Düsseldorf impresses with boundary-pushing architecture, zinging nightlife and an art scene to rival many higher-profile cities. It’s a posh and modern city that seems all buttoned-up business at first glance: banking, advertising, fashion and telecommunications are among the fields that have made North Rhine–Westphalia's capital one of Germany’s wealthiest cities.
Once known for its belching steelworks and filthy coal mines, the Ruhrgebiet – a sprawling post-industrial region of 53 cities and 5.3 million people – has worked hard in recent years to reinvent itself for the future. In the meantime, rather than eschew the Ruhrgebiet's heritage, the people have embraced it.
Münster & Osnabrück
Catholic Münster and protestant Osnabrück are forever linked – at least in the minds of suffering high-school history students – as the dual sites chosen to sign the Peace of Westphalia, the series of treaties that ended the Thirty Years' War (one of the longest and comparatively most destructive wars in history).
When this relaxed city on the Rhine became West Germany’s ‘temporary’ capital in 1949 it surprised many, including its own residents. When in 1991 a reunited German government decided to move to Berlin, it shocked many, especially its own residents. A generation later, Bonn is doing just fine, thank you. It has a healthy economy and lively urban vibe.
There are some 500,000 bicycles in Münster – and that's just an example of the exuberance found in this captivating city, one of the most appealing between Cologne and Hamburg. It's beautiful centre was rebuilt after the war and features many architectural gems. Yet Münster is not mired in nostalgia.
It’s taken a few decades, but Germany’s seventh-largest city has mastered the transition from industrial powerhouse to city of commerce and culture. A visit with Van Gogh? Go to the Museum Folkwang. Emperor Otto III’s gem-studded childhood crown? Head for the cathedral treasury. A Unesco-listed Bauhaus-style coal mine with a fabulous museum? Look no further than Zollverein.
Football (soccer) is a major Dortmund passion. Borussia Dortmund, the city’s Bundesliga (Germany’s first league) team, has been national champion an impressive eight times, including the 2011–12 season and runners-up 2013-14. So it's appropriate that the city is home to the new German Football Museum.
About 50km east of Soest, Paderborn is the largest city in eastern Westphalia. It derives its name from the Pader which, at 4km, is Germany’s shortest river. Charlemagne used Paderborn as a power base to defeat the Saxons and convert them to Christianity, giving him the momentum needed to rise to greater things.
‘Zum Glück komm’ ich aus Osnabrück’, or 'Thankfully I come from Osnabrück': locals like to boast. That’s something you might understand when you discover your own quietly evocative corner of the old town. Osnabrück is easily visited on a daytrip from Münster or when passing by on a train.
North of Düsseldorf, the Rhine widens and embarks on its final headlong rush towards the North Sea, traversing the sparsely populated Lower Rhine (Niederrhein). It’s a flat, windswept plain that feels like Holland without the windmills and yields a few off-beat surprises. The region has its own airport, the tiny Airport Weeze (www.airport-weeze.