Beethoven-Haus, Museum Mile, the Rhine promenade and the vibrant street cafes and market place... INDER RAJ AHLUWALIA presents glimpses of the bustling city
Standing in the 12th Century Romanesque cloister of the Bonn Minster, the wind cold and strong in our face, it was almost languorous listening to Heike van Well talk about the shrine's 900-year-old, rich history.Built on a Roman burial ground, the basilica is among the most perfect creations of the independent Rhenish transitional style between Romanesque and Gothic. It's alleged that two Christian Roman officers were martyred here, and they're today honoured as the city patrons, Cassius and Florentius. A senior Lufthansa stewardess who doubles as a guide, Heike is visibly proud of being a Bonn citizen, and showing us the sights seemed to go down well with her, as our city walking tour showed.
We'd arrived in Bonn by train from Braubach via Kobenzl, and my first impressions matched my feelings on leaving. The former German capital is a pleasant city, compact and definable. The UN has also settled in, with a dozen organisations residing in the city.Being Ludwig van Beethoven's birthplace, featuring a renowned university since the early 19th Century, and being the gateway to the `Romantic Rhine' collectively provides Bonn with a huge backdrop. But the capital moving back to Berlin has also made it a `new' city.Heike walked us through the city's heart. Downtown Bonn is serious enough, but the pedestrianised precinct is a wonderful place to stroll, window-shop, and have a cup of steaming hot coffee. Of course, we stopped by at `Beethoven-Haus', the composer's very own house, containing the composer's personal memorabilia. The landmark site encompasses a Museum, the Beethoven Archives and the Chamber Music Hall. The museum presents the life and works of the composer with a selection of over 150 exhibits that include portraits, original manuscripts, and instruments. The Beethoven Archives is the central repository of documents relating to the composer's life. The beautiful Chamber Music Hall features outstanding acoustics and is a modern concert hall.The late Baroque Town House presents itself in a wonderful way at the market place, where there's a lively fruit and vegetable market, Monday through Saturday, and where cafes and bistros spill their tables out on sunny days.
People mill around here and in front of the Beethoven memorial on the Munsterplatz, in front of the main post office building - the former `Furstenberg Palace'. Designed by the Dresden sculptor Ernst Julius Holnel, the memorial shows the composer in a moment of inspiration.From here, it was a mere ten-minute walk to the confines of the former Electoral Residence, today housing the university. The fortress-style palace built around a rectangular inner courtyard, stretches almost to the Rhine, and is fronted by the marvellous Hofgarten Park with its panoramic views of the Siebengebirge Hills. Museums come thick and fast in Bonn, and we tried to do justice to the circuit. One doesn't have to look far to see why the row of museums along the Museum Mile welcomes over one million annual visitors. Each institution merits a visit. The Art and Exhibition Hall of Germany is huge, with subtle lighting and tasteful displays, and offers a diverse cultural programme. Housed in a spectacular building designed by the Berlin architect, Axel Schultes, the Bonn Art Museum contains major collections of `August Macke and the Rhenish Expressionists' and works of internationally recognised German artists since 1945.Then, there are the other establishments. The Museum of the History of Germany makes contemporary German history come alive through some 7,000 original exhibits, ranging from the German Chancellors' luxury railway carriage and sections from the Berlin Wall to Honecker's arrest warrant.Music reigns supreme in the city. Beethoven's heritage has its obligations, best seen through the Beethoven Orchestra, among Bonn's most important ambassadors of culture. With 106 members, the orchestra contributes to the artistic success of the Beethoven Festivals. And the annual International Beethoven Festival is a celebrated highlight.The first Saturday of May is always special, featuring `Rhein in Flammen in Bonn und am Siebengebirge' at one of the most beautiful sections of the Rhine. Red Bengalese fires light up the banks of the river and the sights of Linz, Erpel, Remagen, Unkel, Rheinbreitbach, Bad Honnef, Konigswinter and Bonn. A stately fleet of 60 illuminated vessels goes in convoy from Linz to Bonn, and fireworks in different cities fascinate audiences on board and ashore. At the end, a firework culminates the procession in Bonn's Rheinaue, and 60 fire pictures explode in the night sky accompanied by the symphonic wind players of the Beethoven Orchestra.The Rhine is the city's heart and lungs. We managed to get upfront and personal with the river, sailing on a large ferry downstream to Konsigswinter at the slopes of the famous Siebengebirge, where we had this rather quiet, relaxed lunch in the Maritim Hotel. Trains whisked by literally ten feet from our table as we savoured the culinary delights of the Rhine Valley.
With some 29 km long on both banks, Bonn's Rhine promenade is the longest continued promenade to be found in Central Europe's biggest river. There are plenty of views, the best being from the `Alter Zoll' (Old Customs Point) near the university which takes in both the river and the Siebengebirge Hills. Local shopping varies between traditional and chic. Bad Godesberg and Beuel districts feature trendy boutiques, shopping arcades, traditional specialist outlets and offbeat shops. The historic city centre is among Germany's largest single pedestrian zones with narrow, shop-lined alleyways, novel boutiques and elegant department stores. But a real treat is Bonn Market, with traders selling fruit, vegetables, bread and meat and exotic fruit. And its street cafes are perfect for recharging one's batteries.The FactsBonn is a couple of hours by train from Frankfurt, Germany's main aerial gateway, connected with several Indian cities by Lufthansa.Eating out is always `in'. No matter what your taste, you'll get your meal. Allow Euro 30-40 for a meal for two. `Taste of India' is a top-end Indian restaurant, with authentic Indian décor and delicious food.Buy a Welcome Card (9 Euro) valid for 24 hours, which offers free rides on public transport, and free admission to several museums.Take the Bonn Tour in an open-top bus that takes you to a host of notable sites such as Poppelsdorf Palace; the university and the picturesque south quarter; the city centre with Beethoven House, the Old Town Hall and Minster Basilica; the Rhine promenades; the famous `Museum Mile'; and Bad Godesberg, the former spa town.