Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, is an underrated city to travel to. Here you can find the birthplace of Beethoven and many great museums.
Bonn is a curious oddity. As a German friend puts it, “This was the capital city for nearly fifty years. That would be like making Norwich the capital of Britain.”
It may be a random choice for a capital, being only the 19th biggest city in Germany, but that doesn’t mean there’s not much to see.
A short stroll through the imposing university buildings leads to Poppelsdorfer Allee. Two little laneways flank a narrow stretch of parkland, which is filled with the sort of trees that loom over you with almost staggering importance. It’s here that a few of Bonn’s eccentricities come to light. One man has a little roadside stall and is selling raspberries. That’s all he’s got, and he must only have about ten servings of them to sell, but it’s one small step on the road to entrepreneurial greatness, I guess. Another woman has just hauled her bookcase into the park and is trying to sell dusty old paperbacks to passers-by. Still, such blind optimism can be encouraging at times.
At the end is the Poppelsdorf Palace, one of those buildings that, despite being a little worn around the edges, just looks happy. It’s painted in a cheerful canary yellow with a jaunty blue trim, and a wispy-bearded man is sat outside, wasting away the day by doodling what he sees before him onto a large canvas.
The palace is home to the city’s Botanical Gardens, which are an absolute delight. Sweating in the greenhouses, we have cacti from the American desert, gum trees from Australia, and, most impressively, the biggest lilypads in the world from the Amazon. They look like rafts that belong in a children’s water park.
Nature morphs into the culture on the museum mile, just south of the city center. It’s packed with goodies, with art, film zoology, and technology all covered within a short walk. You can smell the remnants of a government trying to make its capital suitably important by splashing money at it, and the highlight is right at the top. Named with typical German snappiness and dreamy wordplay, the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland takes visitors through the profound changes that have gone on in Germany since 1945. You walk through the body of a plane used during the Berlin airlift; you take your seat in a mock-up of the German Federal Parliament, you watch the Berlin Wall coming down. It’s all very well done, making you part of the history rather than just dictating it to you.
The best thing, though, is despite a wealth of attractions, Bonn never really features highly on the tourist trail. Forget about queuing and being jostled in the street; just enjoy a fantastic city that combines nature and culture.