Düsseldorf's Authentic Japantown
On our first visit to Dusseldorf ten years ago, we felt like it was a city we could see ourselves living in. When we returned home from the US, we looked into study and work abroad programs, to see if it would be possible to move permanently to Europe. It took us a while to finally get there, b three years after our move to Luxembourg, we returned to Dusseldorf for a long weekend to celebrate Erin's birthday just as the Christmas markets and holiday festivities began. Dusseldorf is very walkable, with a pleasant blend of natural parks and lakes within the city, but it also has a gritty element to it similar to Brussels.
We drove the two-and-a-half hours from Luxembourg, passing Cologne around rush hour Friday afternoon. We checked into the 25 Hours Hotel, already set up with a Christmas tree and ornament shop. Our room featured a canopy bed and a claw foot tub on the balcony. Despite the 40 degree weather, we were determined to try it out.
Straight to Japantown
We'd recently learned that Dusseldorf has the third highest concentration of Japanese people in Europe (after London and Paris), so we decided to start our trip with bubble tea and onigiri (rice balls with various fillings wrapped in nori). We hopped on the train and headed into the center of Japan-town, speeding through gritty, graffitti-covered train tunnels on our way. We didn't get a train ticket, so when the neon-clad ticket checkers boarded we sprinted to the end of the train to avoid their detection. Luckily, we escaped, and treated ourselves to kimchi and tuna onigiri washed down with blueberry matcha bubble tea (not Dave's favorite) as an appetizer.
Blend of Cultures
Unlike nearby Luxembourg, Dusseldorf has a ton of diversity, not just in citizenship but in culture - food, shops and activities. Living in Europe, we often miss being able to eat foods from all around the world like we had in California, and Dusseldorf impressed us with its authentic pockets of international culture. For dinner, we picked up bahn mi and noodles, and we walked off our dinner in the cold streets before enjoying wine at our hotel's rooftop bar, with views across the city. 25hours hotel is made for hipsters - our room included a record player and we ended the night falling asleep to classic French jazzy ballads as the skyscraper lights twinkled over the city.
On our second day, we started with a workout and sauna at the hotel, followed by a walk down along the river at the Rheinufer, followed by a long walk down Konigsalee, the shopping street of Dusseldorf, which includes all of the high street and designer shops anyone could want. We enjoyed a nice long walk, then an authentic Thai massage. All that relaxation worked up our appetites, so we walked to an udon and sushi shop for a delicious brunch. The place was filled with strollers and children - apparently these sophisticated German kids love the sushi. We followed the baby brunch with a little sophistication at the modern art museum, but the famous ceiling net exhibit was closed for the weekend.
We continued our exploration with a long walk through the Christmas markets, past ice rinks and bundled Germans scarfing sausages - very festive. We returned to the hotel for a balcony bath, and ventured out in the evening for Mexican food, which is rarely done well in Europe, even in major cities. We savored the legit tacos and guac, and turned in for the night totally elated with Dusseldorf's international food scene.
On our last morning, we decided to check out Wildpark (pronounced "vildpark"), a free outdoor zoo/park where visitors can purchase food to give to moose, pigs and other animals and interact with semi-wild deer that graze around the area. We pulled in and walked through the fall foliage, coming first to a moose with a giant set of antlers. He didn't seem too interested in the feed available for sale at the park, but we witnessed a clever family bring in their own bags of carrots and peanuts which seemed to do the trick. We moved on to the pigs, at least 20 of them munching on acorns that dotted the forest floors.
We also checked out wild cats, rams and other animals, but had the best time with the deer. At least 20 deer were just lounging in the forest, and we walked right up to them and offered them food. They weren't too scared at all, and we pet the deer and watched them up close as we fed them breakfast. After a quick drive past the pink castle Schloss Benrath, we motored back to Lux, arriving Sunday afternoon.
Davey sporting his signature "Skater Santa" look.
Dusseldorf isn't really on most American's radar, but we recommend it for anyone spending extended time in Europe. It has great food, shopping, art and an international feel combined with the walkability of a small town, it's rated as one of the most liveable cities in the world, and we vastly prefer it to Luxembourg.
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