As a kid I lived in a small midwestern city full of blue collar jobs, very few princes and a lone castle best known as the proverbial Frankenstein’s Castle which was hidden in the old but infamous Woodland Historical Cemetery on the outskirts of town. Excitement came by way of either family vacations spent at my grandparents in an out-of-the way southern village in the middle of never-heard-of Virginia or on an isolated riverbank fighting off vampiric mosquitos.
There were no trips to Disney World. Not even one Spring break on a white sand beach building sandcastles. Nevertheless, my imagination broke free of small town borders and ran wild, dreaming of far away places and the mythical creatures that surely dwelled there. The lack of internet and much unorthodox thinking created the breeding ground for mentally realistic and vividly foreign lands.
Such a land was spawned from my father’s brief stories describing his escapades while enlisted in the Navy. His account of visiting Germany only fostered daydreams of hairy legged men-boys dancing in knee-length shorts with suspenders through cobblestone streets, clanging beer steins and obnoxiously singing along to polka songs. In my reverie, indubitably every tiny shop with their cuckoo clock laden walls (that chimed at all hours, night and day), sold huge-unable-to-hold-in-one-hand Bavarian pretzels.
Note: My imagination painted the little storefronts selling the knotted sourdough pastry as miniature, dwarf-sized shops. I have no idea why. Especially as in my minds-eye and in contrast, the men-boys were nothing less than oversized giant ogres…
Thankfully, my underdeveloped and adolescent mental visions were proven to be bogus as I quickly discovered during my recent trip to Germany.
I went to Düsseldorf in November. Not my first trip internationally but my first journey to the land of beer, brats and pretzels (not to mention Oktoberfest or the Berlin Wall). The flight over was a squashing experience.
Encased between two übergroße Männer (oversized men), neither of which were willing to share let alone give up their armrest time, the eight and a half hour flight felt more like a very long, fat girl in a little coat scenario. Yep, my procrastination was my own undoing nestled in the middle seat. Neither were in lederhosen but both sat with their denim clad legs spread as if they were performing a sit down version of the Schuhplattler… the entire trip. Surprisingly, no dancing erupted on the plane. Although, the spirit of Oktoberfest was proven to be alive and well throughout the entire flight.
The Düsseldorf U-Bahn (exit left), similar to the London Underground (mind the gap) or the New York subway (don’t travel alone) was a quick ride from the airport to the outskirts of Altstadt and the hotel. The hotel was nice; modernized in the midst of crowded streets that were full of bakeries and Kneipes, Lokal and Gasthaus. Yes, there were lots and lots of pubs.
The U-Bahn was a frequent method of daily travel between the hotel and the Messe (exhibition center). Although my excursion was part of a business trip to increase our company’s presence at MEDICA (the largest international trade fair for medical technology), there was still opportunity to take in some sights and eat real German (and not so local) cuisine. I will never forget the Schweinshaxe better known by Americans as the pork knuckle. The unspoken visual was enough –
I did not, would not try it boiled. I did not, would not try it fried. They tried and tried with attempts of high fives and even bribery of inordinate amounts of wine. Tried and tried they did until finally all I could say was…
Hölle Nein!That’s German for an emphatic H – E – double hockey sticks No!
The sights of the city were more appealing. Not one person, man or otherwise, was seen in lederhosen as I navigated the East bank of Düsseldorf by foot. Thankfully, there were no ogres and not the faintest polka tune. However, cobblestone streets are a very real thing! My geschwollene Knöchel (swollen ankles) are twisted proof.
The Rhine River divides the city and provides a spectacular round-the-clock view. At the waters edge, the Rhine Tower, a massively elaborate concrete telecommunication tower, looks much more impressive than the simplistic purpose it serves – cell tower. Altstadt or Old Town provided an olde world boutique shopping experience. In Old Town, St. Lambertus Church and Schlossturm (Castle Tower) both date to the 13th century. They were magnificent.
The 13th century provided for great architecture and the most memorable of Dusseldorf’s landmarks. An unforgettable icon – the cartwheeler – is said to have evolved after a fierce 1288 battle that resulted in Düsseldorf gaining the rights of a city.
Although, I learned the Cathedral in the neighboring city of Cologne is adorn with gargoyles, mythical creatures were nowhere to be found in Düsseldorf. Yet, the city obviously believes in the modern magic of little beasties. Everywhere and I do mean everywhere I went in the city, folks were accompanied by their dogs. Just walking, shopping, having dinner or drinks, riding the U-Bahn, it did not matter. Dogs are obviously a welcomed denizen.
During my visit, I studiously picked-up on a thing or two while taking in the ambience of the city. I would love to say I cartwheeled my way down the historical streets but truth be told, it took quite a bit of eye-foot coordination not to literally tumble (as in falling head-first) down the cobblestone streets.
In spite of the challenge walking, the Belgian blocks served to heightened the spirit of Düsseldorf. The German ethos hit full force during the last day of my visit as I journeyed to the many Christmas markets.
Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday and the Düsseldorf Christmas markets were like getting a sneak peek into Santa’s workshop. I was able to take it all in ~ chestnuts roasting on an open fire, ornaments hung here and there and Christmas carols playing as in mid-air ~ all while restraining myself from buying too many souvenirs – slash – errr… Christmas presents.
Even the grinchiest of Grinches would have walked away singing, “Es fängt an, wie Weihnachten auszusehen”It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
My visit to Düsseldorf started with half thinking those oversized men in boy shorts would greet me at the airport or at least provide a proper sendoff. They never showed (I am a little sad about that). But Düsseldorf is so much more than I could have ever imagined… creepy nutcrackers, the taste of Glühwein and Killepitsch (not together thankfully) and even lost cell phones. But as the German saying goes… ‘Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.’
Everything has an end, sausage has two!
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