Friday, 29 April 2011

Bonn (Voyage)

Springtime in Bonn, so lovely!
I’ve been to Bonn twice now, both times for conferences (one DAAD, one AvH).  Bonn's a great little city, even better when you're being wined and dined for the cost of a presentation or two!

Bonn was the capital of West Germany, but it took until 1988 for people to consider the possibility it could be a permanent capital, so there was very little development in infrastructure apart from a couple of out-of-place high-rises built to accommodate the politicians and public servants.  Spatially, Bonn's a tiny city - you can walk through the old part of town in a matter of minutes, and it was always considered West Germany's capital village, rather than its capital city.  In 1988 they decided to build stuff, life a concert hall etc.., but in 1989 the wall came down!  Germans being the nice folk they are, decided to let Bonn finish construction of the planned buildings, but still, the timing couldn't have been much worse.  Prior to 1989, politics provided, directly or indirectly, 1 in 3 jobs in Bonn, so mass unemployment was a real risk and Bonn’s plight was desperate enough that companies were offered significant tax breaks to stay put.  Luckily for the city, the tax concessions seem to have worked, and Bonn is now the home of DHL, Telekom, and the confectionery giant Haribou is still based there.  What this all means is that the city can ooze faded glories without feeling too run down.

The Rhine, with the government buildings (built in the '60s) in the background

The garden once belonging to the family Beethoven
Like all German cities, Bonn has its quota of beautiful grand churches, but its proximity to the Rhine valley (Bonn sits on the banks of the Rhine just north of all the scenic parts), and that the city was is the birthplace of Beethoven are, to me, much more exciting.  Bonn was used by allied forces for aerial target practise during WW2, so a lot of the Altstadt is rebuilt, so many of the buildings now have plaques to tell you how old the previous incarnations were.  Fortunately, Beethoven's original home survived intact,. Despite the house's humble appearance, there is something special about standing in the garden where he must have once played. 

I have also been fortunate enough to have had two boat tours up and down the Rhine, and I can utterly and thoroughly recommend the English tour of the city.  The tour I took, included a visit to a former cinema now transformed into a bookshop, just because our guide really likes it, and it really was a cool bookshop.  As an added bonus kebabs in Bonn are generous (served in a massive piece of Turkish bread), cheap (€2.50), and with an emphasis on salads rather than being heavy on the meat, only in Stuttgart have I had better.

The University of Bonn (seriously)
In contrast to Bayreuth University, which was built in the 1970s as an apparent example of why organic evolution of campuses works out much better than attempting to build a modern campus all in one hit. Bonn's University claims not one, but two palaces.  Established in 1818 (or so) by the Prussians, the two palaces were once the property of the (catholic) Archbishop of Köln.  However, the protestant Prussians wanted nothing to do with the grand buildings, so, along with building their own cathedral in spitting distance of the much more venerable (early Gothic) catholic one, they gifted most of the centre of Bonn to their new centre of learning.  Probably cold in winter I guess, and installing new electronics in the old walls must be a problem, but nonetheless I was seething with jealously the whole time I was there.

A monument to Roman martyrs
Overall, I loved Bonn; the people are exceptionally friendly and just seem happier than those living in the eastern half of the country.  The cities along the Rhine: Bonn, Köln etc... seem to have taken the best of both France and Germany, with hints of Roman culture (i.e. Italy) to boot.  I'm not sure Bonn offers much to the fleeting tourist, with only a day or two to spare in the country, (especially given Bonn's proximity to Köln and Koblenz).  However, if you ever have a little more time to kill in Germany/Europe, there are not many better places to relax with a coffee or a beer (Kölsch by preference) in one of the many gardens on the riverbank, to take in some classical music or jazz, or just kick back.

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