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Six things you must do in Düsseldorf

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This big city on the River Rhine boasts one of the smartest shopping streets in Europe, a carnival to rival Venice’s, the world’s tallest digital clock and the Pope’s favourite pastry shop. GHD checked out the weekend-away appeal of one of Germany’s lesser-known but most elegant destinations.

Fine Rhine.

The 1980s TV series Auf Wiedersehen Pet pictured Düsseldorf as bleak and industrial, even though they shot it mainly in Hamburg. Now its conversion into a top city-break destination is complete. Best evidence is Rheinpark. In 1995 they sank the manic four-lane riverside highway in a tunnel, using the space to make one of the finest promenades anywhere on the mighty Rhine. Walk the banks, lined with trees and cafes, and take in that marvellous curve in the river, as great freight-laden barges rumble by. At night the 564 ft high Rheinturn (Rhine Tower), garlanded with blue lights, becomes the world’s biggest digital clock. In the middle of Rheinpark I found the stream that launched the city, the little Dussel, lit up by the flash of yellow on a wagtail. Bill Oddy: get over here.

Shop smart

Is Königsallee Europe’s smartest shopping promenade? The city puts this wide boulevard, the Kö, above Milan for its chic boutiques, galleries and pavement cafes. Sheiks and princes fly in from the Gulf with their entourages to buy up half the street. Security guards politely turn you away from goldsmiths and jewellers if your credit card doesn’t fit. A personal shopper costs €55 for a 2 hour tour. Or you could do as I did, and saunter in something smart admiring the window displays of Armani, Gucci, Kenzo, Uta Raasch and the rest. Or dip into the more affordable side attractions, such as the Sevens shopping arcade, the top three floors housing the great Saturn electronics emporium. Then relax in Cafe Heinemann, in Martin LutherPlatz, the pope’s favourite pastry shop.

Brew up

They keep things simple in the pub brewery Zum Schlüssel, on Bolkerstrasse in the Old Town. There is only one beer, Original Schlüssel, brewed on the premises, as it has been for 170 years. It is served (€1.70) only in quarter litre glasses, straight from wooden barrels on the counter. The small measure is to ensure your beer is always fresh, not to combat over-drinking – glasses are swiftly refilled. I took the short tour of the brewery, all gleaming coppers and frothing vats. The brew is made to the exacting German purity laws, using only water, hops, malted barley and yeast. Later I sat in a quiet corner, under a low roof, and enjoyed smoked pork cutlets with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. And another delicious glass of beer. Brewery tour - €8.

Shock of the new.

It’s a short walk from the old Town to the shock of new Düsseldorf. They gave architects free rein to transform the derelict port into the Media Harbour district. Stand out creation is the fairytale office block by Frank Geary, who designed the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. There’s bright dining here too. The heavy hand of Teutonic tradition can press heavily on this country’s cooking. In his one Michelin star Berens am Kai, a light, plain room within all-glass walls, German chef Holger Berens ditches all fussy touches, and celebrates food. My Atlantic lobster in truffle vinaigrette with crème of egg yolk, followed by roasted guinea fowl with smoked mashed potatoes and lemon vegetables, with a delicious glass of Merlot, was outstanding. For desert, a sumptuous hazelnut praline with chocolate mousse and pistachio sauce.
They do a €20 lunch. , 0049 211 300 675 0.

Garden city

Düsseldorf is a city for serendipity. The smart shopping street Königsallee leads into a big slice of inner-city public space, the Hofgarten, the local version of Central Park, New York. (There are many more parks and gardens in the area.) I wandered past a statue of composer Schumann to the stupendous palace Schloss Jaegerhof. I doubled back to the old town, where the city’s carnival starts in November (until 22th February 2009), and its distinctive shops. Two were selling old LPs. Another sold nothing but cellos. My the 48-hour Welcome Card (€ 14) took me free into the Film Museum. I watched excerpts from the great directors, Eisenstein to John Ford. Posters and photographs celebrate the exquisite Greta Garbo. Next door is the fine German Ceramics Museum, which tells the ancient story of pottery through to today.

Winning Windsor

Several things clinched the Hotel Windsor for me, as a just-off-the-city centre hotel place to stay. First the delicious piece apple cake to greet me in my room. Then the convenience. I checked in 40 minutes after landing . The Hotel is yards from Am Wehrhahn station, three stops from the airport (S-Bahn S1 or S7). It is smart, small and cosy, full of light-touch elegance, with four poster beds, dark polished wood and hunting prints from when our royal family was German. They offered me coffee every time I entered the business room to check my e-mails. The tram line in the street outside sped me to the city centre in 8 minutes – the elcome Card gives unlimited use of trams and buses, and free or cut price entry to museums and other places.

Air Berlin flies daily to Düsseldorf from London Stansted, www.airberlin.com

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