Bonn, Germany: brimming with Beethoven and bygone days
- Recommended for:
- Activity, Cultural, Short Break, Mid-range
From Beethoven to former Bundeshauptstadt (federal capital), situated along the romantic Rhine, Bonn is the custodian and curator of musical and modern German history (play "video")
Would I have gone to Bonn had a friend not relocated there and shortly thereafter declared himself a newly registered Bonner? Maybe not. A Bonner is a resident of Bonn just as Hamburgers and Frankfurters are well, yes, meats, but also citizens of Hamburg and Frankfurt, respectively. Try not to giggle too loud. Never one though, to refuse an opportunity to see a new city or country, I booked my ticket on the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) and headed to the former West Germany’s seat of power.
Unlike some of its more glamorous and well-known capital siblings such as Berlin, Madrid or Paris, Bonn probably easily ranks in public opinion polls as one of the world’s least interesting if even known capitals – presently, former capital. Upon arrival at Bonn’s main train station though, I unwittingly stepped into a life-sized, hands-on amusement park for those with an insatiable curiosity to touch, hear and even re-live both the recent and historic past.
And as one of those who’d never thought once, let alone twice about the former chief Stadt (city) of a previously divided Germany, I was pleasantly surprised after I finally had Bonn entdeckt (discovered).
LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN: Bonn's most revered native son offers the rhythm, melody and pulse to which the Bonner step; direct and confident yet inviting. His hometown offers the “brick road” of commemorative pavers down the cozy Bonngasse to the site devoted to his life and legacy.
Located about 300 meters from the Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall) in the heart of the Altstadt (Old City) is the composer’s birthplace turned museum, Beethoven-Haus (Bonngasse 18-26; +49-228-98175-0; email@example.com). The different rooms and floors of Beethoven’s former home document different stages of Beethoven’s life and career. Particularly impressive is the collection of Beethoven’s possessions such as a piano and original manuscripts as well as artifacts showing his life intersecting with other renowned musicians. While touching is not allowed within the main museum, visitors can experience Beethoven’s works through the museum’s Digital Archives Studio.
Beethovenfest: When the autumn winds whip off the Rhine and the city’s tree leaves turn from green to red to gold, Bonners welcome international orchestras and performers to join them indoors to celebrate Beethovenfest. Concerts interpreting the master’s work are given in and around Bonn in venues such as Beethoven-Haus, Beethovenhalle Bonn and the Haus der Geschichte. The next Beethovenfest takes place September 10 – October 9, 2010 with the program to be released in March.
The Rhine: The River Rhine and its surrounding landscape are some of the most beautiful and even romantic sights in Germany. Sleepy and pristine towns and green vineyards overlook the calm yet active river moving cargo as well as couples enchanted by the scenery.
For those who desire to be moved along the Rhine in other ways, Bonn and its surroundings offer 350kms (217 miles) of heart-pumping, sweat-generating biking and hiking tours throughout the scenic region.
Sometimes called Bundesdorf (federal village) due to its small size and unlikely choice as capital in 1949, Bonn held its top city status until Germany’s reunification in 1990. While many governmental office agencies have since relocated to Berlin, Bonn’s significance as the former seat of power lends well to its new role as Bundesstadt (federal city), home to a few government ministries but more importantly, as the caretaker of Germany’s modern history.
Just off the Rhine and a nice long walk from Bonn’s centuries old Altstadt lays the remnants of a former business park, gray and industrial, yet home to the five vibrant museums catering to art, science and history comprising Bonn’s Museum Mile.
Haus der Geschichte. Of the museums, the absolute winner for touching- feeling fun, is the Haus der Geschichte (House of History; Willy-Brandt-Allee 14; +49-228 91 65-0; firstname.lastname@example.org). Just a couple of miles from the former Deutscher Bundestag (German Parliament Building), these 4,000 square meters of award-winning museum focus on German history from 1945 to the present. Kids, kids-at-heart and bonafide adults don’t merely read about Germany’s recent struggles and triumphs in dusty textbooks but experience them firsthand as they step decade-by-decade through Germany’s modern existence. From authentic posters to paperwork, archives to appliances, radio programs to television broadcasts; touching is allowed – and where appropriate, even encouraged! Although, I think the curators would’ve been miffed had I jumped into the authentic U.S. Army jeep or rifled through their files looking for my Prussian ancestors.
Mammutbaum. The Mammutbaum (Giant Redwood Tree), like Bonn itself, is where the past and present meet. Nestled in the Rheinaue Leisure Park, this gift of a of California Sequoia cross-section from the U.S. government to the Bonner, commemorates the countries’ intertwined biographies and friendship while marking Bonn’s historical existence, one to one-hundred tree rings at a time.
Eating and drinking
Traipsing through history to Beethoven's beats burns a lot of calories. Thankfully, across from the Mammutbaum is a local favorite for refueling – the Rheingarten (Charles-de-Gaulle-Straße 53; +49-228 236704; email@example.com). A popular pick is the Reibekuchen mit Räucherlachs-Frischkäse (potato pancakes with smoked salmon). The Rheingarten features a regular as well as seasonal menu, lunch specials and plenty of seating. North Rhine-Westphalia is also home to some of the friendliest Germans, which is reflected in Rheingarten’s warm and attentive staff. Dishes range from 7 – 15€.
Despite being nestled along a waterway, Bonn seems an unlikely place for a beach. But for those who think that life’s a beach no matter where they are, Bonn offers the Strandbar (Beach Bar; Rathenau - Ufer 1; +49-228 223100; http://www.rheinpavillon.de). From May to September, visitors can enjoy food, drinks and the view from lounge and beach chairs along the Rhine’s shoreline. Drinks range from 2 - 6€ and snacks begin at 4€ for soups reaching up to 13€ for seafood selections.
Located on a bubbling little strip of Clemens-August-Straße near the Baroque Poppelsdorfers Schloss (Poppelsdorfer Castle) and Botanical Gardens is the Monte Cristo (+49-228 6886802). The Monte Cristo has a sidewalk café with drinks ranging from 3- 7€, munchies from 4 - 10€ but the friendly atmosphere and people watching are priceless.
Where to stay
Former Chancellor and one time resident of Bonn, Willy Brandt, was West Berlin’s mayor when President Kennedy delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.
“All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin,
and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin
ein Berliner.'” President John F. Kennedy
Visitors wanting to channel Kennedy to be a Berliner wherever they may be – in this case, Bonn- check into the newly renovated Rheinland (Rheinland...das Hotel an der Kennedybrücke) located on Berliner Freiheit (Berliner Freedom) on the Kennedybrücke (Kennedy Bridge; +49-228 908 239 0; firstname.lastname@example.org). The Rheinland boasts light and warmly decorated rooms complete with desk, television and free Internet service. Singles cost 55 – 73€ per night and double rooms 68 – 85€ per night and includes breakfast. http://www.rheinland-hotel.de Sleep free surrounded by hints of history – even if Kennedy and Brandt never slept here.
Located on Baumschulallee near the Poppelsdorfer Schloss (Castle) is the Kurfürstenhof (+49-228 98505-0; email@example.com). The modern rooms include bathrooms, TV, and Internet connections with accommodation starting at 65€ for single rooms and 85€ for doubles. Prices include breakfast and parking is free.
Outside of Germany: Bonn’s closest airport is the Köln Bonn Flughafen (Cologne Bonn Airport; http://www.airport-cgn.de/index.php?lang=2), which is about 30 minutes by train from Bonn’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station). The best bet to get downtown is the Airport Express SB 60 bus, which takes about 30 minutes and costs 6.50€. http://en.swb-busundbahn.de/service/airport-express-sb60.html
Within Germany: Bonn is easily reachable via the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) www.bahn.de