Bon in Bonn and Born in Bonn
President Emmanuel Macron was in my hometown while I was visiting Bonn, Germany. He concluded his state visit with a visit to Louisiana, where he was expected to announce the “French For All Fund,” to support the learning of French wherever it is at stake in the United States.” He added that he wanted to change “the image of the French in the United States,” which is sometimes seen as elitist. He was only in New Orleans for less than 24 hours, but it was a real feather in the New Orleanians’ caps.
Friends in New Orleans managed to capture a photo and video of him as his motorcade went down a French Quarter street and the crowd shouted “Vive la France!” I welled up with tears of joy, literally. Then, when I read that in his speech at the New Orleans Museum of Art, he closed it with “laissez les bon temps rouler.” That brought me to tears again. (I suppose you already know that it means “let the good times roll” in Cajun French?)
Here is my friend’s brief video for your own pleasure!
I went to Bonn Friday to visit friends whom I have known since the summer of 1979. Then, they were staying in our Mikonos hotel and again on “our” beach (Super Paradise, the nude beach, where one makes friends fast!). We got drunk one night on ouzo, bonded, and have been friends ever since.
I hadn’t been to Bonn in about 27 or more years as we’ve met in many other places over the years, mostly in beach towns, favoring Corsica. Bonn is located on the Rhine River just 15 miles from Cologne, so I took the Thalys train from Gare du Nord and arrived in Cologne 3.5 hours later. It couldn’t have been easier or more comfortable. It was the quietest train car I’d ever been in and decided that maybe that was due to the passengers being largely German and particularly well-behaved!
Bonn is the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven and is one of the country’s oldest cities. When I visited it last, Bonn served as the seat of the government. My friends’ house is a five-level townhouse with a backyard/garden in the southern part of the city which is adorned with very elegant century-old row houses, all perfectly maintained. My guest room was at the very top of the stairs, and very cozy. Fortunately, I have the habit of doing stairs without too much trouble and didn’t find it too difficult to maneuver going up and down as needed.
One of our first adventures was a 20 to 25-minute walk to the museum of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birthplace in the center of town. On the way we stopped at DM-drogerie, a chain of retail stores offering cosmetics, healthcare items, household products, and health food and drinks. I had learned about it from Patty Sadauskas who said I’d be blown away by the low prices…and I was! Everything was half the price of what it is in France. I couldn’t help but stock up on stuff I don’t really need for the moment, but will bank for future use or give away as gifts. My friend, Christa, told me that the Dutch love to come to Germany to shop to satisfy their frugal nature (I read that a majority of the Dutch today consider themselves atheists and enjoy the characteristics of Calvinism—hard work, discipline, and frugality). I was among them, loving every minute while filling my basket.
The Beethoven Haus is a lovely small museum worth a visit and the gift shop has a nice array of mementos to take home. The famous portrait of him by Joseph Karl Stieler from 1820 is on display there. Everyone knows who he was, but I didn’t really know that much about him, other than he is still one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music.
He was born in Bonn in 1770 and by the age of 13, he had published his first work. The sad part is that he was almost completely deaf by 1814 and then gave up performing and appearing in public. His hearing aids are on display in the museum and resemble brass instruments—a far cry from what we know today as hearing aids. After some months of being bedridden with illness, he died in 1827 at the age of 57.
Saturday we drove an hour away to the town of Düsseldorf which my friends call “schicky micky.” This term is what we might say in English, “fancy schmancy.” The architecture in Düsseldorf has been described as a “celebration of diversity,” in just a few square kilometers. From the bridge that spans over to the Hyatt Regency Düsseldorf you can have an amazing view of some of the city’s most iconic buildings—the three organic shapes of the Frank O. Gehry buildings in the MedienHafen, to the architectural synergy of the Kö-Bogen I and II at the top of Königsallee designed by the New York star architect Daniel Libeskind. (There is no way I can successfully pronounce any of these words. German is not an easy language for me.)
After a stroll to see the buildings close-up, we made a special trip to one of Düsseldorf’s best restaurants, a bistro named “Robert,” serving authentic French cuisine with the most beautiful view directly on the River Rhine. Getting a table can be a challenge so should you go, you might want to time your arrival strategically. Our Saturday 1 p.m. arrival on such a cold day worked well as it wasn’t as busy as it might have been normally.
The founder of the restaurant, Robert Hülsmann, had been cooking home-style and with a lot of heart in Düsseldorf for over 50 years when he died in May of 2021. At the entry of the restaurant are a photo and a small memorial to his legacy.
We were given seats next to a man and a woman. The woman kept looking at me and smiling. I just thought she was being a bit friendly, but as it turns out, she was a fan of our House Hunters International shows! She was convinced it was me once I opened my mouth in English and then she couldn’t help but ask. Imagine my surprise to have been recognized in such an unlikely place! She never dreamed of seeing me there, and I never dreamed anyone there would know me or the shows!
Sunday was our day to tackle a couple of museums in Bonn. First, we visited the August Macke Haus, the residence and studio of the artist. I was not familiar with his work, but found it intriguingly influenced by the works of the fauvists, Matisse, Kandinsky, and other impressionists. His palette of colors is right up my alley.
In the afternoon we headed to the Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, a converted neo-classical train station that now connects with a building many levels above it designed by Richard Meier. Both buildings have a beautiful view of the River Rhine and have been the home of the Hans Arp Collection since 2007.
We found the Berlinde de Bruyckere works, “The Skin Encloses the Soul,” to be disturbing. The Hans Arp works were well worth the trip, and much about the visit turned into an adventure. In one room there was a video screen that when its camera focused on you, showed you on its screen, then added some silly mask to your face. That was much more fun than any of the other works in the museum, but I am really sorry I didn’t get a photo of the very tall, thin man wandering around the museum in a tiny tight black skirt and mile-high red stilettos. We had to do a double taken when we realized his attire!
The museum has a beautiful Salon de Thé where we had refreshments after the visit, but best of all were the men’s and ladies’ rooms decorated at the hands of the British artist Stephen McKenna. All in all, it was quite an adventure.
For dinner we ferried across the Rhine and drove further to the Weinhaus Lichtenberg Restaurant for a traditional holiday goose dinner with all the fixin’s in the town of Königswinter. It was like going back in time to a quintessential Germany, surrounded by German families having their Sunday dinner and celebrating the oncoming Christmas holidays. That same meal had been served every holiday season for more than forty years…at least.
Back in France…I guess you’ve heard that the French baguette was named by UNESCO as “something worthy of humanity’s preservation” and added it to their list of “intangible cultural heritage” items. Really? What’s funny is that the iconic French bread was actually invented by a Viennese baker in 1839 named August Zang. He put it in a steam oven that made it possible to bake bread with a brittle crust yet fluffy interior. I must admit, there’s no other bread quite so yummy, especially warm and slathered with butter!
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian at the Gehry building in Düsseldorf
P.S. I got a notice over the weekend that a new episode of House Hunters International will be airing tomorrow evening in the U.S., so be sure to watch it live or set your DVRs!
“Learning a Thing or Two in Lille,” airs Tuesday, December 6th at 10:31 p.m. EST and again on Wednesday, December 7th at 1:31 a.m.
“A newlywed couple leaves Wichita, Kansas, to pursue his Ph.D. in Lille, France. Even though France is exciting, looking for a home on their honeymoon will be a challenge as she wants a place close to the city center while he prefers to be near his school.”
Don’t miss it and tell all your friends!