When people count the possibility of traveling to the rest of Europe among the advantages of living in Brussels, I always say that desiring to escape from this place doesn't make having better feelings towards the city. Anyway, the last week-end I decided to take this opportunity and go to Germany. For tourism? Not exactly. My former organ teacher has given a concert in Ratingen, a town close to Düsseldorf, just 200 km from Brussels. What a nice opportunity for hearing again my teacher and visiting a place where I've never been!
On early Sunday I took a train to Düsseldorf. My first experience with Thalys, the high speed train between France-Belgium-Netherland and Germany. Although I had saved on my smartphone the map of the city, I was too proud to consult it, therefore I got lost from the station to the Altstadt. Oh well, I've seen another side of the city. Then, with the map, I found my way without asking information. Düsseldorf center is not as beautiful as Vienna, but is anyway intriguing, with medieval corners and modern bridges on the Rhine. There are a few old breweries but spanish and italian restaurants are everywhere. Obvious sign of area interested by high rate immigration, as I expected in this dense network of industrial cities (Düsseldorf, Essen, Köln, etc.). Nevertheless, even the area around the central station, where many immigrants live, is clean, newly painted and well maintained, even on Sunday morning. Only a few people were around in the morning, but they waited at the pedestrian traffic light although no cars were arriving. Welcome in Germany!
In the afternoon I took a S-Bahn to Ratingen. What a sweet town! Actually it is a city, but with the atmosphere of a medieval village. The city walls are partly preserved or rebuilt, the center is enclosed by a ring street. The hotel where I stayed was also very cute and... german. I've enjoyed every moment in that town! From the coffee in the "Italienischer Eissalon" to the vegetarischer kebab in a turkish place open till midnight and the delicious breakfast in a bakery with eine Tasse Kaffee as large as that I make at home (I'm not much Italian for that). In this corner also renting or buying a flat is affordable. I wish I can live in a similar place in future. I was afraid of hearing a cryptic dialect, but the local German didn't sound weird to me and I could have a very basic conversation with sellers and normal people. The concert of my former organ teacher was the cherry on the cake! It has been a bit funny, meeting him in front of the church, I guess also for him, but we started immediately talking about music and we were again back in Padova 10 yrs ago.
On Monday morning I took a S-Bahn to Köln. While waiting for the ICE to Brussels, I've walked around. I've been already in Cologne maybe 15 years ago, with my parents. The cathedral is impressive. In a few steps, iper-modern buildings are next to medieval towers or roman roads. That's amazing! The Rhine peacefully continues to record the history of the city. I had the time to do some shopping, finding again the brands I was used to (also in Vienna) but limited by the size of my suitcase. The central station is as large as a gigantic shopping center! Waiting in front of the information screen, I have been asked by 5 people about trains. As usual, it seems I'm an information office in every place I am. In less than 2 hrs I was back to Brussels and the impact was tough, the difference too much obvious. Despite my effort, I'll never get used to live here without complaining for the bad maintenance of the buildings and the pavements. Hopefully I'll find soon another excuse to go to Germany again! I already miss you!