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Bonn, an autumn rhapsody

On a bright November morning, the smell of sausages and freshly-baked bread permeates the crisp autumn air. Beneath the watchful gaze of the Beethoven monument, Bonn’s Münsterplatz is an image of European integration. Pretzels and traditional German snacks mingle with wares from as far south as the French Pyrenees, in a visually arresting mélange of Basque cheese, packets of dried lavender, and gourmet sausages: pheasant with cognac, wild boar, duck and hazelnut. Directly opposite, we find a stall selling English fudge, its metal frame proudly decked out in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack.

The Marktplatz too, is brimming with fresh produce and flowers on the cobblestones. The last time my brother was here, he spoke of the vendors and their cries of spargel! spargel! – drawing shoppers to the fat bundles of succulent white asparagus. Against the backdrop of Altes Rathaus, the old town hall, I can imagine their voices ringing out across the square.

Beethoven’s birthplace – a long, narrow house with a hidden courtyard – is not far away. Walking steadily across the creaking floorboards, we pass oil paintings, portraits and writing desks before ducking into the small, whitewashed attic room where the composer first saw the light of day. But perhaps most captivating of all are the original pianos and ear trumpets he would have used. Beethoven had the remarkable ability to compose some of the world’s most celebrated classical music, even as he gradually lost his hearing.

Although Bonn is clearly proud of its most famous son, the irony is that Beethoven had a vehement hatred of his hometown, preferring the sophistication and comfort of Habsburg Vienna. But he could not have foretold its emergence as one of Germany’s foremost centres of learning. Boasting a library stocked with over two million volumes, the University of Bonn has nearly 28,000 students, and a long list of notable alumni including Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Konrad Adenauer, and seven nobel laureates.

Bonn is perhaps more well-known in the modern era as the capital of West Germany in the post-war period. Home to no less than 18 UN institutions, and roughly half of all German government jobs, Bonn still holds the special title of Bundesstadt, or ‘Federal City’. Twenty-odd years after German reunification – and the return of the capital to Berlin – the city still remains a centre of politics and administration.

Altes Rathaus – the old town hall

Bread for sale

Lavender packets

Restaurant sign

Faces of Beethoven

Secret garden, Beethoven House

Bronze lions at Münsterplatz

Bonn’s soaring Münster – one of Germany’s oldest churches

Kurfürstliches Schloss, now the University’s main building

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on PRODUCER WARDY.

    December 7, 2012
  2. It is a pretty city, isn’t it, and I’m so glad to hear that reunification didn’t entirely eviscerate its’ modern raison d’être and sources of income.

    December 7, 2012
    • Absolutely – even after hearing about it from my siblings I was still surprised by the beauty at every corner. Loved the Münster especially, with its tall pencil-black spires… what a gloriously Teutonic structure!

      December 7, 2012
  3. It’s interesting to learn the reason why they chose Bonn over other larger cities in West Germany as the capital of the once-divided nation. I didn’t go to this city when I went to Germany though. However people have been telling me that it’s a nice medium-sized city, indeed. And your pictures really justify their claim.

    December 7, 2012
    • It makes perfect sense – choosing a large city would imply a more permanent capital; that and Konrad Adenauer had personal ties to the area. Bonn is indeed a beautiful place, I think you would really enjoy it!

      December 8, 2012
  4. How much time would you say one could spend in Bonn? More than a day?

    December 10, 2012
    • I only went there on a day trip – but I’m sure you could stay there a couple of nights to really get a feel for the place. Then there’s Cologne and other nearby towns/cities that you could also visit while based in Bonn.

      December 11, 2012
  5. Very nice impressions from Bonn, the town where I live!

    Greetings to you from the Rhine Valley

    December 11, 2012
    • Thank you Dina, there’s still more to come on the Rhine Valley! 😉

      December 11, 2012
  6. I studied in Bonn for a summer ten years ago–and remember it as a lovely, cozy town, with lots of music, but one clearly diminishing in importance, getting more sleepy, quieter than only a decade before. There were all these beautiful buildings–former embassies, homes of foreign representatives, or headquarters of international organizations–suddenly empty or just much smaller in the aura of significance they projected, staff size, and activity. Everything seemed newly hushed, somehow. I loved the University though–and the movies under open sky. Thank you for bringing up all these good memories. I haven’t thought of Bonn for a while.

    December 20, 2012
    • What a beautiful, stirring account of your summer there – you described Bonn with such clarity and feeling. Thanks in turn for sharing it with us!

      December 20, 2012
  7. We skipped Bonn in our first ever trip abroad – a frenzied multi-country jaunt in the 80’s, in the fear that we would never step foot abroad again 😀 Looks like we missed a very pretty city. Love the Munster too, and all those little details you have captured so well, like the bronze lions and the restaurant signs! Have plans to return of course, but only when all the ‘harder’ destinations are out of the way 🙂

    January 3, 2013
    • Bonn is a very easy destination – compact, accessible, and great to get around on foot! I enjoyed it more than Heidelberg, and not just because of the Saturday markets. 😀 Europe lends itself well to a multi-country jaunt, although these days I’m inclined to travel at half the speed I used to!

      January 3, 2013
  8. I am from Cologne and used to do day trips to Bonn often, where I lounge in their cafes. This has really made me long for home while I’m on the road. Great photos

    May 31, 2013
    • Danke schön for the comment – and my apologies for taking so long to respond. Not sure how I missed this!

      September 28, 2013
  9. Hi James, great post and beautiful photos. From your blog I knew that you have been to Germany, but I didn’t know you were in Bonn. I am living very close to Cologne so not far away from Bonn which is really a nice city. If you ever come back to that area, you should definitely consider visiting Cologne as well.

    September 28, 2013
    • Hi Vanessa! Actually, from Bonn I took a late afternoon train to Cologne to see the cathedral – we didn’t have time for much else, but someday I hope to visit the Roman museum and explore more of the city.

      September 28, 2013
      • Hi James, Cologne is definitely worth another visit as the city has a lot to offer. But when you have been to the Cologne Cathedral, you have seen at least the most important monument of the city.
        Btw, thanks for following my blog as well.

        September 29, 2013
  10. wanderlusteternal #

    This is beautiful! I was in Cologne for a weekend – should have gone to Bonn too!
    I have a few posts on Germany if you fancy having a look 🙂

    July 21, 2015
    • Thanks for reading! Bonn is stunning that time of year – I do wish I had spent a night there instead of visiting on a day trip.

      July 21, 2015

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