The placid university town of BONN was “provisional” capital of West Germany for fifty years, from 1949 until the Bundestag and many government departments began relocating to Berlin in 1999. Bonn was dubbed “Federal Capital Village” for the sheer improbability of its choice as capital; likelier candidates included Frankfurt, which even built a parliament building to fulfil its anticipated role. But Bonn prevailed, and it was changed by the experience, so that by the time the federal government moved to Berlin it was no longer quite the “small town in Germany” of John Le Carré’s Cold War spy story. The two houses of the German parliament may no longer reside here, but several ministries do, along with the United Nations and the headquarters of Deutsche Telekom, T Mobile and Deutsche Post.
Bonn’s pleasant, traffic-free Altstadt benefits from its associations with Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born here, while the setting – at the beginning of a particularly scenic stretch of the Rhine – is a delight, and easily explored on foot, but the modern city stretches far along the Rhine. Sandwiched between the city proper and its spa-town suburb of Bad Godesberg is the old government quarter, the Bundesviertel, and its strip of modern museums along the so-called Museumsmeile, planned before the Berlin Wall fell but which, in the event, proved to be a generous goodbye present to the city. Facing Bonn across the Rhine are the inviting, wooded hills of the Siebengebirge – a hugely popular destination for walkers and day-trippers alike, right on Bonn’s doorstep.