Vorsprung durch Technik

Uncategorized | August 15, 2011

If you remember watching the news way back in October, you may remember hearing that the Germans are coming. As of the end of 2013, there will be 3 direct trains a day from London to Germany. It will take just under 4 hours to get to Cologne, and just over 5 hours to Frankfurt and the journeys will be made aboard a Deutsche Bahn ICE train which is by far one of the most comfortable, stylish, clean, quietest (and not to mention fastest!) trains on the planet. If you have been lucky enough to travel by train in Germany then you’ll know what I mean. The sleek white bullet shaped front is every bit the futuristic trains of boyhood dreams in times gone by.

I enjoyed the comfort of an ICE just last week, on my way to enjoy a short break in Dusseldorf. There are currently four ICE departures from Brussels to the rail hub that is Cologne, and it takes just 1 hour and 50 minutes, which is roughly the same time the Eurostar takes from London to Brussels. The problem is of course getting a good connection with the two and for reasons unbeknown to ourselves the timings of both train services don’t match up particularly well. There are of course much worse places to spend an hour or 2 than Brussels, and after popping our bags in the easy to use left luggage lockers we jumped onto a local train for the 2 minute trip to Brussels central station and to the beautiful Grand Place. The bread roll, croissant, yoghurt and pieces of fruit we were served in our Standard Premier seats from London certainly filled an all be it small gap, but we had a hankering for something a little more tasty and so made a beeline to the historic Chez Leon restaurant for some delicious Moules washed down with a glass of their own beer. It was a good job we had to head back to the station as like most local beers in Belgium, it is both extremely moreish and strong! As we arrived 15 minutes before departure our train was on at the platform waiting for us, and we made our way to the first class carriages towards the front of the train. The front of the train is where you want to be on an ICE. Onboard everyone of their series 2 trains there is a small compartment just behind the driver which is the ‘quiet compartment’, and if you are lucky enough to be allocated seats here you get to enjoy the same view as the driver and believe me when I say it makes you realize a little what it must be like to be an air force fighter pilot. If the ‘quiet compartment’ is not quiet enough the driver can very quickly frost the glass divide between him and the passengers, so blocking the amazing view. Needless to say it is very, very quiet.InterCityExpress 3 (ICE 3) Köln Hbf

Unlike some first class services provided on other trains, there is no food or drink included in the price of a ticket. You are however served by a dedicated steward who will serve you any drinks or food you want to order from the restaurant car to your immensely comfortable leather seat but I would strongly advise having a walk through the train to really take in its quality. The fine wood panelling and the digit displays of the speed of the train (280km an hour) in between each carriage are a nice touch, whilst the steadiness of the train and the width of the aisle make you nearly forget you are travelling so fast.

Dusseldorf is just 20 minutes by train from Cologne, and again there are worse places to have to wait 30 minutes or so when changing trains. If like the day we arrived it is raining so much you don’t fancy popping outside the station to marvel at the huge Cathedral, you can have a wander around the many shops inside the station, or if you have a first class ticket you can relax in the DB lounge near to platform 1 which will eventually be the arrival and departure point for the London service. Either way, our connection arrived as promptly as you would expect and within 20 minutes we were in a taxi to our hotel, the Hilton.

Not knowing much about Dusseldorf, I was, as I have been with every German city I have visited, more than pleasantly surprised. The city is the capital of the North Rhineland – Westphalia, and is a rarity in today’s world for being completely debt free. In 2009 it was ranked one of the top 10 cities in the world in terms of quality of life, and it has a proud artistic history dating back to the 17th century. When the city’s ruler married into the Medici family, the union introduced an abundance of renaissance art and thinking to the city. Dusseldorf has a very influential academy of fine arts and two of the most prestigious museums for 20th and 21st century art. In fact, the city boasts over 18 world class museums, all worth a visit. The seminal electronic music group Kraftwerk are from Dusseldorf and the city is renowned as a hotbed of fashion throughout Germany and Europe. The Konigsallee is one of Germany’s premier shopping streets and the media harbour is well worth a visit with some of the most beautiful examples of contemporary architecture I have seen. There is currently a flurry of building activity throughout the city with a new underground line being put into place and a Daniel Libeskind designed quarter, which is due to be finished late next year.

iStock_000015978915XSmallAs this year’s Eurovison song contest proved, Dusseldorf really is a party city. You may or may not know that Dusseldorf also claims to become the longest bar in the world in the evenings and weekends. With over 260 bars and drinking spots within 1sq km who would argue? The main tipple here is ‘Altbier’ which is a top fermented, delicious dark beer, and if you are seen with any empty glass you will be thrust a new one without even asking. There are four main breweries in the aforementioned old town area, and they are an absolute joy to eat in, (unless you are vegetarian of course!) The main staple here is pork, and lots of it, washed down with non stop Altbier, or if beer is not to your tastes there is a local liquor which can only be translated as ‘Kill the B**ch’. As you would expect with such a name, it is strong stuff. A little tip I should point out here is whatever you do, do not order a ‘Kolsch’, which if you did not know is a light beer brewed in Cologne. The local population in Dusseldorf are not the biggest fans of their local rivals as such and will no doubt give you many reasons for their superiority.

There was, of course, a reason for my visit to Dusseldorf over these dates. This was to visit what is considered to be the ‘biggest funfair on the Rhine’, which comes to the city for around 9 or 10 days every July and draws over 4 million visitors. Having not been the greatest fan of fairground rides when I was a youngster, I was keen to discover if adulthood had brought within some new sense of bravery, and so after a glass of ‘Dusseldorf courage’ (as I mentioned before, if you are not quick enough to ask for the bill 1 very quickly turns into 2 whether you like it or not here!) I wandered through the cobbled streets of this huge temporary attraction sourcing out the ride for me. The rollercoaster had one too many loops for me, (5 in total, so a definite no no,) and the ‘Flying Dutchman’ ride seemed far to high as the people could not be seen through the clouds, so I plumped for the innocuous looking ‘Konga’, which can only be described as a cross between a good old Pirate ship and a giant pendulum. Perhaps it was the fact that I hadn’t seen it in action that drew me to it, as I can honestly say that I will iStock_000002458749Smallnever ever go on any large theme park style ride ever again in my life. Never. Not only did this machine fling me and my new friends around 100 metres up in the air one way, then back the other way at very, very high speeds, it also revolved us throughout the swings so we would be facing directly down at the ground at the highest point or even worse soaring backwards. Neither of us said a word to each other for the next 20 minutes after we returned to terra firma. Once we finally pulled ourselves together we headed for the Rhine tower for a more functional and steady way to enjoy a great vista of the city. A fun fair of this size may not be to everyone’s tastes, but you can’t help but think that such a happy gathering of people is something to warm the heart.

Dusseldorf is just one of many wonderful cities and destinations to visit in Germany. And with direct services coming along in the next few years, they are going to become even easier to get to for a weekend break!