Around 20 million people make North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) the most densely populated German federal state. The great majority lives in the “Ruhrgebiet”. This conglomerate of cities once was the centre of coal mining and steel production and, still today, is a major instustrial region, although the focus nowadays is more on specalized and high-tech industries.
However, North Rhine-Westphalia can offer rural charme and natural beauty as well. More than 70% of the state are forests, lakes, fields and pastures. Especially the Oberbergisches Land, the Siegerland and the Sauerland, Lipperland and the Teutoburg Forest with its densely wooded rolling hills, its beautiful lakes, cosy little villages and picturesque, carefully restored historical towns can be regarded as true getaways.
North Rhine-Westphalia can also offer some cities of major importance. Most visited is the Rhine metropolis of Cologne with its world-famous Gothic dome and excellent museums. Düsseldorf, the state capital, is famous for its vibrant old quarter and the beautiful baroque Palace of Brühl. Both cities have international airports.
Aachen at the Belgium border played an important role in German history. The stunning Cathedral was the coronation church for 30 kings and the sepulchral church of Charlemagne. The Cathedral and Rathaus (Town Hall) are designated UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. The city is also famous for its thermal hot springs.
Cologne’s Gothic Cathedral – the “Kölner Dom” – is one of the most prominent German landmarks. It was completed in 1880. The two spires rise to a height of 157.37 metres and can be ascended for a wonderful panoramic view of Cologne and the river Rhine. Also well worth seeing is the Cathedral Treasure Chamber. Köln hosts some exceptional museum. The “Römisch-Germanische Museum” is a must for all interested in Roman history. If you have a sweet tooth, visit the Chocolate Museum and experience the 3,000-year history of chocolate.
Cosmopolitan charm and Rhenish lust for life are the distinguishing characteristics of Düsseldorf, the centre of Germany’s fashion industry. The city is world famous for the flair of the elegant Königsallee (the “Kö”) shopping and strolling boulevard, its vibrant Old Town with 260 pubs, clubs and restaurants, and its many-faceted arts and culture scene with spectacular events and worldclass exhibitions. Europe’s biggest river plays a key role in the life of Düsseldorf’s people. The Rhine Promenade is unchallenged as the most beautiful around and the perfect place for a strolling, relaxing and seeing and being seen.
Cologne and Düsseldorf are the main centres of Rhenish Carnival, the jolly season where even the most serious and respectable people let themselves go and kick over the traces, go to fancy dress balls, enjoy cabaret and have lots and lots of wine and beer. On “Rosenmontag” (Monday before Lent), beginning of February, colourful and pompous pageants move through the centre of the cities. Carveval princes and princesses throw sweets into the crowds lining the streets. The costumes of the armies of fools are colourful imitations of Napoleanic soldiers and the topics mostly deal with current political issues.
Xanten became a treasure chest for the archaeologists because Colonia Ulpia Traiana was the only Roman town North of the Alps which was not built over following the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire. Its layout was retained beneath meadows and fields. The course of the streets, water systems, residential and trade quarters, the forum and amphitheatre, temple and harbour are a reflection of life at that time. In the amphitheatre, each year in August the Summer festival is held with open-air performances modelled on those in Verona.