Sunset on the Düssel, 29 October 2015

Düsseldorf is named after the Düssel river, which used to be a mighty torrent flowing into the Rhein. Somewhat improbably, there is an English-language Wikipedia entry for it:

The Düssel is a small right tributary of the River Rhine in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany. Its source is between Wülfrath and Velbert. It flows westward through the Neander Valley where the fossils of the first Neanderthal man were found in 1856. At Düsseldorf it forms ariver delta by splitting into four streams (Nördliche Düssel, Südliche Düssel, Kittelbach, Brückerbach), which all join the Rhine after a few kilometers.

Düsseldorf takes its name from the Düssel: Düsseldorf means "the village of Düssel". The name Düssel itself probably dates back to the Germanic thusila and means "roar" (Old High Germandoson).

Nowadays the Düssel is much-reduced, and is routed underground in many places. Nevertheless, it's allowed to surface pretty often, and when it does, the city planners have done the most with it, using it to create ponds, lakes, mirror pools, and babbling brooks. Here's a GoPro timelapse of the southern tributary which runs through my neighborhood, yesterday, at sunset:

 


The Golden Autumn in Düsseldorf

 Late September and early October was a time to remember. Clear skies, cool temperatures. I spent most of the time on my bike, exploring some of the nicer bits of Düsseldorf. Unterbach Lake, a large artificial lake and recreation areas located in the southwest suburb of Unterbach. Schloss Benrath, and 18th-century hunting castle with extensive grounds, and the Südpark/Volksgarten complex, one of the greatest parks in the world.

Here are a few of the raw pictures without much post-processing. Enjoy!

Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log
Benrath Schlosspark Light on Decaying Log


Bilk Rocks the World with a Gay Schützen-King and his Husband

Maennlein-und-maennlein-auf

Schützenvereine, literally 'Marksmen-Clubs', are a centuries-old German tradition with roots in medieval citizen-militias. Today, they gather every couple of months to hold parades in elaborate costumes, get drunk, do some charity stuff, get sozzled again, practice some shooting in case the Huns return, and then end the day drinking meter-long beers in the local pub until sprawled in front of the Kotzbecken. They choose their own 'King' and 'Queen' of the club to preside over official ceremonies.

And the part of Düsseldorf I live in, the virbantly-diverse-in-a-good-way and totally gay-friendly neighborhood of Bilk, has just chosen Germany's first gay Schützenkönig, the 'King' of the Marksmen Club. That's him on the right there, he's a local Social Democratic politician named Udo Figge. The national broadsheet FAZ (g) has picked up the story. Apparently there was some talk of arranging a proper 'Queen' for Udo, but then the other Schützen would say: 

So that's him in the photo above with his husband of 13 years. Schützenvereine are fairly traditional organizations, so the King & King setup has met some resistance, but the head of the main organization says gays are welcome in 'Marskmen Clubs' and have the same rights as anyone else.

When it comes to Schützenvereine it's not about your orientation, it's all about your ability to wear ludicrous costumes, lead parades of amateur musicians, sing drinking songs, and get pants-wettingly drunk in various pubs in your part of down. 


German Word of the Week: The Trinkhalle / Büdchen Divide

Trinkhalle Färberstrasse

A few weeks ago, I rode my bike from Düsseldorf to Solingen-Ohligs, about 22 km. After a long, hot ride, I wanted a nice fresh ice-cold beer. Actually, 5.  So I asked a random passer-by where the next Trinkhalle was. Literally, 'Drink-Hall'. This is the somewhat odd word we use in Düsseldorf for a small shop where you can buy a cold, refreshing beverage. Specifically, a beer. There are rumors of people buying water or cola in Trinkhalle, but I've never seen it.

The above photos is of a Trinkhalle near where I live. It's right next to a technical training school, so of course it's been tagged. Now technically, since this is a tiny detached building, you could call this one, even in Düsseldorf, a Büdchen, a small shop. It makes a big difference whether the building is detached (which means it could be a Büdchen) or one of the shops on the street. Classically, a regular shop next to others is a real Trinkhalle. Like this one:

Tinrkhalle Behrensstrasse Exterior

So I ask a stout, tanned, sixtysomething resident of Ohligs where the next Trinkhalle is. He looks at me with a smile, saying 'Trinkhalle'? over and over. Obviously savoring the absurdity of calling a beer store a 'drink-hall'. My friend steps in and corrects me, saying: 'He wants to find a Büdchen'. Old Mr. Ohligs then pretends that he has just understood me, and tells us where to find one. 

Screw GPS. The way you know you've put in a good workout in Germany is if you reach an area where the slang is different.


The Unknown Fate of the Düsseldorf Artists' Bunker

Now for the less-appealing side of Wersten. While innocently bicycling down the Kölner Landstrasse, I was confronted with perhaps the ugliest goddamn building I have ever seen. Not intentionally ugly, as in Brutalism, but unintentionally ugly, as in whoever designed it despised humans and wanted to actively make them suffer.

Which is true, since the building was originally a bunker (g) built by the National Socialists.

What we're dealing with is a two-story L-shaped building, probably about 3 stories tall, with a sheer stone facade with almost no windows. There is a copper roof with dormer windows set in irregular intervals, and strange barred windows, surrounded by bays of dark stone, placed seemingly at random. The entrance is, for some reason, painted a lively orange and white:

Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse

I suspected at first this might be a bunker. Like most German cities, Düsseldorf has many bunkers left over from World War II. They're 3 stories tall and made out of solid concrete. In many cases, it's extremely expensive or impossible to get rid of them, because the explosive force needed to blow through meters of solid concrete would irreparably damage other buildings nearby. Some can be dismantled, but it's painstaking work and usually creates major disruptions in the neighborhood and many complaints by nearby homeowners. The city or state sometimes tries to get rid of the bunkers but local neighborhood opposition gets in the way. So the bunker in my neighborhood, Bilk, still stands, with its annoying mural. One Düsseldorf bunker has even been turned into a church.

This bunker, like so many others, has a fascinating history. According to this article (g), a pair of German artists moved into the bunker in the mid-1980s, which is pretty common. Bunkers make good studios. The city of Düsseldorf granted the artists a lease. This is what Germans call Kulturpolitik: official state support for independent creative artists. The two artists created their studio inside the bunker, and presumably had cultural events there as well. Robbe has invested 70,000 Euro in renovations.Apparently, the bunker at some time officially became the property of the Bima, the Federal Ministry for Real Estate. 

This video from August 2012 gives you an idea of what the place looked like. Six artists had studios there at that time:

 

Then, nearly 30 years later, the Bima announced it had enough. It ordered the city of Düsseldorf to cancel the lease to the two artists by 30 September 2012. The Bima wants to build 'high-quality condos' on the spot. (Wersten is a working-class neighborhood where 50% of the children are on welfare). The artists fought the eviction notice in court. While that was ongoing, a construction firm began ripping the roof off the place, allowing rain and bird-droppings to flood the studio (g). The spokesman for the Bima is annoyed. The artists were supposed to have moved out by September 2012, they didn't, now somebody wants to buy the property. The artists obtained an injunction to stop this work. Apparently the parties were trying to work out a settlement as of early 2013.

I can't find any more recent news about this contretempts since that time. But from the look of the photographs, nothing much is happening in the former artists' bunker...


Business in the Front, Party in the Rear

Yesterday I rode down the Rhein to Urdenbach. The bike route takes you through an industrial area in which there's basically one house left: No. 73, Reisholzer Werftstrasse. The 4-story building stands there completely alone next to a large, empty field. The building has become a favorite for artists and countercultural types (including the sculptor and painter Ute Wöhle, who has a studio there), profiled in this photo essay (g) in the local newspaper.

The facade is being renovated, but the owner lets graffiti artists decorating the back part of the building. Yesterday they were hard at work:

DSCF9240
DSCF9240

Here's what it looked like a few weeks ago. Is that supposed to be Freddie Mercury?

Wall Painting Himmelgeist