The D&O Diary was on assignment in Germany for meetings this past week, with four stops on a crowded itinerary. I have been to Germany during the winter months many times before and I have learned that the weather can be OK or it can be lousy. But nothing in my prior experience prepared me for the weather this past week, which, with the exception of one gloomy day, was really pretty spectacular, at least for this time of the year.
My busy German itinerary began in the Northern city of Hamburg, a great place that I have visited and enjoyed before. Hamburg is full of rivers, lakes, and canals. While Hamburg’s Elbe River port area is heavily industrialized, many of the city’s other waterways are quite scenic. Many of the waterways wind through pleasant, comfortable residential areas.
The most important part for me of any visit to Hamburg is a walk around the Außenalster, the larger of two man-made lakes in the city center created by ponding the Alster River. Several other rivers and canals also feed into the larger lake. A pathway winds along the lakeshore. It takes between an hour and a quarter and an hour and a half walking at a pretty good clip to complete the 4.7 miles circuit. One of the first things I did the day I arrived in Hamburg was to walk around the lake. It was a windy day but the sun was shining and walking around the lake was a great way to recover from the overnight flight. It was supposed to be cloudy and windy the next day, but when it turned out to be sunny and relatively calm, I completed another loop around the lake before the first of my meetings.
I left Hamburg early the next morning for a quick day trip visit to Bremen, a storied city that I have never previously visited. The city’s name will be familiar to many readers from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, the Bremen Town Musicians. The city embraces this part of its renown; there is a statute of the four famous animal musicians next to the city’s famous Rathaus (town hall), in the city’s small but impressive Aldstadt. Adjacent to the Aldstadt is the atmospheric Schnoor district, a neighborhood of narrow streets lined with restaurants, cafés, and shops.
Bremen is also a river port city, located on the Weser (pronounced VAY-suh) River, another German river that flows into the North Sea. On the windy, damp day I was there, the riverside was a pretty gloomy place. Like a lot of German cities, Bremen built a city park, the Wallenlagen, where its old city walls were previously located. Pathways line the former moat (Stadtgraben), and, sheltered from the wind that was blowing along the river, the park was a pleasant place for an afternoon stroll.
My stop in Bremen was short. I was off the next morning for Düsseldorf for some meetings there. Düsseldorf is about 180 miles by train to the southwest of Bremen. The weather improved dramatically for my visit to Düsseldorf. I had clear skies and sunshine for both of the days I was there, and though I has meetings there, I did have time to walk around a little bit.
Düsseldorf is a tidy, prosperous city located on the Rhine River. The Rhine is like a highway for the river barges and container ships. One of the city’s most famous features is the Königsallee, a long upmarket shopping street with a tree-lined canal in the center. The city’s Aldstadt is located between the shopping district and the river. Along the riverside is a promenade. The riverside cafes were full of happy people enjoying the unusual warm February sunshine.
On Friday, after the last of my meetings, I took the city’s U-Bahn about 25 minutes north to the riverside suburb of Kaiserswerth, a quiet village with cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants. The city’s most famous feature is the Kaiserpfalz, the ruin of a 12th century castle that overlooks the Rhine. However, on the absolutely beautiful day on which I was fortunate enough to visit, the village’s high point was the footpath heading in either direction along the river. I walked for miles through the countryside, enjoying the birdsong and the views of church spires in distant villages. Though the woods were still in their winter dormancy, the fields were showing green and the warmth and sunshine had coaxed a few crocuses into bloom. It was a truly memorable afternoon walk.
On Saturday morning, I was up early to catch a train to Frankfurt, the one last stop on the itinerary. Frankfurt is about 120 miles from Düsseldorf. The trip took about an hour and a half on the InterCity Express train (ICE). The German trains are great. The seats are comfortable, the coaches are quiet, and the trains are equipped with Wi-Fi. Travelling at times as much as 300 km an hour, the journey, with stops, took about an hour and a half. A very civilized way to travel.
The very pleasant weather followed me to Frankfurt. The conditions on Saturday contrasted dramatically from the weather I experienced in Frankfurt in March last year, when it snowed. Only a few hardy souls could be found walking along the river then. But an afternoon of bright February sunshine and warm temperatures brought out the crowds along the river walkways on Saturday. I had planned to visit the city’s art museum, but the idea of going indoors just didn’t seem right at all. So I joined the crowds strolling along the river, feeling grateful for the beautiful day.
It was, in fact, quite a whirlwind trip. As I was flying home on Sunday, it struck me that while the four cities I visited are each enjoyable in their own way, the one thing they share is that they are river cities: the Elbe for Hamburg; the Weser for Bremen; the Rhine for Düsseldorf; and the Main for Frankfurt. In each case, I enjoyed the opportunity to stroll along the riverside and to gain the kind of perspective on the cities that a good walk can provide. I did have a crowded itinerary in Germany but because of the chance to promenade during each stop, it was a very enjoyable trip. Just the same, I am happy to be headed home as well.