The Kunst Palast
The 2017 Tour de France started in one of the modern cultural centers of Europe. If not on your arts hit-list, perhaps Düsseldorf should be. The city is home to more than two dozen museums, many of them focusing on art while others are dedicated to memorable or kitsch. The regional Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen may get the attention but the Museum Kunstpalast is a local delicacy worth trying. This is largely because of the Kunstmuseum’s origination as a communal art collection centered on the renowned Art school, now just 400 meters to the south, the Kunstakademie. Founded in 1762, the school became the Royal Arts Academy in 1819. By 1850, this became the training ground for artists who would be known as the “Düsseldorf school” of art. During the span of 100 years, some 4,000 international artists like Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Ruth Rogers-Altmann, Sigmar Polke, and Anselm Kiefer learned how to perfect detailed and spectacular landscapes here. These inspirational and often religious landscapes are featured in the Kunstpalast, founded in 2001 and occupying the 1925 Ehrenhof exhibition complex. Today, the museum features a mixture of local and international artists across many periods and mediums, including a vast sculpture collection. The Kunstpalast is one of many indications of Düsseldorf’s investment in art and culture. A smaller but perhaps more contemporary contribution is the City’s direct financial support of the ZERO Foundation. Also located at the Kunstpalast, the ZERO Foundation conducts scientific research and preservation of the ZERO movement, an art movement of the late 1950s.
At one kilometer long and bisected by a thirty meter wide canal, Düsseldorf’s Königsallee, or Kö for short, is the city’s modern centerpiece. Where the Tour finishes on the grand boulevard of the Champs-Élysées, the 2017 Tour de France takes in the grand boulevard of Düsseldorf’s and Germany’s fashion capital. Back in the 18th century, this was the outskirts of Düsseldorf and the canal functioned as a moat to defend the city. The early 18th century, however, brought peace to Düsseldorf and the moats no longer necessary and architects turned it into a place to see and be seen. As the economy of the North Rhine-Westphalia developed and outpaced other parts of Germany in economy and population, fashion giants keyed-in on Düsseldorf for their brands and headquarters. The Igedo Fashion Fair, first held in 1949, cemented this status. Today, some of Düsseldorf’s best shops, restaurants, and hotels are located in and around the Königsallee.
The area now known as the Neuer Zollholff used to be the highly industrial harbor of Düsseldorf, now transformed with some high profile development into an ultramodern business district. This area is anchored by the three-building Neuer Zollholff complex designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry. Constructed in 1999, the project comes on the heels of Gehry’s famed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The site is comprised of three buildings, all curving with the flow of the adjacent Rhine. No matter where they are located, Gehry’s buildings always draw a crowd and for good reason. His designs push the boundary of architectural principals and more importantly functionality. Characteristically asymmetrical, the Neuer Zollhoff utilizes projected windows and sloping floors to create an distorted mind-altering feeling. Tour the Medien Hafen by foot, boat, or by bike like the peloton, to see the many other modernist pieces (the Rhine Tower, Capricorn House, and NRW Parliament) that make up this inspiring and fun neighborhood.
Neanderthal Museum + Site
In the countryside just east of Düsseldorf, not even thirteen kilometers outside the city, are forests where a separate human species once roamed. Named after the town of Neanderhöhe, German miners discovered an almost intact skeleton here in 1856 that allowed naturalist Johann Karl Fuhlrott to confirm the differences between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis. In an opening immediately adjacent to the Tour route, a modern art exhibition marks the spot of the cave where Neanderthal 1 was found. Four hundred meters to the east is the Neanderthal Museum, a modern museum that tells the story of human evolution. The museum is innovative in the way they portray Neanderthal man, relating the look, sound, and capabilities of this distant human ancestor to our way of life today. The Neander Valley is a lush and beautiful environment so a short hike through the countryside is well worth the time. Starting at the museum, walk to the discovery site before turning around and following the meandering Mettmanner Bach River the eight kilometers to nearby Gruiten. Imagine yourself in this natural environment 40,000 years ago.
Only 20 kilometers west of Düsseldorf lies one of many chateaux, or schloss in German. Schloss Rheydt originated in the early-mid 12th century although its present look is the result of Rennaissance-period efforts dating to the 16th century renovations made the son of famed Italian architect Alessandro Pasqualini. Hailing from Bologna in north central Italy, Alessandro was best known for exporting Rennaissance styles into the northern countries of Germany and the Netherlands. Such architecture differentiates from other Rennaissance-style examples in Germany that were designed by German architects who visited Italy and returned with Rennaissance concepts. Continuing in this tradition, Maximilian Pasqualini prescribed a much more southern feel to Schloss Rheydt with its warm color, colonnades, and ornate detailing as well as exquisitely preserved interior period features. Today, the Schloss preserves this architectural history as the only completely preserved Rennaissance style structure in the Lower Rhine. The city saved the castle from developers in the early 1900s and continued to restore the residence. It now operates fully as a city museum exhibiting the building’s architectural features and other elements of local culture, including festivals. The grounds too remain immaculate, an idyllic place to hold the annual Autumn Festival, medieval festival, and other events.