Another piece on Düsseldorf ........ Better late than never?
We met again in Balthasars on the corner of Bolkerstrasse and not far from the hotel. The place was pretty packed, it being a Saturday evening, but we found a spot and settled down. We decided to grab a bite to eat here as the plates that were passing under our noses looked good and we didn't like the idea of drinking on an empty stomach. Not that we were planning to drink a lot in any case, as we were not really in Düsseldorf for a session. At our age it's quality not quantity that counts. When you hit the big 40, the same adage applies to many things.
We ordered our food, and a beer of course. I choose a Schöfferhoffer Dunkleweizen, which is a darker version of a wheat beer I had tried before. (It’s a great name, reminding me of a character from a fairy tale. 'Schöfferhoffer Dunkleweizen the troll lived under the old willow tree on the banks of the river Dunkle, from which he got his name........' would make a great start for a book.) I had picked it up in a certain German supermarket at home a few months before and enjoyed its typical - for a wheat beer - banana and clove flavour. This was a little heavier and sweeter than the pale version and although I enjoyed it, I had trouble finishing it. Perhaps it was just that it was a little early in the night for a strong, dark beer. Mind you, the steak I ordered was superb if a little over done for my tastes. After another lighter beer we headed out and down Bolkerstrasse, our hunger sated for now and eager to check out the Altstadt at night.
Halfway down the street we came across the arresting site of a guy taking a dump. Now I'm aware this needs further explanation but first let me say that he was excreting gold coins into a sack and had a smile on his face, as you would have I guess. This was the image that grinned at us from a carving on the sidewall of one of the buildings. Only later did I find out that it was Dukatenscheisser who appears in Germany and Holland in various forms and is synonymous, I think, with either being miserly or frugal depending on how you look at it.
The streets and bars were filling up now with good-natured young people. There was lots of laughter everywhere and any cares or problems these drinkers had seemed to be dissolved by the beer they were drinking. Nowhere did we hear anything but good-natured ribbing and noisy discussion. The stag and hen parties that I thought were ubiquitous to every cheap flight destination on the continent on a Saturday night seemed to have chosen elsewhere to go. We saw only one small group of hens cackling quietly in a bar half way along the street.
We decided to give the bars on this street a miss tonight, as it was not really what we wanted. Preferring a quiet beer and a chat rather than shouting over the music and noise coming from the bars here.
We soon reached Marktplatz. It looked very Christmas-like and continental with it's illuminated Rathaus, Christmas trees draped with lights and the little huts of the market. All were still open and doing a fair trade, even thought it was past nine o'clock, with many people grabbing a quick bite to eat from the food stalls before heading out into the night to their homes, or a familiar drinking place. We turned left and went past a very busy Uerige, resisting the temptation to call in again, and continued on up Berger Strasse looking for a quieter spot for a couple of drinks with the intention of having an early night. We were all a little tired and weary from travelling and lack of sleep.
We spied a quiet bar, Köpi, on the right near the top of the street and wandered in. It was nice inside with subdued lighting and music. We guessed that this was probably a refuge for the locals from the excesses happening on Bolkerstrasse. It certainly seemed like our kind of place. We all ordered different beers. I plumped for a Köstritzer Schwarzbier on draught, another beer I had tried from our local German supermarket back home. It arrived with a head that would put a certain Irish stout to shame, resembling the top of a very large, fluffy cappuccino. I savoured the appearance for a little while before taking a big gulp. The taste was superb, reminding me of rich dark chocolate with a shot of espresso bitterness. We chatted a little and had a couple more here before heading out in to the cold night. This end of the street was very quiet and as we passed Marktplatz again we decided to keep walking to see how the rest of the city looked at night, away from the Bolkerstrasse.
We arrived at Burgplatz and while looking around came across a trendy looking restaurant/bar called simply Schwan and decided to call in for a nightcap and to escape the cold. This was a place for the beautiful people and I must admit that I felt a little awkward and out of place. My scrappy beard and beer belly seemed to be making a mockery of what the proprietors were trying to achieve here. I expected at any moment to be ushered out the door by a burly bouncer saying 'Nien, nien, nien. Out, out, out.'
I was wrong; we were greeted with open arms and shown a nice table. I presume this was because it was pretty quiet here so they had to drop their standards to try and increase revenue. On the other hand, maybe I had been sprinkled with dust from the paranoia fairy that seems to sometimes follow me around.
The beer list didn't excite us so someone, me to be honest, decided that we should have a cocktail to end the night. So Mojitos all round it was.
Well maybe a couple more then.
Now I'm not sure whether it was the sugar or the mint, maybe it was the rum. Whatever it was we seemed to get a sudden lease of life that I would not have believed possible half an hour before. Suddenly we were all buzzing and eager to continue the night.
We decided to work our way back towards Bolkerstrasse with intentions of entering one of those noisy bars that seemed such a poor choice earlier in the night. We found a nightclub called Pretty Vacant and entered, resorting to drinking trendy Pilsner Urquell and Rothaus Tannenzäpfle beers from the bottle and slowly getting worse for wear.
The next few hours were passed in a haze of clubs, bars and beer. I have memories of being frisked roughly by an enormous bouncer, of being snowed on by a soapy snow machine as I passed under it, of squeezing past amorous couples intent on removing the tonsils from each other with suction alone, and of eating something piggish and tasty in a bun on a street corner. I recall noisy streets, friendly police and no trouble whatsoever. I remember how nice everyone was and how we ended up exactly where I didn't want to be, in one of the Irish bars beside our hotel, listening to U2 and singing along too loudly.
At some stage during the night I had turned into the epitome of an Irish man abroad. The drunk at the bar singing out of tune, thinking he's everyone's friend and that everyone loves you if you're Irish. The embarrassment!
It was time for bed and a mental reminder to never do that again.