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Duisburg Harbour, © Duisport / Hans Blossey

Discover the west in your next city break


Plan your weekend with the throw of a dice

Where will you stumble across technicoloured steps? Why does the U-Bahn resemble a space station? And what kind of cuisine will you find in a restaurant called “Alge”? The answers to these and other questions can be found by discovering a new city in NRW.

For this travel game, you have to forget about air miles and instead embrace the destination with impartiality and enthusiasm. You will come to see concrete jungles as new ground for discovery and notice the flowers popping their heads out from the tarmac. The city is the same – you are just seeing it through different eyes.

We invite you to the oft-forgotten western frontier of Germany to discover the less obvious and often overlooked places. Here you will learn to open your eyes to new horizons. It's all about going with the flow, and the expectation of stumbling across an amazing discovery around the next corner. Switch your phone to flight mode and attack the city armed with the most rudimentary of knowledge for a highly personal experience. You don't need a guide book to conquer a city. Fact.

And it doesn’t always have to be one of Europe’s major capitals, either. We have nothing against these cities, of course, but you do tend to find such trips descending into a mad rush to cross off the historical sites on your must-see list. For the truly curious, there is nothing like getting an insight into everyday city life. And that is what you will find if you come west. But how do you choose your destination? We suggest that you plan your weekend with the throw of a dice. By leaving it to chance, you increase your chances of experiencing something truly unique. So reserve a weekend in your calendar and roll that dice!

1 A LIVING MYTH: DUISBURG

Duisburg may have shed its gritty image of old, but the city remains a little rough around the edges. It is known as a place where the people work hard, and where the cycle of failure and renewal continues to turn. Above all, it is known for its port, which celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2016. Formerly a hub of industry, the Inner Harbour has been redeveloped with striking architecture and is now home to a thriving restaurant scene. Dortmund had to create the artificial Phoenix lake to provide a waterfront for the city, but here in Duisburg it was simply a matter of reviving the old harbour basin. The attractions now include the Museum Küppersmühle, which houses modern art in a former granary. Many of the old grain warehouses have been repurposed by top architects, with Lord Norman Foster’s dazzling “Five Boats” complex overlooking the marina joined by a five-sided concrete synagogue and the new red-bricked NRW State Archive. The redevelopment work still has a long way to go, but that adds to the appeal of the area.

TIP: High-tech commercial hub & romantic trade artery: a boat tour of the harbour provides the best views of this city in transition.

2 DÜSSELDORF: ALL THE CLICHÉS ARE TRUE

It is true that this is a cultured city. Where else would you find an underground U-Bahn line with art in place of advertising? Your journey in the Wehrhahn tunnel will begin at Pempelforter Straße station with its bold black and white geometric shapes on the floors and ceilings. At the Schadowstraße and Heinrich-Heine-Allee stations, passengers will encounter video installations and sound experiments. Part of a project that has garnered international praise, the line crosses the inner city to the Bilk district, with six individually designed stations bringing art closer to commuters. Our favourite stop is Benrather Straße. Not just because of the space projections – which must make the U-Bahn drivers feel like astronauts – but also because of the weekly market that takes place on nearby Carlsplatz and which surely ranks as the best in the state capital for culinary discoveries.

A visit to Düsseldorf wouldn’t be complete without a stop-off on the high-end Königsallee shopping mile, but if passengers continue to the end of the line they will find equally delightful small shops and studios around the Bilk S-Bahn station from Brunnenstraße to Karolingerplatz.

TIP: To round off the trip, night-owls should check out BouiBouiBilk, which bills itself as an “interdisciplinary space for art, culture and mild chaos”. Expect self-described “regular/irregular” events.

3 CITY NORD.ESSEN – AN UP-AND-COMING DISTRICT

In the Ruhr Area, they are used to comments about the washing turning grey on the clothes line, or the continued astonishment of tourists about how green everything is. So it might come as a surprise to some that Essen is now quite the magnet for creative types and do-it-yourself pioneers. Before the whole world becomes aware of this, we invite you to discover the City Nord.Essen creative quarter. You could for example relax on the sun terrace of the huge “Unperfekthaus”, a privately run cultural gathering point for artists and actionists. Or if rock is your scene, you should check out venues like “Don’t Panic”, “Café Nord” and the legendary “Turock”. Art lovers are well catered for with “Galerie Ricarda Fox“, “Forum Kunst und Architektur” and “Kunstverein Essen”. Those keen to explore more up-and-coming artists should head to “Karo Kunst in der Kastanienallee” or the more recently opened “Alte Mitte” gallery. The quarter offers a fairly wide choice of cuisine ranging from falafel to Käsespätzle (cheesy noodles). Evening entertainment venues include Weststadthalle, GOP Varieté and Colosseum, and midnight shopping is possible in the Limbecker Platz shopping centre. Everywhere you go, you will encounter the charm and creative disorder of a district that is on the up. Make sure you are able to say “I was there!”.

4 A CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE IN KREFELD

Where one person sees a problem, another person sees an opportunity. After stepping from the imposing early 19th-century railway station into the “city of silk and velvet”, visitors can decide which category they belong to. With a new spirit of inventiveness and a proud textile heritage, an interesting story is being woven in Krefeld – one which is being added to all the time. People are starting to look at the city with a totally different perspective. They are, for example, treated to the beautiful sight of the cherry blossom trees amid the splendid architecture of the buildings on Alexanderplatz, which date from the city’s golden age of industry. In the old velvet weavers’ neighbourhood, 20 creative enterprises have established themselves in the “Pionierhaus” centre. If you are feeling spontaneous, you can actually spend time with the advertisers, city game app inventors, artists and city activists as a co-worker. This is where a constant stream of project ideas for the neighbourhood are being hatched, from city tours to bureaucratic shortcuts to the city magazine. There is also the large annual street festival, to which visitors are warmly welcomed.

Since it is laid out in a grid, the city is extremely easy to get around. Architecturally, it contains a mish-mash of contemporary buildings (Behnisch-Haus), the Bauhaus style of Mies van der Rohe (Haus Esters and Haus Lange), Art Nouveau gems (the southern district and the amazing beer garden of Stadtwaldhaus) as well as former factories which have been transformed into cultural venues (Kulturfabrik, Kulturrampe and Schlachthof). Finally, if you are looking for a good spot for a late-night beer, we recommend the Blauer Engel back at the railway station.

TIP: If you are in the city on a Friday or Saturday, be sure to check out the fantastic jumble of memorabilia, art and bric-a-brac in the “Tom und Mary” shop. (Say “hi” from us!)

5 AN ARTFUL CITY: MÖNCHENGLADBACH

The two most daring buildings around Abteiberg in the centre of Mönchengladbach are a museum and a shopping mall. Museum Abteiberg is an architectural icon from the 1970s. With an exterior resembling a spaceship or an aircraft carrier, its labyrinthine galleries house a top-drawer collection of works from artists including Gerhard Richter and Joseph Beuys. The shoppers’ paradise, meanwhile, boasts a futuristic and aesthetically pleasing curvy design. Away from these focal points, a fringe scene is starting to emerge. Popular meetings points on Waldhausener Straße include the bar “Mezcalito”, the open studios of the “Blaues Haus” and the “Kulturküche” café with office space. Music lovers can browse the non-profit “Vinyl Garage” and art lovers can view the latest exhibition in the “Projektraum EA71” arts centre in the Eicken district. Recommended places for eating include the vegan “ALGE” and Soanh’s Vietnamese snack-bar. And for visitors who fancy getting out of the city, we suggest the castle grounds of Schloss Rheydt with its free-wandering peacocks.

6 WHOOP! WHOOP! WUPPERTAL!

Despite having attractions like the suspension railway, the Von der Heydt Museum, the Skulpturenpark Waldfrieden and the lively scene in the Luisenviertel district, the home of Thermomix, Pina Bausch and the Bergisch coffee spread still counts as one of the west’s most underrated cities. Wuppertal has always been known as an inventive place, however, so it is quite fitting that visitors can take a digital tour of the city in an electric car. Rest assured that there will be enough battery power for one or two unusual side-trips. In the centre of Wuppertal, a free-spirited collective with boundless creative drive have staked their claim and established a venue christened “Utopiastadt” in the old Wuppertal-Mirke railway station. Everyone benefits when Utopians do something pragmatic! After making your way to the listed building via the northern railway line cycling path, your first port of call should be the “Hutmacher” café with its unplastered walls and improvised counter made from piles of books. This is a place for sharing knowledge and stories but also practical things like food and drink, offices and bikes.
The Utopian project has brought this district of ornate industrial age buildings to life. Highlights include the tango hotspot of Café Ada, the rough charm of the live stage at “Wirtschaftswunder” and the technicoloured Holsteiner steps. Not since Friedrich Engels have Utopians been so celebrated in Bergisches Land.

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Minto Mönchengladbach, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
Holsteiner Treppe in Wuppertal, © Tourismus NRW e.V.
Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach, © Vogt, MGMG
Unperfekthaus in Essen, © Unperfekthaus

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