Years ago, when I was about 15 years old, I traveled from boarding school at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario to visit my parents and sister for Christmas in Stockholm, Sweden where they then resided in the gracious residential district Djursholm. As I recall, I included with my travel luggage a pair of skis (a luxury – or burden – I would never think of repeating for a shedload of reasons). On the flight to Europe the first stop was Düsseldorf, Germany. Normally a stop such as that would have been confined to the limits of the airport while I awaited the second leg of the journey to Stockholm. If that had indeed been the case, I would accordingly never have acquainted myself with the city. Things however transpired quite differently. I was told that because of bad weather and the recent snow storm in that part of Europe, my Air France flight to Stockholm would be delayed by nine hours. Although I was not equipped at that moment with anything but the basic winter apparel (I was dressed in my school blazer, grey flannels and a coat), I decided that I couldn’t bare to sit idly in an airport lounge chair for nine hours. Instead I took a taxi into the centre of the city where I proposed to look around.
Düsseldorf is the capital city of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state of Germany. It is the second-largest city in the state after Cologne, and the sixth-largest city in Germany, with a population of 653,253.
The Düssel, from which the city and the borough of Düsseltal take their name, divides into four separate branches within the city, each with its own mouth into the Rhine. Most of Düsseldorf lies on the right bank of the Rhine, and the city has grown together with Neuss, Ratingen, Meerbusch, Erkrath and Monheim am Rhein. Düsseldorf is the central city of the metropolitan region Rhine-Ruhr, that stretches from Bonn via Cologne and Düsseldorf to the Ruhr (from Duisburg via Essen to Dortmund).
Upon alighting in downtown Düsseldorf, any cerebral ambition I may have earlier had was unwitttingly transformed to the most elemental visceral exertion. I speak of hunger, that worldwide appetence. Fortunately for me – or so I thought at the time – I had already spotted what appeared to my uninitiated eye to be the ideal patisserie. The shop was by contrast what I now understand to be the stock German bakery of high- grade unsweetened chocolate – that is, precisely that for which I did not yearn. Repeated subsequent investigations and analysis have since conditioned me first to enquire into the level of unmitigated sweetness which abounds in the tantalizing concoctions of pastry, whipped cream and drizzled chocolate. I ended trashing the bulk of my greedy purchases along a snow-covered railway line near which I had chosen to secrete my initial project of gut satisfaction.
Having then recovered some of my strength and with hours yet to kill I chanced upon a charming historic stone building whose polished brass sign – to my limited interpretive capacity – indicated there was within an art gallery. The entrance, like most of the city, was still muffled in snow. There was a doorbell. I rang the doorbell. After a prolonged wait, a small besuited gentleman arrived and evaluated me curiously. I dismissed the unusual regard as merely his bewilderment at seeing anyone going about the city after the storm. He permitted me entry.
It was soon evident that the man in the art gallery spoke no English; and I spoke no German. By a combination of mutters and gesticulations (and the use of a tiny German/English dictionary) we together agreed that he would, in view of the limited current urban activity, take me upon an excursion of the gallery. I do not now recall how long I lingered at his behest in the gallery; nor do I recollect any detail of the paintings about which he attempted to educate me. What I do recall however was the concierge’s indisputable assertion at the conclusion of the outing that the gallery was a private gallery.
The fortuity of this artisitc junket was not the highlight of the day. When I later boarded the Air France flight it was soon apparent that most of the passengers had bided their time awaiting the evaporation of the atmosphere by drinking alcohol. The boisterous ambience throughout the airplane was a proper reflection of the Yuletide season. I recollect that the engines of the airplane (perhaps it was a Boeing 727) were attached to either side of the tail of the craft. It made for a decidedly whisper flight to Stockholm.