May 2016: we decided to take the train from Berlin to Dusseldorf, figuring that on a day when museums in Germany are usually closed, Monday was a good day to relocate to the next stop on our Michael Jackson-inspired Germany odyssey.
Neither Yoly, Queenie or myself had realised it was also a public holiday, however, which meant that our afternoon stroll to the shopping precinct of Dusseldorf took us to malls and stores that were closed up tight for the day. (But we did find a place to eat, however!)
Not far from the upmarket shopping precinct is Old Town (Altstadt) where the Rhine waterfront promenade vista lay in front of us. Schlossturm (Castle Tower) and St Lambertus Basilica (13th century) were to our right and the Rheinkniebruke to our left, while handsome period homes and apartment houses overlooked the decorative paving and beautifully manicured street trees.
A land-locked sailing barge floated on the Alter Hafen (Old Harbor) and a clock tower that also measures the height of the river was mounted on the promenade wall in front of us.
Despite the chill afternoon breeze blowing down the waterfront, the sun had eclipsed the earlier showers we’d encountered and bathed the promenade in golden light. Riverboat cruises were chugging up the river and pedestrians (and their dogs, in some cases) were taking advantage of the opportunity to walk in the sunshine.
Here, as elsewhere I visited in Germany, the public places were well patronised by locals and visitors. At home in Australia, much planning goes in to ‘place making’ for new and re-developed urban areas. In Germany they’ve been at it for centuries – and it shows.
Next day we were back at the train station to collect our rental car. Yours truly was the designated driver while Yoly navigated (i.e. programed and monitored the GPS) and Queenie relaxed in the back seat along with little MJ (my doll). It was great to be behind the wheel of a car again – a Volkeswagon, of course – and to not have to worry about train timetables to get us where we wanted to go.
We headed directly to Best, across the international border into the Netherlands. Here in the EU, there is little to alert you that you are crossing from one country to another – just a welcome sign or two. The language had changed, but the scenery either side of the border was pretty much the same – a green, semi-rural landscape dotted with picturesque small towns.
There’s no way you can miss Michael’s HIStory album promotional statue at the McDonalds in Best. It towers over the carpark and is bedecked with cards and decorations from fans from around the world. Yoly was thrilled to see that the banners she and her companions had left on an earlier visit – three years ago – were still hanging in place and still in good shape. I added mine to the collection and liked to think it would have similar longevity adorning Michael’s statue.
It was inevitable that we would have lunch at McDonalds, which proved to be a cut above the average fast-food highway pit stop. The inside is decorated with film and music memorabilia, plus a letter signed by Michael congratulating McDonalds on purchasing the statue hangs on the wall. After lunch we took more photos then hopped back in our trusty vehicle and backtracked across the border.
Our next stop was the historic German town of Xanten, home of the largest archaeological park in the country and a notable cathedral (Xantener Dom or St Victor’s). Yoly had suggested visiting Xanten on our way back from Best, to get more value out of the car we had hired for the entire day. Being a history and archaeology buff, I was so glad that she did – Xanten was an additional unexpected highlight of our cross-country drive.
The LVR-Archaeological Park with Roman Museum preserves the remains of a first century AD Roman settlement that, in AD 98 was granted colony status by Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (i.e. Trajan). Its name duly became Colonia Ulpia Traiana.
We entered through the reconstructed walls of the fort and explored the museum and grounds, the temple remains and the arena. Behind the walls of the arena you can walk through the narrow corridors off which wild beasts and gladiators were housed while awaiting their turn in the arena.
It would have been pretty bloody stuff back then, but the most action these days is likely to be an impromptu game of soccer between some visiting school students. After exploring the shops and cathedral in the town of Xanten, we headed back to Dusseldorf.
At the end of the day, the only trouble we experienced was in locating a petrol station so that we could return the car with a full tank! It was to be our last night together for this trip. Yoly and Queenie were staying on another day in Dusseldorf before flying out on Cathay Pacific, but I was boarding the train next morning for the short trip to Cologne (Koln).
Once again it would be just me and little MJ, and whatever the next destination had in store for us.