Düsseldorf has come a long way since its days as a fishing town on the Rhine some 700 years ago. Today, its inhabitants pass their free time strutting around in designer clothes -- and eating the best sushi in Europe.
Frank Gehry designed the tollhouse in Düsseldorf's revamped MediaHarbor
Home to bankers and entrepreneurs, designers and artists, Düsseldorf is one of Germany's wealthiest cities and the capital of North-Rhine Westphalia. Unofficially, it's been nicknamed "Nippon on the Rhine."
The country's leading center for foreign trade, Düsseldorf also has the largest concentration of Japanese residents in Europe. The multitude of Japanese restaurants, supermarkets and bookstores adds a distinctive Pacific flair to the city.
Düsseldorf has the largest Japanese population in Europe -- and great sushi
During traditional Japanese holidays, Düsseldorf -- especially the area around the train station, known as Little Tokyo -- lights up with colorful banners. The residents don their kimonos and do their own style of promenading.
Shopping and strutting
The Königsallee is the pulse of the city and a must-see for fashion lovers. One of the world’s most beautiful boulevards and the catwalk of the latest fashion trends, the Kö, as it's affectionately called, is the place to see and be seen in Düsseldorf. The kilometer-long promenade is bisected with a waterway and lined with cute café terraces shaded by chestnut trees.
Düsseldorf's taste for beautiful clothes has attracted big-name designers and the city now hosts prestigious fashion fairs several times a year. Names like Armani, Kenzo, JOOP, Jil Sander, Uta Raasch, Onofri and Féraud grace the runway and then move straight into the boutiques nearby.
The world's longest bar
After a long day of shopping and sauntering, have a drink at the "world's longest bar," as locals refer to the 260 pubs and home-brew taverns in Düsseldorf's Altstadt (Old Town), right around the corner from the Kö. These dimly lit, old fashioned bars, graced with worn wooden tables and pounding out kitschy German pop music, are popular tourist locations. Almost all of them serve Altbier -- a dark, slightly sweet beer that is a specialty of the Düsseldorf breweries.
Fashion in Düsseldorf's boutiques comes straight from the runway
But the historic Altstadt has some competition. The locals have migrated to the bars, cafes and restaurants in the Ratinger Strasse, close to the town center. (The center is packed with glass skyscrapers that house German and international corporations; some 3,000 foreign companies have European headquarters here.) If you're heading to Ratinger Strasse, you don't need to wait for nightfall for the fun to start. The newest trend here is the After Work Party, where the disco starts at 6 pm.
If you prefer nightlife after dark, however, then head for the newly restored MediaHarbor, a quick 15-minute walk from the Altstadt. Once an eyesore and now a mecca of modern European architecture, conoisseurs visit just to admire the buildings by masters such as Frank Gehry, David Chipperfield, and Claude Vasconi.
The numerous clubs and discos make MediaHarbor a popular meeting place for the locals. And the funky upscale bistros are a great place to have a bite to eat and enjoy a glass of wine before hitting the dance floor.
Museum-goers and roller-bladers
Prefer culture over partying? With some 25 museums, innumerable galleries and frequent blockbuster exhibits, art lovers are guaranteed not to be bored. The city also has more than 20 theaters and a world-class opera house.
In the summer, the Rhine is a great place to stroll, roller-blade or enjoy a cold drink
Of course, strolling is a favorite pass time in Düsseldorf, probably because there is so much to see. The less-than-motivated can just wander around and admire the city's many Baroque buildings. History buffs should check out the Burgplatz, cited as one of the finest German squares in the post-war years. The square opens up to a lovely view of the Rhine and is home to the century-old castle tower, which houses a shipping museum.
While the Kö is a window shoppers' paradise, the purpose of the recently constructed Rhine promenade (they moved a major highway under ground at a cost of some €300 million in order to build it) is pure liesure. Finished in 1997 and boasting 1.5 kilometers (nearly a mile) of foot and bicycle paths and 600 trees, tourists and locals alike go there to check out the roller bladers and street performers -- or simply watch the sun set over the river.
Beyond the city
City life too exciting? There are some great day trips to be made just outside of Düsseldorf. It's an easy jaunt to the medieval ruins of Barbarossa's castle, set among the picturesque houses and idyllic landscape typical of the Lower Rhine area.
Düsseldorf is home to many different kinds of trade fairs
There's also the Neanderthal Museum of Pre-History, in the Neanderthal Valley (yes, Neanderthal Man was discovered in Germany). The museum is great for school age kids and adults alike, and its state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits are also in English.
Lovers of art, architecture and nature can have a one-of-a-kind experience in the Museum Insel Hombroich, in nearby Neuss. There, an unparalleled private art collection is displayed in ultra-modern buildings that make the most of their natural setting.
Blood sausage and half a chicken, anyone?
In Düsseldorf, you're more likely to see locals trying to maneuver their chopsticks around a piece of sushi than chomp into a bratwurst. But a determined tourist can still find typical German food -- in fact, the city lays claim to a a few specialties of its own.
Topping the list is Rheinish Sauerbraten, pickled roast beef accompanied by stewed apples. Another choice, preferred for chilly days, is Bloodwosch (blood sausage) with pea soup. Looking for a quick pick me up? You may want to go for a "halver Hahn." Technically, this translates as "half a chicken." But in the local dialect, it refers to a slice of sharp cheese served on a a rye bun. Why the discrepancy? Nobody really seems to know, but after a long day of sightseeing, it sure tastes good with an Altbier.