Chic DÜSSELDORF is not just North Rhine-Westphalia’s capital but also its Knightsbridge or Upper East Side – a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city of swish hotels, contemporary art and designer labels, very different from the industrial Ruhr to the north. Though its surface glitter is underpinned by the business acumen of its banks and corporate headquarters, fashion houses and advertising agencies, it’s the confident ease with which Düsseldorf enjoys its prosperity that strikes visitors most forcefully, from the Altstadt’s bars and restaurants to the chichi boutiques on stately Königsallee. For all its glitz, Düsseldorf is an easy city to enjoy, but its pleasures don’t necessarily come cheap. You’ll probably notice the price differential if you arrive here after Cologne or the Ruhr.
Düsseldorf’s worldly flair is evidently nothing new, for when Napoleon passed through in 1806 he thought the city “a little Paris”. First mentioned in the twelfth century, the village at the mouth of the River Düssel owed its subsequent rise to the Counts of Berg, whose Schloss dominated the Altstadt until it burned down in 1872. The city blossomed under Elector Johann Wilhelm of Pfalz-Neuburg (1658–1716), known as Jan Wellem, and by the time Napoleon arrived it had already spread in planned fashion beyond its historic core.