Düsseldorf, the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen), is a very livable city, ranked 6th in the Mercer Quality of Living Survey. Its nearly 600,000 inhabitants enjoy a lively city, rich in services and events, which are very accessible, thanks to the relatively small size of the city. This also makes Düsseldorf attractive for over 100,000 foreigners who have settled down to work and study here.
While the Düsseldorf Tourist Office provides information about traditional sightseeing, and accommodations are easy to find on most common online booking portals, I want to introduce you to some insider curiosities. As I have been an expat myself since 1984, and I now professionally support expats, I have collected some “A-ha experiences” which usually impress visitors the most.
Though lacking iconic landmarks like those in other historically significant places (i.e., Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, etc.), Düsseldorf is nevertheless noted for its multifaceted balance of sophisticated modernity, flourishing business, cultural diversity, art events, and trendy neighborhoods. These keywords and concepts can guide visitors exploring Düsseldorf.
Medienhafen (Media Harbor) – Sophisticated Modernity
Around the mid-1970s, Düsseldorf’s former commercial port area began its transformation into a trendy hot spot. The port was established in the seventeenth century, bombed during World War II, and later boomed thanks to Germany’s “economic miracle” before suffering from decreasing heavy industrial trading. Today you’ll find a modern yacht harbor instead of industrial docks. The Rhine Tower with its cryptic clock offers amazing panorama views. The Media Harbor is also home to the state parliament that was previously located in the Ständehaus, now a museum. In the 1990s, radio and TV broadcasting companies established their headquarters in this area, thus lending the harbor its name. The fashion industry, prestigious consultancies, and advertising companies soon followed – along with high-class hoteliers and caterers. The harbor area is also home to eye-catching architecture, with two of the most photographed buildings in Düsseldorf: the Gehry architectural complex (the only one with metallic cladding like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) and the Roggendorf-House with its colorful “Flossis” climbing up its facade.
Flourishing Fashion Business
Paris? New York? Milan? Did you know that Düsseldorf stands for fashion (Mode) as well?
More than 3,000 fashion houses are based in Düsseldorf, plus the beauty giants Schwarzkopf, L’Oréal and Shiseido. Other fashion-related businesses include trade fairs, retailers, show rooms, PR agencies, academies, and award events.
Walking down the street, not only on the city’s famous Kö (Königsallee, the luxury mile), but also in more mainstream districts, one cannot miss the fashionable outfits, the focus on aesthetics, and the good taste of people. That’s why other Germans call Düsseldorf a “schicki micki” city: over-trendy and overdressed.
Besides established luxury brands, a new wave of designers and startups has emerged to keep Düsseldorf vibrant and attractive for investors and business people. Institutions, brands and media agencies create synergies, thanks to the association Fashion Net Düsseldorf e. V.
Cultural Diversity: The Japanese and Other Foreigners Feel at Home Here
Over 2 million foreigners live in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and slightly more than 20 percent of Düsseldorf residents have a so-called “migration background.”
While Turkish, Polish, Italian, and Greek communities are as common in Düsseldorf as in other large German urban areas, the Japanese community in particular stands out: About 7,000 residents allow us to taste delicious sushi and other delicacies, peacefully walk through the Japanese garden, find Asian handicrafts in the Japan Town district (Immermannstraße), stare at amazing fireworks, and encounter bizarre manga characters during the annual Japan Day celebration.
Unlike other foreign populations, the Japanese stick to their community because most of them are here only temporarily, working for some years for one of the many corporations or studying at the music high school.
The very first interchange between Düsseldorf and Nagasaki dates back to the 19th century, when a Prussian officer signed a friendship and trade agreement. Representatives of the Japanese emperor visited Düsseldorf in 1904-1905 for art events and exhibitions.
Japanese firms established themselves in Germany in the early 1950s because of fruitful commercial relations with German heavy industry. This helped boost reconstruction and growth in the Ruhr region following World War II. More recently, chemistry and IT have enhanced the regional economy. The Netherlands, Belgium and France are all easily accessible from Düsseldorf, making the city the optimal headquarters for European branch offices of Japanese companies: Fujifilm, NEC, Nippon Steel, and Sumitomo Metal Corporation, among others.
Did you know that Anna Maria Luisa de‘ Medici established an art gallery in Düsseldorf in 1710? Her Italian origin and the family heritage boosted the vision of sponsoring Italian art and culture abroad, namely in Düsseldorf.
It took almost another 200 years to plan a proper art museum and to develop infrastructure for artistic activities. Favorable occasions were the universal exhibitions, admired in the early years of 20th century, above and beyond industry and technology. The influential German architect Wilhelm Kreis, during the nationalistic era, designed the Ehrenhof complex, together with a planetarium (now the Tonhalle concert hall) and infrastructure along the Rhine, now the Rheinterrasse (Rhine terrace).
Nowadays these buildings are backdrops for most local art events. The Museum Kunstpalast hosts significant exhibitions which offer original works of art that span the centuries (e.g. Cranach, El Greco, Feininger) beside the permanent collections.
The Tonhalle concert hall has an impressively wide program. Fans of classical music appreciate the Düsseldorf Symphoniker, while children enjoy special concerts during the “family weeks.” There is an event for every taste – often with local and international guests, musicians, choirs, and actors.
The art museum Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen definitely keeps pace with the times, staying contemporary with its concept of openness and participation. Its three locations (K20 at Grabbeplatz, K21 Ständehaus, F3 in Schmela Haus) reflect a belief in the power of art to educate and to transform., and to enrich people through novel forms of experience. Besides its regular exhibitions and permanent collections, interactive conferences, the Kunstsammlung offers free entry on the first Wednesday of every month from 6:00 to 10:00 pm (sponsored by KMPG), encouraging everyone in Düsseldorf to increase their artistic education.
Emerging Trendy Districts
Bilk and Unterbilk, in the southern part of Düsseldorf – between Medienhafen and Friedrichstadt – have a wonderful cozy flair! This area has been a hotspot since medieval times. The old St. Martin Church built in the 7th century represents the first religious settlement. In 1288 Düsseldorf gained “town rights and freedoms” and in 1384 Bilk was integrated into the urban area.
The most relevant developments occurred during the industrial revolution because of the railway and the relevance of Bilker Station for the cargo-harbor (now Medienhafen). Nowadays the liveliness and flair of Bilk result from a multicultural mixture, university life, and handicraft boutiques or flea markets.
For instance, Boui Boui Bilk is home to the nighttime flea markets “Nachtkonsum Nachtflohmarkt” and the Wine Festival, while every Saturday the flea market at Aachenerplatz is worth a visit – with live music and international gastronomy.
Lorettostraße is a fancy street with one-of-a-kind boutiques and innovative gastronomical concepts. On the other hand, only few meters away, Friedenplätzchen brings to life the flair of daily Bilker, thanks to the weekly market (fresh food on Tuesdays and Fridays), improvised stalls selling second-hand household goods and free gift-boxes with books of any kind (sometimes also in English).
Flingern-Nord has benefited from gentrification. Once a humble district, it now attracts young singles and couples under the age of 50. Extravagant bistros and bars on Ackerstraße and Hermannplatz offer socializing dining occasions, especially during the many street festivals like “Flingern at night” and “Kunstpunkte” – when craft boutiques and ateliers are open to the general public.
Another highlight in Flingern is ZAKK, a multifunctional social and cultural center established 1977 in a former factory. It involves citizens in any kind of initiative, poetry slams, community breakfasts, welcome parties for refugees, readings, political speeches, cabaret and comedies, etc. It is worth a visit, and there’s always something going on. The involvement of all kind of people is key to success and interchange for peaceful creative solutions in such a multifaceted district – and a good example to follow for others, too.
I hope you have enjoyed my special tour of my Düsseldorf. Also see Life in Düsseldorf (lifeinduesseldorf.com)
About the Author
In the Facebook expat community I am best known as “Elisa Stella – Expert Expat Assistant.” I am an expat myself in Düsseldorf, where I feel very much at home. Actually, I feel at home any place where I understand the language.
I was born in Italy, moved to Asia in 1984, returned to Italy in 1988, then Germany, back to China, then Milan, London, Nuremberg… I’ve been in Düsseldorf since 2011. During all that moving around I learned English and German, with some French and Mandarin as well.
My professional activity focuses on two main areas: (1) developing marketing strategies for multinational companies and (2) serving as an expat adviser and language mediator.
More specifically, I work with multinational companies that want to understand the psycho-sociological drivers of consumers in specific cultures, in order to build brands or launch new products.
In my role as “expat expert and language mediator” I work with the local BAMF office (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees). I provide customized services to people trying to navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth of visa application, rental contracts, job search, taxation, and any issue that requires a personal, hands-on solution – something that is not very common in Germany, where everything sticks to procedures and legal norms.
I love both of my professional activities and studied hard for them. In 2000 I earned a BA degree in Marketing and Communication. In 2010 I got my Masters in German Social Management. As a volunteer for the German Red Cross (refugees department), I attended several trainings related to migration topics and migration psychology.
For more, please see these links:
- elp-consult.com – My marketing consulting website (in English, German, Italian)
- E.L. Pugliese on Facebook – My professional Facebook page
Also see these German Way pages:
- City Guides: Germany – More cities
- Hotels and B&Bs
- Driving in Europe – Tips for driving in Germany and Europe
- Air Travel – Flying to, from or in Germany
- Rail Travel in Germany
- Travel and Tourism – Travel-related information for Germany, Austria, Switzerland
- Notable People – Bios of notable people from the German-speaking world
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