“The river knows everything, and everything can be learned from it.” – Hermann Hesse, Siddartha
If you take these words seriously, then Bonn is a source of great wisdom. The Rhine flows through the city. It is the river with the largest amount of water in Germany. For contemplation – enjoy looking at the huge amount of constantly flowing water. If you cannot stop your spirit of discovery, read this survival guide to find out how to cope with the dangers and temptations that lurk at every corner… or to simply get some tips for a relaxed day in Bonn.
Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of former West Germany, actually was aware of alleged dangers in Bonn and therefore was involved in the construction of a secret building. Until the German reunification in 1990, Bonn was the capital of West Germany. 30 km south of the city, in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, a bunker was built to ensure the survival of the former West German government in the event of an attack. The bunker of the federal government inside the valley of the river Ahr has been the most top secret building in the history of the federal Republic of Germany. After its completion in 1971, the bunker was 17,3 km long and had 936 bedrooms and 897 offices. In 1997 the bunker was closed down and in 2001 the removal began. Today, you can visit the remains of the bunker and learn more about its safety precautions and Bonn as a political city in the time of the Cold War.
The biggest temptation that could distract you from visiting the bunker is the nearby beautiful Red Wine Hiking Trail in Ahr Valley with the town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler as its centre.
The Rhine might be a source of wisdom when looking at it, but do not underestimate its force! One survival tip for the very beginning: Do not swim in the Rhine! Do you want to overcome the current? Every second a volume of one Olympic swimming pool is passing by in Bonn.
Bonn was the town where after the Second World War the first political decisions took place. In 1990, after the fall of the regime in East Germany, the government moved to Berlin, but Bonn survived this relocation quite well. In the former government district you can still find ministries and plenty of international institutions. The two highest skyscrapers, the Post Tower and the United Nations-Tower, are only two examples. Bonn also hosts the UN-Campus and the Assembly House, in which nineteen UN facilities and over 900 employees are stationed.
But not all parts of the town undergo such a positive change. Currently, the Viktoria-block close to the huge castle, which is the main building of Bonn University, is heading towards a sad future. SIGNA, a real estate company owns the buildings of the block and did not extend the rental contracts in June 2016. SIGNA´s plan was to build a new shopping centre in the place of small interesting owner-managed restaurants and coffee shops. A public petition spoiled the plan of SIGNA, but the former tenants will not come back, so most of the houses are vacant. There is still protest going on against the vacancy and the shopping centre in the former student-filled vibrant part of the inner-city. The future of the Viktoria-block is uncertain, that means as long as it´s possible, enjoy the remaining restaurants and coffee shops.
The pedestrian area in the inner-city looks like a typical German post-war shopping area: modernised historic buildings rented by large international retail chains. If you want to get to know characteristics of Bonn: Just cross it! (And cross your fingers for the Victoria-block). If you do not want to forget in which German city you are while walking through the shopping area, you should take something very Bonn-ish with you. With this in mind go to the factory outlet of the world famous gummy bears HARIBO just before the pedestrian area. HARIBO, one of the prides of Bonn, means Hans Riegel Bonn. By the way, instead of buying your sweets at the shop there is another possibility to get fruit gum: Every October you can exchange 10kg chestnuts with 1kg HARIBO fruit gum.
With the Bonn-made-sweets in your hand you will have the perfect view for the beauties and specialties Bonn’s inner-city has to offer. Perhaps one of the first things that might strike your eyes in the inner-city are the two colossal heads made of stone that are lying on the ground. This means that you are at the Martinsplatz in front of the cathedral. The heads symbolise Cassius and Florentius who are the titular saints of the Romanesque building. They were beheaded because they refused to recognise that the Roman imperator was sent by God. The minster was completed in 1248, in the same year the Construction of Cologne Cathedral commenced. If you need to digest either the fate of Cassius and Florentius or the fruit gums, have a break in the marvellous cloister of the minster. Therefore, cross the interior and delve into an oasis of calm.
On your way to the Altstadt (old town) I suggest only two more stops: One for coffee and one for beer. There are few things that are more relaxing than watching the happy hustle of the market from above. The balcony of the coffee shop inside of the Thalia bookshop therefore offers the best view. To make this moment perfect, and if your imagination allows it, imagine Beethoven’s music. Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth house is only a stone´s throw away and will perhaps help bring your music-fantasies to life. For the less imaginative or those who are not coffee-lovers, try the Bönnsch Brauhaus for some local beers.
From the Bönnsch Brauhaus you just have to cross a big street (Oxfordstraße) to get to the Altstadt. Although called Altstadt, this part of town is much younger than the inner-city. The inner-city with the minster and the market is medieval while the Altstadt was built in the era of industrialization. It is the former working-class district where the first social housing flats of Bonn were constructed. Nevertheless, most of the houses are older than in the inner-city because the majority of the medieval quarter was bombed during the Second World War and later reconstructed. In contrast to this, the Altstadt has preserved not only the original houses but also its vivacious charm. Here, in the small worker’s -quarter, living, working, shopping and leisure have always found a place side by side.
You can find alternative shops, cosy cafes and the best places in Bonn for a pub crawl. My tip for those who love to explore non-conventional sites: Enjoy the delicious cakes in the cafe Frau Holle and try to find the toilet without asking. When you made it to the toilet, there is a set of tiny music boxes which you can wind while sitting on the toilet. At least once a year the Altstadt has international standing: “Paris London Tokyo Bonn”, this is the slogan for the beautiful Cherry Blossom Festival. If you catch the right week in spring, pink and white blooms will rain down and decorate your way through the Altstadt.
When after some serious sight-seeing you are beginning to really get a feel for Bonn and the day is setting, enjoy the sunny side of Bonn- and to do so cross a bridge or take the ferry for a cheap fare and go to the right bank of the Rhine. The quarter Beuel is there. It begins directly behind the Kennedy-Bridge which is the middle one of three bridges in Bonn. You will find a promenade in the south of the bridge and grassy areas in the north of the bridge. The sunset makes the Rhine glisten and sparkle. So if you have not had enough time yet to learn from the River by looking calmly at it like Siddhartha did, perhaps now is the time. But Beuel offers much more. It is famous for its theatre and art house cinema Brotfabrik or Neue Filmbühne Beuel. In the night when you go back to the left bank over the bridge you might be so lucky as to experience a spectacular moment. The seagulls, which sit lined up on the railing, one by one fly away when you come closer – along the whole bridge.
In the summer there are two cultural reasons to stay for a cinema evening in the left bank: The open air cinema at the roof of the Bundeskunsthalle and notably the annual silent movie festival inside the Arkadenhof der Universität Bonn (arcade courtyard of the University Bonn). Here you can meet guests from all over the world, discover interesting movies and listen to impressive live music. The entry is free!
Altogether, you do not really need survival tips for Bonn. The Cold War is over, the government bunker is needless and lots of cheerful people are all around the city. There is however an occasion in which you can encounter danger and temptation: There is a special time in the Rhineland; People call it the fifth season. It´s Carnival. If you want to survive this strange period of time in Bonn, be sure to remember my tip: There are two possibilities – Either exclude rationality or escape from the Rhineland all together!