so much fun. On the Rhine, a couple of river boats float by, all of them Dutch. I head back to the Alte Markt, through mazelike small alleys. From the Alte Markt, I walk over to the Heumarkt en take the S-bahn to Neumarkt.

Globetrotter, in the city center, is a huge outdoor store. Their jelly fish tank and indoor canoe pond are amusing. I’m not bringing in a lot of business today, as I don’t buy anything.

In a street opposite Neumarkt, I rest my legs and enjoy a pizza. And onward to the Mittelstrasse, a street with expensive shops and designer stores like Aubade, Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste and the likes. I don’t spend too much time in this neighbourhood as I want to leave Cologne before rush hour commences. Even though it was just a short visit, I’ve seen most of the sights. Back at the Melaten cemetary, large tombs tower over the cemetary walls but without a visible entrance, visiting the grounds is hard. Maybe next time…

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Half an hour after leaving Cologne, I enter Düsseldorf. My hotel is at the Harkortstrasse, right behind the Hauptbahnhof and it has a free parking lot that’s closed off at night. I check in as fast as possible. The room is a bit corny but it’s very clean, just like the towels and bedding.

Hamam Sahara is just around the corner, on Mintropstrasse. From the outside it’s like any other house but as soon as you step over the threshold, the moist warmth of the hamam embraces you. Treatments are fairly cheap: for 35 euro’s you get to use the steam room, the wash room, enjoy a 20 minute scrub and foam, 10 minutes of Japanese foot bath, a 30 minute oil massage and in the relaxation room all-you-can-drink Turkish black tea. In the Grande Mosquee de Paris you easily pay 25 euros more. I spend almost 3 hours in the hamam. Even after my oilmassage by a sturdy masseuse from Eastern Europe I pop back into the soothing steam room for a couple more minutes.

It’s only when I step outside that I notice that I’m in the middle of what looks like the red light district: sex shops, kino’s and live shows are tucked in between Turkish bakeries, Döner Imbisse (snack bars) and travel agencies. Quite strange a combination, if you ask me! I take a walk around the neighbourhood and enjoy a fruit juice at a Turkish Imbiss.
It’s nighty night for me quite early, just so I can have an early start the next morning.

As at other hotels, breakfast is excellent here. I overeat on sugar puffs, toast and scrambled eggs, a glas of juice, a hot roll with real German jelly and a cup of tea, hoping to last until lunch on this much food! I take my car out of the lot and park a couple of meters away from the hotel, where parking is for free on Saturday.

Tram 704 takes me from Hauptbahnhof to Graf Adolfplatz. I transfer onto S-bahn 706 to Aachener Platz for the flea market (Trödelmarkt). It’s a combination of a flea market with really old stuff that mainly attracts old women in amazing fur coats, semi-antiques, crappy new-technology stuff (R4 cards for Nintendo, memory cards, cell phones etc.) and loads and loads of pork dishes: a penetrating pork smell rises up from the foods such as bratwurst, schinken, wurst, sauerkraut, erbsensuppe… Not my kind of food, really…

With S-bahn 712 I head back to the city center. From the Heinrich Heine Allee U-bahn station I shop my way down to the Flingerstrasse and alleys around it, to end up at the Burgplatz. The twisted tower of the St. Lambertuskirche towers over the square.

Café Kasbah is set on a small harbor, a bit back from Burgplatz: wonderful mint tea in a plush surroundings. I give the harira a pass on account of my copious breakfast, however tempting it is…

By then, it’s time for the Kunstsammlung NRW.  I’ve wanted to visit this museum for years but first it was closed for constructions, than I planned a trip in the middle of carnaval, in the summer temperatures soared to almost 35 degrees…

Today, the entrance fee is just 4 euro’s because they have no special exhibits at the moment. But their regular collection is amazing!

Sarah Morris’ Hornet catches your eye from the entrance: a colorful mozaic wall in honour of reopening. This museum is dedicated to 20th century art and I’m impressed straight away: my first Jackson Pollock (# 32). But also a few Lichtensteins and Warhol’s Torn Campbell’s Soup Can and Two Elvises. Amazing! And there’re also a couple of Jasper Johns and Rauschenbergers to top it of.

 One floor up I hit the jackpot: over 30 Paul Klee paintings. I like ‘Rote und Weisse Kuppeln’ and ‘Kamel in rhythm’ best. But there’s also a Rothko, there are a number of Picasso’s, the Kandinsky and Miro’s not my favorites but in real life (as opposed to posters) a lot less so. I especially enjoy the plaster sculptures by Max Ernst, l’Imbecile being my favorite! This museum offers so much, I could easily visit again. But for now, my head is full and I skip the Kunsthalle across the street. Next time…

From the Kunstsammlung, I back track to the Altstadt and head for Carlsplatz. A daily covered market with lots of meats and people drinking beer at this early hour, outside, in the freezing cold.

I wander through alleys and to the Rheinufer and walk all the way down the Rheinufer walkway to the Medienhafen. The buildings by Frank Gehry are even more impressive up close. The Guggenheim in Bilboa is definitely planned for the near future! The platinum building is especially amazing. On the other side of the water the aptly named Colorium by Alsop catches my eye, as do a very old looking, small building and the building next to it, which has colored men glued to the façade. Not to mention the Grand Bateau by Vasconi. All in all, a great place to explore. The ground floors of many buildings offer restaurants or bars. The terraces are a bit sad, palm trees wrapped in plastic, but in summertime, this probably is a great place to hang out.

By now I’m exhausted by all the kilometers I’ve walked. I stumble back to the closest S-bahn station: Stadttor and ride it back to Graf Adolfplatz. It’s only a couple of meters to the Königsalle with it’s luxury and glamour. Spoilt a little, by the odd H&M and Esprit shop, but still there’s plenty of splendor. And there’re plenty of anti-fur protesters, too.

For my last forrays into Düsseldorfs attractions: I head down Immermannstrasse towards Hauptbahnhof. Düsseldorf is said to have a large number of Japanese. And according to the number of Japanese shops in this street, that’s most likely true. Shops range from supermarkets to bookstores, from specialist tea shops with pricey tea pots to sushi restaurants. In the Oststrasse I join the conveyer belt sushi crowd at Kiku Sushi. It’s time to replenish with a large pot of green tea and lunch a.k.a. early dinner: a seaweed salad, pickled radish and pumpkin sushi, mackerel salad sushi and pepper and radish sushi’s. Yum!
My legs are aching, my back’s hurting (bruised by last nights massage) but I’m fully contented with two wonderful days of German cities when I get into my car. Cologne was good fun but Düsseldorf is definately worthwhile! I throw back two Red Bulls for the ride home and an hour and a half later I turn onto my parents’ driveway. Really, really should have done this years back!

Hotel Best Western Ambassador, Harkortstrasse. Private room ensuite, € 57,- including breakfast and free parking at hotel.

Hamam Sahara Mintropstrasse (within walking distance from Hauptbahnhof). Treatments start at € 20,-