A quick business trip to DÃ¼sseldorf started with a stark reminder of the progress the world has made in smoking bans – when you enter the nice-enough-as-such airport, you’re greeted with a thick blanket of cigarette smoke emitting from nearby open-space restaurants, where smoking is allowed. Gross.
I found that smoke amazing on many fronts – first, it’s amazing how fast one gets used to the smoking bans and the resulting clean air. Second, it’s amazing how little progress certain parts of Germany have been making in the past 10 years; whereas most civilized countries have banned smoking in restaurants, bars and public areas, DÃ¼sseldorf still felt like it was firmly stuck in the past.
As if that wasn’t a bad enough start for the trip, it turns out that DÃ¼sseldorf (where I hadn’t been before), has one of the most confusing train systems ever. Not only are there no route maps available anywhere, there are no English instructions to how to procure a ticket (except for cryptic ones on the ticket machine), you have to buy the ticket from a machine that only accepts coins and small bills (i.e. there are apparently no people selling these, at least at the airport) and there is no sign telling you which kind of ticket you need to get downtown (a “short trip” or Zone A, B or C? Turns out, after enough asking around, that it was Zone A). Finally, with a ticket in hand that I wasn’t quite certain was a correct one, I arrived downtown just some 10 minutes later. Quite a convenient trip from the airport.
But then again, I shouldn’t really complain – certain airports in the world (*ahem*, like the one in Helsinki) don’t even have a train connection to begin with and I can only imagine the difficulties foreigners have figuring out the correct bus connections from there.. A confusing train is certainly better than no train at all.
Being in central Europe, I was expecting to see a rather neat main railway station – they tend to be quite nice. So I was a bit underwhelmed and disappointed when I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof in DÃ¼sseldorf (image above left); it feels like a large version of the “asematunneli” in Helsinki. It was a vertically challenged concrete hell, and the platforms (image on the left) weren’t much better with ceiling made from 60’s corrugated sheet metal and concrete. Cute. Not.
Luckily, things improved from thereon.
For one, it turned out that DÃ¼sseldorf has some interesting buildings. While there really weren’t anything you could call a skyscraper, there was the occasional sprinkling of nice tall buildings like the one below left. Then there was the trio of strange-shaped office buildings, below middle. And the tower Rheinturm, below right, with nice views from 175m or thereabouts.
These views revealed that the river crossing the city, Rhine, separated two very different styles of urban planning. On the other side there was a river boulevard (of the collection below, photos top left and bottom right) complete with an endless supply of touristy-looking restaurants, river ships offering cruises etc docked beside it and so on.
And on the other side of the river? Sheep.
Yes, sheep. Dozens, if not hundreds of sheep. I don’t know what they were doing there, but it was an interesting contrast.
Anyhow, already in early April spring was showing some signs. The magnolia trees were blooming and the river boulevard was slowly coming to life.
The tradition whenever I visit a new city and have only a few hours to spend is to just walk around, pretty much aimlessly though aided by a map. Often I tend to gravitate towards parks, and DÃ¼sseldorf was no exception. I stumbled upon a nice small park that had some (very friendly) swans and beautiful blooming trees and all kinds of nice things:
All in all, DÃ¼sseldorf felt like a generally agreeable city with two major annoyances; the ubiquitous cigarette smoke and the confusing transportation system. I’d never travel there for vacation, but as far as business destinations go, it could be worse. Particularly the transportation from the airport is quick and easy once you get over the braindead ticketing system.
(All photos can be clicked for a bigger version – sorry for the low-ish quality, I only had my old compact digicam with me..)