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Having spent a total of sixteen months in what some might call Germany’s “ugliest Bundesland”, I would like to dispel that perception by sharing with you a few of the charms of Nordrhein-Westfalen that make me proud to call it mein zweites Heimat. From classical treasures to quirky traditions, NRW has a lot to offer to visitors interested in activities that might not be featured in their guidebooks. Forget Neuschwanstein and head to the North Rhein!
1. Duisburger Landschaftspark Nord – Duisburg
Duisburg tends to get a lot of guff from citizens and visitors alike for not being the prettiest of places. This of course added to my surprise when I discovered one of the most beautiful parks I’d ever seen hidden in plain sight just north of this bustling city. This park is unlike any I had been to before, having been designed to utilize an abandoned coal and steel production plant. Visitors are encouraged to climb around the park’s structures, which today are filled with the laughter of families instead of the pounding of industry. In the summer it comes alive with special events like the Traumzeit Music Festival. It’s all part of what led to the Rhine-Ruhr region being named Kulturhauptstadt Europas in 2010! There are of course other repurposed industrial centers to be seen in NRW, but the Landschaftspark Nord is first in my heart.
2. Beethoven-Haus – Bonn
Did you know that Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany? Not only that, the house where he was born is open to the public as a museum dedicated to his life! It’s definitely worth a visit for any Beetho-fan. The museum itself is laid out very thoughtfully to follow his career as a young prodigy through his tragic hearing loss and death in Vienna as an international superstar. Several instruments are on display, including the viola he played as a youth.
3. Rhine River Cruise – Bonn
Cruising down the Rhine is a popular vacation activity, with large boats ferrying tourists from Basel to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, with their intensive itineraries, only an afternoon or so is allowed for exploration of the Rhine’s friendly NRW-shores! Simply go to Bonn’s Alter Zoll and find the docks to buy a ticket! (Achtung: am besten warten Sie bis den Winter vorbei ist!)
4. Galerie Cinema – Essen
In a country with such a large film dubbing industry, finding a movie theater that plays original English-versions of films can be almost impossible (which I suppose could be helpful for people trying to learn German!). Which made it all the more delightful when I discovered the tiny Galerie Cinema in Essen where they’ve been playing the same English-language version of Harold & Maude every Sunday on its original 35mm print for over thirty years! Just head over to Julienstraße 73 for the most charming movie-going experience of your life.
5. Die Eifel – Southwestern NRW
If on your trip to Germany you can’t make it to Bavaria for some Alpine hiking, don’t fret! No self-respecting German is ever too far away from some good old-fashioned frische Luft! From Cologne you can hop on a train and within an hour be in my favorite Mittelgebirge in all of Germany. Die Eifel is a massive area waiting to be explored, filled with medieval towns like Bad Münstereifel, ruins from Germany’s Roman past, and a gigantic National Park!
Sieht ihr? Es gibt in NRW mehr als genug zu entdecken. Ich wünsche euch eine gute Reise!