From the Hofgarten, a boulevard named for three of Germany’s political giants leads south through the Bundesviertel or former government district. It begins as Adenauer Allee, continues as Willy-Brandt-Allee and then becomes Friedrich-Ebert-Allee, named after the Weimar-era socialist who was Germany’s first democratic president.
The western side of this avenue constitutes the Museumsmeile, an impressive strip of museums that ensures Bonn’s heavy-hitter status among Germany’s cultural centres.
The first museum on Museumsmeille is the Museum Koenig, a stately sandstone pile that was the venue for the first elected postwar national assembly on September 1, 1948. The museum’s zoological exhibits have been given a child-friendly makeover, though the lack of English labelling limits its rainy-day appeal slightly – pick up the English-language leaflet at the entrance. Displays are grouped by habitat and include African savanna, rainforest and the Arctic; the Vivarium in the basement has live lizards, snakes and fish, as well as the Zwergmaus – a particularly tiny rodent.
Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
A little way to the south of Museum Koenig, the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland charts the history of the Federal Republic of Germany in a lively and entertaining way; as you leave the U-Bahn the first thing you see is the luxurious railway carriage used by chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard but originally built for Nazi bigwig, Hermann Göring. Rubble marks the start of the story in 1945, with grim footage of concentration camps and of destroyed German cities; it continues through the beginnings of democratic politics and of artistic rebirth to the 1950s Wirtschaftswunder – the “economic miracle” – the Cold War and division of Germany, and moves finally to the period post-1989.
A recent revamp to the exhibition has put the years of division in stronger focus, with an examination of the way both halves of Germany were bound into opposing ideological camps. Along with the political developments post-1989, recent German history is also examined in the light of globalization, the life of migrant groups and the increasing deployment of German forces overseas. It’s not all dry politics by any means: along the way, fun exhibits like the 1950s-style ice -cream parlour lighten the mood. Labelling is now in English as well as German.
The most architecturally refined of the area’s museums is the Kunstmuseum Bonn, whose starkly beautiful modernist interior provides a fitting home for its collection of works by August Macke and the Rhine Expressionists. Macke, who was born in 1887 and killed in action in France in 1914, grew up in Bonn but was no mere “regional” artist, as his gorgeous, colour-filled canvases demonstrate: poignantly, the most confident are the 1914 Tightrope Walker and Turkish Café. The museum has a substantial collection of post-1945 German art, with works by heavyweights including Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz and Joseph Beuys; a recent re-hang has given stronger emphasis to photography, video installation and film.
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
The Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland next door to the Kunstmuseum provides a venue for large-scale touring art exhibitions and is big enough to host several simultaneously. Don’t miss the striking roof garden, dominated by three ceramic-clad light spires.
Deutsches Museum Bonn
The Deutsches Museum Bonn is a resolutely contemporary museum of science and technology whose themed displays allow you to find out how a car airbag works, learn about medical research and see various Nobel Prize-winning discoveries. There’s also a Transrapid hoverrail train.