Saturday, 15 January 2011

Düsseldorf Beer Tour 3 - minus the beer

A last piece on Düsseldorf for now - This is another excerpt from a longer article that I will dip back in to some other time.

We woke up the next day to an overcast sky with a chilly breeze blowing in from the east. This was our third day in Düsseldorf and so far we hadn't experienced many of the sights, instead concentrating on the beer, food and atmosphere of the city. I had read about the Rhine Tower, which in fairness is hard to miss on the skyline anyway and also of some buildings by Frank O. Gehry, the Canadian architect, down at the redeveloped harbour so we decided to take a trek in that direction.
After grabbing a light breakfast in the hotel we set off in the direction of the tower. It was mid-morning and city was quiet as we walked through it towards the Rhine. The shops and bars were opening up and the Christmas market was also beginning to show signs of life.
We arrived at the Rhine, which looked cold and foreboding this morning, with the barges, some ploughing through the current south and others literally going with the flow north. It seemed to me that travelling north would be the trickier as you had less control of your vessel. I presume the trick is to travel quicker than the current so that you have more control of your direction, a bit like life, while using its force to expend less fuel.
I was in quiet contemplation of this as we walked south, against the flow. We all seemed lost in our thoughts and a little tired from the last few days. The tower loomed larger every couple of hundred meters but in that misleading way that large building do, it deceived us on its actual distance away. We passed under the Rheinkniebrücke with the rumble of cars and lorries over our heads and eventually we arrived at the base of the tower. Looking up at it now it seemed like an almost impossible structure, like a bowl balanced on a knitting needle, and it was with excitement and a squirt of trepidation we walked up to the entrance.
The tower was completed in 1982 and stands over 230 meters high. Perched in the bowl are a viewing platform and above that a revolving restaurant. The top of the tower contains what I presume are all the TV technology and paraphernalia that the tower was built to hold. It is also the world’s largest decimal clock; the time being read by assessing the layout of the lights than can be seen on the tower's body at night.
We paid our entrance fee and made our way to the lift, our ears popping as it made its rapid ascent to the viewing platform. The doors opened and we were suddenly in the midst of fifty or more sweaty, acne-ridden teenagers on a school trip and a couple of frazzled looking teachers. We worked our way through the throng towards the glass walls. The glazing around this part of the building leans out at an angle a little like an upside down coolie hat and is certainly a little disconcerting. You could, as some of the teenagers were doing, spread eagle yourself with just the glass supporting your weight and look down to see the base of the tower, and a fair proportion of the rest of it. Why you would want to us anybody's guess but teenagers tend to show a lack of fear that is either borderline moronic or, at best, foolhardy in the extreme. I am pretty sure that the glass is strong enough to hold even my weight but when you get a little older you always have this nagging feeling that one day you will appear on a news bulletin with the words 'accident' and 'tragic' combined with your name.
Even on this slightly overcast day the views were tremendous. The immense, sinuous Rhine with its bridges and barges, the old town, the buildings on the harbour and on the west bank were all laid out in front of us, with the countryside of Germany, Holland and Belgium stretching away into the distance.
One building, the regional parliament building, stood out below us. It had clearly been built with the view from above in mind with a tangle of interconnecting geometric shapes forming a stunning pattern from where we stood. We had walked past it on the way to the tower and although it seemed bright and tidy we had no idea that it was such a beautifully designed building. I don't think you could appreciate it from anywhere but up here.
We walked around the platform a few times, avoiding the groups of death wishing teenagers, looking for somewhere for a coffee. Sadly we were too early for the restaurant on the next level and we were probably a little grotty for it anyway. Mind you, this section was not without its grottiness too. It could have done with a little sprucing up and perhaps a little coffee bar and better seating. I guess people come here to look at the view and not at the furnishings.
After a while I noticed that there were actually two school groups here, one English and one German. Both groups looked and acted the same and they seemed to be mingling but not really communicating with each other. It made me think about whether the great-grand fathers of the English group had looked down from a greater height again than this on the city. Had they dropped some of the bombs that fell while the great-grandparents of the German group hid in their shelters? Did these kids ever think about it? Or were they too far removed from that time. Perhaps it was just something you yawned over in your history books or role-played on your Playstation. It would be sad, I think if either side forgot. Being Irish it's not that easy to put yourself in the shoes of the people whose countries fought in the Second World War. I guess that like the history of my own country you need to, perhaps forgive, learn from and move on, but not forget.
I found the others and we decided to move on to the harbour. We could see it from up here but not with any detail. If anything the Gehry buildings looked a little disappointing from here. We got the lift down and made our way towards them. I half expected to hear a sharp crack of glass splintering and a piercing semi-pubescent scream starting from over our heads and ending with a damp thud behind us. It never happened though.

In 1989 work started on the old industrial harbour to transform it into a trendy office-residential-social centre. The Media Harbour, as it was christened, is now home to almost 600 companies with 8,000 employees and is still growing. One of the architectural highlights of this area is surely 'Der Neue Zollhof' buildings designed by Frank O. Gehry and completed in 1999.
We approached the buildings from the marina after first viewing the buildings from a tongue of manicured parkland that projects south from the Rhine Tower. The colours, shape and grace of the buildings had me mesmerised and banished any of the negative thoughts I had formed of them from the tower. Not even the overcast weather or BeerGoggles urging of BeerMat to, and I quote, 'Take me roughly up against this tree!' could break me from my rapture. (I might not have heard the word 'roughly' and he might have been talking about a photo but as I say, I wasn't paying a lot of attention.)
Building three, which was the first approached from our direction, is finished in white plaster and is the largest of the three, building two in polished stainless steel is the smallest, and building one is finished in brick. They twist, turn and lean in almost every angle and make your eyes water if viewed from the wrong direction. The silver building transfixed me. It reflected the clear, grey, mid-morning light in a way that seemed to make it move as we approached it. It drew me towards it with a bizarre sensual pleasure that is not entirely appropriate for a building to exude. I had to touch it. It was cool and almost soft and yielding, at least in my mind. The other two were busily sniggering at me for my feeling of misplaced affection, or affliction, and although they appreciated the architecture they were not affected in the same way. It was bizarre; I almost felt I needed a cold shower. Almost.
The others eventually tore me away from my new found love and we wandered between the other buildings in the harbour. Almost all were exceptional but some stood out more than others. The copper plated Kai 13 and the Roggendorf-Haus were two that particularly caught our eyes. The latter not because of the building itself, which was pretty mundane, but because of the Flossis. Large, multicoloured humanoid figures that scampered, crawled and climbed all over the building itself, giving it a surreal quality.
We wandered around a little more and having taken a few snaps decided to make our way back towards the Altstadt. As we passed the Gehry buildings I felt a pang of regret and a heart-wrenching tug, as I might never see this building again. I sighed and kept walking, refusing to look back. It was too difficult.
Mind you the thought of a beer and the continuing sniggers from the others soon brought me around, and by the time we were back in the Altstadt it was all just a happy, if somewhat disturbing, memory.

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