Beethoven monument and one of the prettiest post offices in the country
Bicentennary advertised on the hoarding
I came to Bonn because of a conference I had signed up for. Since I had neither paper nor talk to give, I had a relaxed approach to this event. The programme had some nice features but not everything was of interest to me. So I granted myself the freedom to run off the last panel of the day.
The conference took place at the university’s main building, which is no other than the big yellow palace that had once been inhabited by the Archbishops and Electors of Cologne. At some point the city of Cologne did not want the Archbishop to reside within their boundaries anymore, so Bonn was chosen as the new residence.
The university of Bonn is celebrating its bicentenary this year. In time for the festivities they decided to do some renovations and refurbishments…in other words, parts of the building are a construction site. The iconic view from Hofgarten is thus obstructed by an ugly high fence.
Hofgarten, formerly the gardens of the palace, is now a public park. Its wide lawn is a popular hangout among university students, be it for studying, chatting with friends, playing games or just doing nothing.
The interior of this university building is a maze. The organizers failed to set up a logical system of signposts, so finding one’s way was a complicated matter, at least for those who, like me, did not know the location. I have always considered universities (semi-)public buildings but in Bonn they are very tight about who may enter. That means many corridors and passageways blocked by locked doors secured by alarm, which does not make matters easier. Or doors were opened for a few minutes before and after lectures, and then relocked. Even to leave the building you needed to ask for the door to be opened. They say that due to their location in the middle of the city they have to be this careful, but to me it all seems overzealous. It was certainly confusing and annoying for us temporary guests.
The conference programme included a guided tour of the main palace as well as a visit to Poppelsdorf, the summer palace of the Archbishops. Sadly, both have been hit excessively by World War II bombings. There are very few rooms which have preserved a bit of original stucco and give an idea of the baroque splendour that ruled here. After all, the Archbishop of Cologne was the one who crowned the Kings and (in the early modern era) the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and the second highest in rank (after his colleague in Mainz) among the Prince Electors. He needed a home that befitted his status.
The palace consists of four wings around a rectangular central courtyard, with the characteristic four towers on the corners, and a number of side wings. We learned, though, that not everything is as old as it pretends. In the baroque era the palace had not been completed. One and a half wing and one of the towers were still missing. Only in the 1920s the gap was closed. The interiors show distinct 1920’s style.
Clandestine snapshot of a historical photo from the beginning of the 20th century that we were shown during the tour. Front wing and tower are still missing.
The central courtyard, unfortunately used as a parking lot for university employees, which does not add much good to its looks.
Two rooms in the souterrain, once the Archbishop’s private “party cellar”, have preserved their stucco. They now host the library of one of many university institutes.
A seminar room on the first floor with some leftover baroque stucco.
The neoclassical university church, formerly palace chapel. In recent times it has been turned into a protestant church.
This is, apart from the inner courtyard, the only bit which is freely accessible. All the rest is off-bounds to tourists.
A perfectly straight boulevard in westward direction, lined with trees, connects the main palace with the summer palace in the suburb of Poppelsdorf. Perspective makes it look rather close but in fact the distance sums up to about 3 kilometres. It’s quite a walk. I wish I had rented a bike already on the first day!
Weird things were going on along the way. These must have been some strange rituals for the welcoming of the new first-semester students of medicine - including some kind of race dressed in underwear.
The little palace on Poppelsdorf has a square ground plan which looks rather simple from the outside. It was supposed to be one storey higher but financial problems required a simplification of the plan. The architect’s fanciest idea was inserting a circular inner courtyard into this square block. Unfortunately, you guessed it, this building is also currently undergoing renovations.
It is occupied by university institutes like zoology and botany, and the politics of closed doors apply here just the same. The inner courtyard is accessible during the day but not the interior of the building. There is one hall which is preserved in its original shape with baroque stucco, all the rest is post-war.
In order to show us this hall, the organizers had obtained an arrangement with the caretaker who had, after some negotiations it seems, offered a time slot for us in the last 15 minutes of his workday.
It almost went wrong because the caretaker had expected a call on his cell phone while our guide had expected him to show up at the appointed time… a search party then found him somewhere in the building, so all looked well… but the battery of the electronic key was empty so the substitute key had to be found… phew… in the end the door opened and we were able to enter.
The hall has some interesting stucco that shows gardening tools and devices. The Archbishop had founded some kind of “gardeners” order who held their meetings in this room. Nowadays the university rents it out as a venue for seminars and conventions. They do not even use it for their own events.
The palace is surrounded by the botanical gardens of the university. These, including the greenhouses, are open for everyone and can be visited for free. They are worth seeing. After the tour we still had plenty of time before the evening reception, so some of us took the chance for a walk in the gardens (while others did not get any further than the terrace of the café). In the meantime the sun had come out, the first autumn colours were shining.
Once in every couple of years the botanical gardens of Bonn make the headlines and attract thousands of visitors at once: when the titan arum is in bloom. The largest flower in the world blooms for hardly more than one single night. They are currently hoping in Bonn… the question is whether this here, about 25 cm high at the moment, will grow into a blossom or a leaf.
Information board showing the life cycle of the titan arum
Biking Bonn and the Rhine
My hotel offered rental bikes, and the next morning I got one for the rest of my stay. No more painful walking…
Biking in the centre of the city isn’t that entertaining. Bike lanes exist on the main roads but they are narrow and car traffic is heavy. The pedestrian zone in theory allows cyclists, which is fine in the evenings, but during shop opening hours the crowds of pedestrians are just too dense. The side streets are a maze of one-way streets, tram tracks, huge buses that take almost the whole width of the street. But the numbers of cyclists are nevertheless high, also due to the vicinity of the university, so we hold our ground.
Ready for takeoff
As soon as you leave the immediate centre, though, the situation changes drastically for the better. A signposted network of bike trails and bike lanes leads practically everywhere. The finest route for a little bike tour is, of course, the river promenade.
The weather was much too nice and sunny to spend the whole day inside a darkened lecture hall watching PowerPoint presentations. During the afternoon coffee break I ran off and jumped on my bike. The wombats were already hiding in my backpack as they had expected this and wanted to join – they know me ????
We made our way down to the Rhine promenade and cycled upstream. There is a bike trail right by the river that leads I don’t know how far, but one could cycle for several days in a row.
This afternoon I went as far as Mehlem, the southernmost suburb of Bonn. The next day, watching the river bank from the boat, I was actually very proud of myself when I saw how far I had come, all the way against the wind!
The route first passes the government quarter, seat of the Federal Government from the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 until the move to Berlin after the reunification.
After passing the former parliament building (Bundestag), the trail runs through a large park that covers a vast area in the wide river bend, known as Rheinaue. This area was the site of the Bundesgartenschau (garden exhibition) in 1979. I remember our family visit. My father was very much into gardening, so the Buga was a must. As a teenager who had to spend far too much time in the family’s allotment garden, I probably wasn’t as enthusiastic. – The exhibition grounds were then turned into a permanent park, truly a gain for the city and the citizens.
The Rhine promenade continues along the following suburbs of Plittersdorf and Bad Godesberg, the spa town within Bonn's boundaries.
In Plittersdorf this chapel-like building next to church and cemetery caught my eye. In the 19th century it had been built as mausoleum for the noble family von Carstanjen. The last member of the family died in 2005. For about a decade it has now been used as a burial site “for everyone”. The architecture was designed after the Pantheon in Rome, a popular model in neoclassical architecture, though at much smaller scale (obviously).
Cycling past Bad Godesberg, the Seven Mountains on the other side of the Rhine came into clearer view. I was already opposite Königswinter, and almost opposite Drachenfels. Two car ferries cross the river, one at Bad Godesberg and one at Mehlem.
The Mehlem-Königswinter ferry and Petersberg
Reaching the promenade of Mehlem, I decided it was enough and I deserved a break. The café by the river wasn’t open, unfortunately, so the snack was limited to an apple and some water on a park bench, enjoying the landscape view.
And resting my aching backsides: the bike itself was fine but it had a terribly hard saddle!
Enjoying the view of Drachenfels
The return back to Bonn was easier because I now had the wind in my back. In the city I had a quick light dinner and a big glass of Apfelschorle, before it was time for the evening event.
Memories coming back - found this in an old photo album: Family walk on the Rhine bank, 1971