Berlin is still considered the Euro capital of bleeding edge; but it’s not the only German city with genuine hipster cred. Düsseldorf, set along the Rhine River in the Ruhr region of western Germany, has a storied artistic history. Director Wim Wenders hails from here; Electro gods Kraftwerk formed here; and Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Thomas Struth attended its renowned art school, Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where photographer Andreas Gursky now teaches.
Though the population is relatively small, hovering at around 600,000, Düsseldorf has culture to spare: 26 museums, 100-plus galleries, and a large number of artists’ studios. Its pulsing creative heart is Flingern, a district to the east of the city center. Split into two, Flingern-Nord (North) and Flingern-Süd (South), the area, once home to working-class Germans, is today cool kid central. Its streets are lined with buzzy coffee shops, trendy bars, indie boutiques and the ubiquitous stamp of coolness — a taco stand.
Where Anarchy and Instagram Come Together
The best place to begin your exploration of the neighborhood is on its rough edges, along Kiefernstrasse, in Flingern-Süd. In the 1980s, this street was a haven for squatters; it’s rumored that members of the notorious Baader–Meinhof gang (aka Red Army Faction), an underground German militant group, were arrested here. Those turbulent times have passed, but the subversive streak is alive in the local art. The facades of multi-story buildings (where those former squatters now have leases) are covered with wildly colorful artwork; a long stretch of wall nearby serves as a forum for topical, generally anti-consumerist graffiti (recently spotted: “Look at your Rolex, it’s time for revolt!”).
The most impressive new addition to the neighborhood is Philara, a contemporary art gallery housed in a stylishly converted former glass factory. The cavernous, 20,000-square-foot space, which opened last June, features pieces from the private collection of businessman Gil Bronner; it includes notable Dusseldorf artists like Thomas Struth and Hans-Peter Feldman, top international works – including a mind-bending immersive environmental installation from Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, “Artichoke Underground” – as well as up-and-coming local talent. A rooftop sculpture garden recently opened; the ground-floor bar is set to open late spring or early summer. On view through March 28 is special exhibition of photographs from Sabine Dusend and Alex Grein, two graduates of the Dusseldorf Art Academy. You can visit with a guided tour (Fridays in English) or individually on Tuesdays.
An Antidote to Brats and Beer
While most of Düsseldorf’s historic Altstadt (old town) caters to beer-slugging, sausage-eating tourists, North Flingern offers plenty of trendy eateries, most on or around the district’s main thoroughfare, Ackerstrasse. Noha offers a casual, super-fresh Italian menu – but many come for the cocktails, especially the excellent Moscow Mules and well-crafted gin and tonics. Around the corner at Boeser Chinese the hand-pulled noodles are the stars of the show; be prepared to queue, there are no reservations. For street food, there’s An Banh Mi, which serves up quite good (and super-affordable) banh mi sandwiches in a California-cool environment; while tiny Pablo’s does made-to-order tacos, burritos, quesadillas and even burrito bowls. Café Lotte isn’t a café but rather a cozy little corner pub, complete with comfy sofas that make you feel like you’re drinking in someone’s living room. Café Hüftgold is a sleek spot for coffee and cake (a big thing for locals to do at around 5 pm) that is kind to the gluten-free / vegan set.
There are no hotels in Flingern, but you can easily get there in 15 minutes by hopping a tram from The Fritz Hotel in central Karlstadt. The three-star design property has chic, serviceable rooms, but the standout is the restaurant, Frau Franzi, with a selection of lovely, innovative small plates (try the fried artichoke with mashed eggplant and the perfectly grilled roast beef). Don’t skip dessert: the chocolate confection is a clever combination of ice cream and hazelnut parfait crafted to look like miniature mushrooms.