Bonn bust in the garden of Beethoven's birthplace, © Tourismus NRW e.V.

En­coun­ters with Beeth­oven

Ex­plor­a­tions in Bonn and the Rhein-Sieg dis­trict

I leave for a little cultural trip to Bonn early on my birthday. It’s a nice opportunity with a number of surprises in store for me in the Rhine metropolis. Packing everything I need for a three-day trip in my suitcase, I am quickly ready to set out.

Beethoven lettering in Bonn, © Anja Luckas

Arriving in the former federal capital, I am greeted by no one less than Ludwig van Beethoven. The world-famous composer, whose 250th birthday was subject to great celebration last year, is looking at me as the traffic light turns to green. It is not going to remain my only encounter with the miracle child from Bonngasse. Among other things, I am going to learn about a thing I share with the genius later on my tour of the city: the great composer and free thinker actually was as short as I am, standing precisely 1.60 metres tall.

However, the monument to honour the composer outside the old post office tells a different story. His larger-than-life likeness is proudly looking down at the people passing by on busy Münsterplatz from its high pedestal. My guide is able to tell me more about him. As we walk along the banks of the Rhine together, across the market and through the alleys of downtown Bonn, she keeps drawing my attention to the person behind the genius. I become familiar with the “Bönn’scher Jung”, a little golden chap placed here and there in the shop windows like a trademark. There are also some chocolate Beethoven thalers, kissing mouths, and chocolates with the composer’s likeness on them. I will certainly have to try them later.

Remigius Church, the only remaining Gothic church in Bonn, is where I learn that Beethoven played the organ here as at the age of ten and held his first permanent position at court aged only 13. Eleven of the 22 steles for the new Beethoven Tour are spread across Bonn’s pedestrian zone, telling the entire story of the genius’ life in short videos that cover anything from his strict father, to Beethoven’s unrequited love for noble ladies, and the later competition between Bonn and Vienna for erecting the first monument to him.

  • Bonn Beethoven monument on Münsterplatz, © Johannes Höhn
    Beethoven busts are a popular souvenir, © Anja Luckas
    City map of Bonn, © Anja Luckas
  • Signposts show the way to attractions in the city, © Anja Luckas
    Beethoven pens, © Anja Luckas
    The Beethoven House in Bonn is a starting point for the Beethoven tour, © Anja Luckas
Kreuzgang Bonner Münster, © Anja Luckas

I feel almost a little reverent as I end my little city tour at the world-famous composer’s birthplace. The rooms in this house in the narrow Bonngasse are small, with floorboards creaking at every step. I suddenly feel part of history myself, joining many tourists and music enthusiasts in inspecting the handwritten sheet music and historical instruments, more than 200 years old, with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” following me back out into the street.

A quick glance at the cloister of the Bonn Cathedral and I’m immediately smitten. What an idyllic place in the middle of the pedestrian zone. I linger for a moment to enjoy the silence before returning to the Ameron Hotel Königshof through the Hofgarten. The line of chancellor portraits in the foyer bear witness to the 1950s to 1970s, a time when this stylish design hotel right on the Rhine promenade used to be a popular meeting place for the federal political scene. I immediately understand why Adenauer and Co. liked to stay at this place or pose on its large terrace with their guests before the spectacular backdrop of the Rhine and the Siebengebirge mountains – my next destination.

First, however, I visit Beethoven one last time. The specialty of the traditional restaurant “Im Stiefel”, just a few steps away from the composer’s birthplace, is “Beethoven’s Laiberl”, his favourite dish. Of course, I must try it. Thick potato soup is served in a loaf of bread rather than a tureen here, like a good bourgeois meal entirely in Beethoven’s style. Then I’m off to bed...

What am I going to find in the Siebengebirge mountains? I’m about to find out. The next morning, hiking guide Uta Hildebrand greets me to introduce me to some of the legendary landscape there. The weather continues to be kind to us. Just a light drizzle accompanies us on our way from Königswinter up to the 320-metre-high Drachenfels. We save our strength by taking the rack railroad for the steep ascent. Slowly and noisily, the wagon with its benches covered in red synthetic leather, its inside panelled in wood, labours up through the woods still glistening with early morning dew past Schloss Drachenburg.

I have never been on Germany’s “most climbed” mountain before. Uta envies me a little for being able to “experience this for the first time now”. What is she talking about? I quickly find the answer to that question when we step on the plateau below the ruin. Wow! The view sweeps far across the Rhine valley, over the fields and meadows on the other side of the Rhine, all the way to the island of Nonnenwerth and the Rolandsbogen. The poets and painters who praised the Rhine romanticism here centuries ago did not exaggerate. It barely feels real, even though the view is just a little cloudy this morning.

Anja Luckas hikes in the Siebengebirge, © Anja Luckas

Has Ludwig van Beethoven – there he is again – ever come up here? Uta, who knows the Siebengebirge mountains inside out and has a few stories to tell about every rise here, isn’t sure either. Still, we follow a section of the new Beethoven hiking trail back down to the valley, past the strange rock where the dragon is said to have once surrendered to the fair maiden. “Wait a moment, Anja. I’ll take a picture of you,” says Uta before we continue our hike, first steeply uphill and then back down. Uta warns me to watch out. I manage to stay on my feet while enjoying the unusual silence. There is barely anyone in the forest with us. We take a shortcut and finally make our way back to the quaint old town of Königswinter through the Nachtigallental. I’m completely exhausted, but happy, and also a little proud. I don’t even want to think about my sore muscles at this moment ... Instead, I prefer to enjoy a three-course meal at the hotel restaurant Oliveto. The menu offers pickled salmon and duck breast today, of course accompanied by a dry white wine.

Day three is dawning. Still a little tired from yesterday’s hike, I take things easy and prefer to get a ride. It’s a good choice. My sightseeing tour on the city bus shows me many sights, including the old cemetery on the fringe of the city centre, where Robert and Clara Schumann, Beethoven’s mother, and Mildred Scheel are buried. Bonn’s Südstadt, one of the few entirely preserved residential areas from the Wilhelminian period, is covered as well. I wonder what an apartment in one of the elegant villas with the richly decorated façades and small bay windows would cost, and almost start dreaming a little.

My next stop is the museum mile, an avenue that is probably unique in Germany. I can pick from among as many as five internationally acclaimed museums and eventually choose the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. It’s a tall, striking building with a gigantic slide leading from its roof back to ground level. While young (and older) children in rain jackets and rubber boots enjoy themselves in the water pavilion on the forecourt, I have another decision to make, as I need to pick between Beuys and fashion. I settle on the “Dresscode” exhibition, a show about playing with fashion.

I don’t have enough time for a second museum today. Before the city bus takes me to my last destination of the day, Bad Godesberg, I have another thing to do, however. I love museum stores! I always buy at least a pencil. I have already purchased the matching eraser in the Beethoven House, and I have Beethoven thalers and chocolates as well. All I still need are a few postcards to send some artistic birthday greetings from the Beethoven city of Bonn to the people back home.

Author: Anja Luckas –  Anja Luckas has been on the road a lot in DeinNRW. The journalist prefers to report on topics that combine travel and culture.

  • The hiking guide Uta Hildebrand guides travelers safely through the Siebengebirge, © Anja Luckas
    Beethoven Trail Drachenburg Castle Siebengebirge, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
    Beethoven Trail Sign, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
  • Old buildings in Bonn's southern district, © Johannes Höhn
    Water games and fountains in front of the Bundeskunsthalle, © Anja Luckas
    The Dress Code exhibition in the Bundeskunsthalle , © Anja Luckas