“Neandertal? The Neandertal where the Neanderthal people lived?” a friend asked me when I told them where my next trip was going. Yes, the Neandertal, where the remains of a prehistoric man – Homo Neanderthalensis – were found in a limestone quarry back in the 19th century. However, that valley section of the Düssel was not named after the Neanderthal man. It happened the other way round.
By now, “Neanderland” refers to the entire district of Mettmann, a green region between Düsseldorf, Essen, and Wuppertal, where visitors can not only follow in the footsteps of human history but also enjoy an action-packed weekend full of culinary highlights.
It has just stopped raining. I peek through the grasses swaying in the wind over to the other side of the valley, where a couple of aurochs are grazing between the trees. Lime is no longer being mined in the Neandertal today. Instead, the place is the home to the modern Neanderthal Museum and the Ice Age game reserve with a circular hiking trail. In addition to the aurochs, tarpan horses, an original species of wild horse, are living here, as are bison. All of these animal species were virtually extinct in recent centuries. The aurochs and the tarpan have grown from attempts to rebreed these animal species undertaken by the Heck brothers in the 1930s.
The round trip takes me past lush meadows and forests, crossing the Düssel and finally ending directly in front of my next stop: The Neandertal No. 1, where I have a lunch date with Caterina Klusemann. The Italian-born filmmaker first arrived in Neandertal in 2017 in order to take over an old inn with a real cave. She has come to specialise in events, lunch, and window sales to out-of-town guests. Her dishes contain plenty of regional and original ingredients. She lets me taste my way through her Paleo cooking boxes in a cosy ambience this afternoon and I am thrilled to experience the explosion of taste that can be achieved with simple, original ingredients. I can even take the experience home in the box.
My accommodation this weekend spirits me from the Neanderland right into the middle of the USA. The reception and guest room are reminiscent of an American bar, and each room its uniquely themed. Guests may feel like the President of the US or even like Elvis himself for the night they spend here. My Hawaiian-themed room has a giant barrel for a bathtub. Aloha!
“Ready?” My knees are quite weak; I’m wearing a wetsuit and my hands are clutching at the wooden handle as if it’s the last thing I’ll ever need to hold. I squat as low as I can in my white skis on the launch ramp of the water ski facility for beginners. Any moment now, the rope will go taut to pull me into the water with a jerk. “Ready!” I say. “We’ll see about that...,” I think. I stare stubbornly ahead, take another deep breath and – whoosh – off I go. To my own surprise, I’m still standing. I’m standing! I’m actually water-skiing!
With four individual lanes, two stretches for beginners, many obstacles, and a surf wave, Waterski Langenfeld is one of the world’s largest facilities of its kind. Its location between Düsseldorf and Cologne in the middle of the Neanderland makes it popular, too. If you don’t want to water ski, you can watch the wakeboarders do their tricks from the terrace of the adjacent Seehaus while enjoying a meal or sundowner drink.
I am promoted to the big track after just a few beginner rounds. I’ll be quite honest: I am feeling a bit queasy, standing in line between all the wakeboard cracks. But everyone here is extremely nice, offering advice and encouraging me. In the end, I manage half a lap once and then almost a full one. I end up swimming less than I’d feared. Water skiing is pretty exhausting, though, and I end my afternoon with a Radler at the beach bar while watching the surfers ride the artificial wave.
Monheim am Rhein is only about a then minutes’ drive away. I use what time I have before dinner to take a short walk down to the river, where the evening sun bathes everything in a golden light while walkers and cyclists enjoy themselves on the dyke. A small bird house is hanging from a lantern, offering travellers to take wildflower seeds for a donation. Waves splash against the stones on the shore, a few huge ships float on the water. Monheim is an idyllic place. “Living here must be like being on holiday year-round,” I think.
Dinner takes me to the Bloomgold on the edge of the old town. The name sounds Dutch, the cuisine is French, and the ambience is tasteful and modern. I pick a sunny spot on the terrace and order an aperitif with gin and a wonderful Coq au Riesling with grilled vegetables. This is a fitting conclusion for a rather eventful day.
My muscles are quite sore from the day before. What would be a better cure for that than doing even more sports? Today, I am going to go climbing. The Wald-Abenteuer in Velbert-Langenberg offers a high-rope course, with over 100 climbing elements, ziplines, and Tarzan jumps. This is something I’ve always wanted to try. I love that I am allowed to move freely in the park to conquer the courses at my own pace after a detailed safety briefing. I cross balance beams, suspension bridges and rather wobbly rope loops, one of which has me do an involuntary split. I love how it focuses my mind on the moment. The only thing that matters is the next step: “Do I dare try it?”. The courses have different levels of difficulty, and I work my way up from “squirrel” to “rabbit” to “owl”. Eventually, I even forget thinking about how high up I am.
Before I know it, I’m right up there, on a small platform 18 metres above the ground. It makes the people below me look quite small all of a sudden. There’s just one thing separating me from my destination now: A 170-metre-long rope and the park’s longest zipline. I properly hook up, look down once more, and finally dash off. And what can I say? It wasn’t half bad!
There are eleven courses in total, three of them intended for children. It’s a great place to spend the entire day in the forest. Sore muscles slowly leech my strength, however, and I do have other plans for today, too.
The final highlight of my weekend in the Neanderland is a quick detour to Velbert-Neviges, where I can find a very special architectural masterpiece in St. Mary’s Cathedral. This pilgrimage cathedral was designed and built by Gottfried Böhm in the 1960s. Cardinal Frings, who was in office at the time, chose his design because, being unable to see anymore, he made his choice by touch. From the outside, the cathedral looks like a cubist mountain. From the inside, it seems to be a tent made of concrete. As a lover of brutalism, I found this a great ending to my beautiful trip to the Neanderland.
Author: Nina Hüpen-Bestendonk - No matter if city trip, long-distance travel, or short trip: Nina Hüpen-Bestendonk, who hails from the Lower Rhine region, loves taking pictures with one of her 30 cameras. She records her adventures in pictures, texts, and small illustrations on her online blog Samaracuja.