William Cook

The growing appeal of dreary Düsseldorf

Why is that ugly cities create the best art and music?

  • From Spectator Life
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In the cavernous basement of Bilker Bunker, a second world war air raid shelter in downtown Düsseldorf, the staff of groovy events guide the Dorf are toasting the magazine’s tenth birthday. During the war, Germans sheltered here from the RAF. Today, their descendants come here to party. With an art gallery up above and DJs down below, this labyrinthine concrete relic is a symbol of Düsseldorf’s transformation – from industrial powerhouse of the Third Reich to Germany’s hippest city.

Düsseldorf has always been a wealthy city, the buckle of the German rustbelt

The Dorf is the size of a slim paperback. It fits neatly into your coat pocket. It started out online but its success soon spawned a print edition: art, music, fashion and loads of entertainment listings. It’s like a throwback to the 1980s when inky newsprint still reigned supreme. I thought these old-school listings mags were all killed off by the internet. Seems I was mistaken. The people at this birthday bash are half my age (and twice as stylish as I ever was) and the latest edition of the Dorf is full of equally chic events, all over town.

I’ve been reporting from Germany for 30 years, off and on, crisscrossing this complex country more times than I can count but for a long while I steered clear of Düsseldorf. Like most German cities, it was bombed flat by the RAF and rebuilt in a dreadful hurry, in dreary modernist style. It had no iconic landmarks, no must-see sites. It lacked the dark allure of Berlin.

But as I travelled around the Bundesrepublik, the name of the place kept cropping up. Artsy Germans assured me it was a creative hotspot and so ten years ago I decided it was high time I paid a visit. I was amazed by what I found.

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