48 Hours in Bonn
This weekend, I took the train from Bielefeld to Bonn, where Josh has been living and working for the past month. He is working at the Hausdorff Research Institute for Mathematics (HIM), in partnership with Universität Bonn.
This was my first time leaving Bielefeld by train and traveling by myself. I left Sherlock with a dog sitter (he was in heaven) and took the roughly two hour train ride to Bonn.
Bonn is roughly the same size as Bielefeld in population, with about 325,000 people. The first capital city after the second world war, Bonn was instrumental in rebuilding and reunifying the country and Europe in general. Because of this, the city is both very German and very international at the same time.
In Bielefeld, it’s a struggle to hear anyone speak English, whereas in Bonn, English is spoken freely, along with French, Turkish, and plenty more languages. It made me more comfortable to speak German knowing that if I didn’t know the right word, I could switch to English with no problem and little judgement.
The Local’s Perspective
Our weekend in Bonn wasn’t meant to be one of sightseeing and tourist traps, so I’m sorry to report I don’t have much to tell you on that front. We mostly walked around. Everywhere. The afternoon I arrived, we picked up Falafel from a stand under the train station, then walked down Poppelsdorfer Allee back to Josh’s apartment.
Poppelsdorfer Allee reminds me of Manhattan, only much quieter. There’s a large grassy park with gravel walkways and tall trees lining the edge. One-way streets make up the Allee, with unique and historical townhouses running down both sides. At the end of the Allee sits the Poppelsdorf Castle, now home to the Bonn Botanical Gardens and part of Universität Bonn (how cool would it be to go to class in a castle?!?).
We spent the evening exploring our first Weihnachtsmarkt, but that’s a story for another day.
Bellies full of Currywurst and waffles, we were ready to head back to the apartment, but first needed to stop at Haribo for rations for our journey. Haribo, the world famous gummy bear maker, has its headquarters and factory in Bonn. Walking by the factory store draws you in with the smell of sweets and bright colors. You can’t not go in. They have an entire section devoted to licorice and it smells amazing. There’s a wall of colored gummy bears, à la the M&M store. Choose your flavor. And right across the street is the Lindt store. So basically, I was on a sugar high all weekend. Let’s just be grateful Ritter is in Berlin.
One of my favorite things about living in Europe is the café culture. In the city center are large areas filled with shops and restaurants, and noticeably void of cars. The only noise pollution is from other people’s conversations lingering in the air. Café tables, umbrellas, and benches line the walkways, and on the weekend its impossible to find an empty spot, even in the winter.
People will sit for hours, nursing their cappuccino and nibbling on their pastry, enjoying conversation with their bodies facing those walking by instead of their tablemate. Europeans make people watching an art.
In Bonn, we participated in this centuries-long tradition, and I felt like I was finally beginning to blend in. We spent time in two cafes, taking our time, sipping our drinks and eating our pastries. We watched the people walking by, shared our food, talked, and relaxed. The best thing about café culture is that there is no rush to it. You order, you get your food, and eventually at one point or another, you get your bill. No one is urging you out. You will need to flag someone down if you want anything.
We probably spent an hour eating and even that was too short for Europeans. In fact, a neighboring table of two arrived shortly after we did and was still at the café when we walked past almost 2 hours later!
A Walking Tour
I know I said that I didn’t want my visit to Bonn to be touristy, but there were two things that I really wanted to do when I was there.
- See Beethoven’s house and
- See the Rhine.
I didn’t even want to go inside Beethoven’s house, I just wanted to see it. So that’s what we did. Traipsing through the Altstadt on a Saturday afternoon, we dodged people at the farmer’s market hawking their fresh Obst und Gemüse on the hunt for Beethoven’s birthplace.
Beethoven’s house itself can be toured and has his original piano plus some sheet music. Next door is a gift shop featuring every Beethoven CD imaginable, sheet music, and more. You can also purchase tickets to tour the home. Bonn is proud of their connection to the musician, who was born in the city and lived there through his teens.
The city has a Beethoven Walk, a self-guided walking tour that takes you throughout the city to notable landmarks connected to Beethoven. We accidentally ended up on this walking tour when we found ourselves at these landmarks by coincidence. Beethoven’s house, the Poppelsdorf Electoral Palace, the cathedral, the old cemetery, and the Beethoven statue in the market square all ended up being part of the tour.
While the Rhine wasn’t part of the walking tour, I am sure Beethoven visited it—and probably even traveled on it—in his lifetime, so let’s just add that one in there just for fun.
Freude. Joy. Joie. Bonn.
It’s difficult to imagine that at one point people really thought Beethoven would lose popularity and be forgotten in time. With the changes this city has gone through, as a birthplace of music and modern democracy for Europe, Bonn grasps onto Beethoven and his legacy to make sure that this little city on the Rhine isn’t forgotten.
There’s a pretty well-known work of Beethoven’s: Symphony No. 9. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? There’s a little ditty tucked in there called “Ode to Joy.”
That song is Bonn.
It starts quiet, it draws you in, and before you know it the horns are full blast and the strings are going like crazy. It’s a crescendo of color and history and smells and vibrancy of people. Then you spin around, and the villagers are singing like you’ve stepped back in time.
It is Freude. Joy. Joie. The perfect slogan for Bonn.
Miles walked: 20.48🚶♀️
Kölsch consumed: 3🍻
Pastries eaten: 2🥐
Candies consumed: Too many.🤷♀️
What’s your favorite thing about traveling without an agenda? Where do you want me to go next?