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Helau, Düsseldorf,

or, Don’t Rain on Their Parade

 

Pop quiz: Name some places that celebrate a fabulous Carnival; that all-night, everything-goes party before the strictures and austerity of Lent come in.  Rio’s Carnivale is the most famous, along with New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, but did you know that Germany’s city of Düsseldorf also throws a heck of a Karneval?  Neither did I, and boy, was I happy to find out about it.

Düsseldorf is a breathtaking blend of the Old World and stunning modernity.  It’s only a short Stadtbahn (subway) ride from the famous Rhineturm tower, Frank Gehry’s stylish trio of buildings, the Neuer Zollhof, or Daniel Libeskind’s ultra-mod Kö-Bogen, housing the fabulous Breuninger department store, or Robert and Clara Schumann’s house, or the ruins of Emperor Barbarossa’s 10th century castle on the Rhine. 

 

Düsseldorf is already known as Germany’s fashion capitol, with a big Fashion Week each year, but I was amazed to discover their hidden charms; like their large Asian citizenry, including hosting the largest population of Japanese in Europe.  I visited my first real manga café there.  They host a huge Japan Day festival, complete with fireworks, a Chinese culture festival and I found a Korean barbecue place too packed for me to get into. 

 

As an architecture buff, I could have stayed forever just ogling the mix of centuries-old buildings on one block and the ultramodern towers on the next.  We travelled from the sleek obelisk of the five-star Hyatt Regency, to the quaint hotel converted from the rustic nursing school where Florence Nightingale trained. 

 

Of course there is now a special place in my heart for my first official “sight” this visit; the lush, baroque pink gem that is Benrath Palace.  A palace, and it’s pink!  With swans in its lake, a beautiful young couple taking their wedding photos (with the bride in a stunning lilac gown), and a birthday group of little girls dressed as princesses, I suddenly believed every fairy tale I’ve ever read. 

 

Their stunning art scene alone is worth a visit, including their K20 and K21 museums, featuring art of the past, the now, and the will be, as well as many galleries with curations featuring filmmakers like local boy, award-winning director, Wim Wenders.

 

And man, did we eat… The German people don’t mess around when it comes to food.  There was the hearty fare at Zum Schiffchen, a nearly 400-year-old brewery that once hosted Napoleon himself (He left his bust there), a luxurious, endless-course, family-style banquet at the stunning Dox Restaurant, the progressive dishes served as a restaurant named for Swiss/German artist Paul Klee, and of course the pastries… yes, there was chocolate, everywhere.  And no matter what you eat, it all goes better with their local libation, the sweet and powerful, Killepitsch.

 

I was invited to take part in their big Karneval celebration, including the climax of the Rose Monday Parade, so off I went on AirBerlin’s direct flight from JFK to Düsseldorf, well rested in their special XL Seats that gave me precious leg room.  I felt like I had arrived in no time. 

 

What made Düsseldorf’s Karneval different to other pre-Lenten fiestas around the world?  A big part of it is the independent, intelligent character of the Düsseldorf people and their proclivity to mix a bit of political bite with their partying. 

A Christmas-like anticipation builds around the floats designed by Jacques Tilly and everyone wonders who the artist will bravely place on his moving canvasses?  Tilly has been the subject of threats from extremists because of his unflinching caricatures of the absurdities of today’s political world and his sculptures are at once whimsical and fierce.  Around the centerpiece of the floats, the city releases a breath and lets its collective hair down for a weekend of singing, dancing, and, yes, (lots of) drinking, and overall good cheer in the streets.

Ah well, because it is my luck, shortly after arriving in the damp and cold February weather, our press group was were informed there was the possibility that because the rain and winds were quite strong, there was a possibility that for the first time since 1990, the Karneval Rose Monday parade would be cancelled and eventually it was.  The floats are constructed of papier-mâché, which if blown by the strong winds predicted could cause danger to the parade goers.  The disappointment was palpable in the air as we could see the entire city amped up for the big event.  However, while officially the parade was off, unofficially the party still went on.  It is a tribute to the spirit of the people of Düsseldorf that they weren’t going to let some inclement weather literally rain on their parade.

 

The Düsseldorf government kindly allowed the special Tilly floats to be displayed in the town square and they were both spectacular and provocative, encapsulating the world’s current woes from Angela Merkel’s immigration dilemmas to the worldwide opinion of Donald Trump.

 

Hundreds of people gathered at the Rathaus (City Hall) in the jolly costumes that are always worn at Karneval, knowing there was supposedly nothing happening, including many of the marching bands who had been scheduled to perform.  Those marching bands did not practice for nothing, and set up in front of the main grandstand to play their hearts out for the townspeople, the Lord Mayor, the city’s leaders, the King and Queen of Karneval and some overjoyed American reporters gathered to sing and dance to traditional German songs (Oom-pah-pah, baby) and some cool modern tunes under a drizzle that eventually gave up and became a sunny day.  I was awestruck at the Düsseldorfers’ determination to defy the bad news and seize their celebration.

 

One of the symbols of Düsseldorf is the Cartwheeling Boy, who appears on everything from statues and candy boxes to manhole covers.  He is meant to show that no matter what happens in life, one should cartwheel through it, and so in the face of disappointment, the spirit of the Cartwheeling Boy shone through the hearts of the Düsseldorf people.

 

I can’t wait to go back.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 11th, 2016

 

So many thanks…

Special blessings and thanks to the wonderful ladies of the Düsseldorf Marketing and Tourism, Claudia Rudolph and Helma Kremer and their tour guide, Ms. Katje, for their amazing hospitality and in particular their MVP, Mme. Christa Konzok, whose knowledge, patience, utter fabulosity and infectious love for her chosen city, make her a real treasure of Düsseldorf.

So much gratitude to the Office of Lord Mayor, Thomas Geisel, for treating us like honoured dignitaries, complete with medal ceremony.  Also, to the Radisson Blu Hotel for being our home during our visit (and not kicking out the rowdy Americans screaming and watching the Super Bowl at 2AM).  Many blessings to the gracious Daniela Kastrau and Sophie Sutter for showing off the jewel that is the Hyatt Regency & Dox Restaurant.  Thank you as well to Breuninger department store’s special services for their kind care.

All thanks to AirBerlin for being our chariot to the adventure of Düsseldorf Karneval.  And endless gratitude to Mme. Madeleine Vogelsgang for making the entire trip possible.

Bis Bald, Düsseldorf.

 

 

 

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