Friday, June 3, 2011
Rivalry: Köln vs. Düsseldorf
Wall Street Journal, Nov. 12, 2010
A Tale of Two Cities
The Rhine River has given Germany two great cities—Cologne and Düsseldorf. And those two cities have given Germany its great urban rivalry. Separated by 40 kilometers and a winding stretch of river, the two cities have stayed resolutely separate while seeming to share the same habits and preoccupations. Both are art loving and beer loving, and both are centers of Catholicism. It would be easy to imagine them growing together, like Manhattan and Brooklyn, or waging war, like Florence and Pisa. Visitors to the region eagerly go back and forth, but locals tend to stay at home.
The same difference
Cologne has Kölsch, a light frothy beer drunk out of special small glasses; Düsseldorf has Alt, a dark frothy beer drunk out of special small glasses. Cologne has the Museum Ludwig, one of Germany's two leading museums of modern and contemporary art; Düsseldorf has the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany's other leading museum of modern and contemporary art. Cologne has Gerhard Richter, Germany's most famous painter; Düsseldorf has Andreas Gursky, Germany's most famous photographer. Cologne has a great new building by Pritzker-Prize winner Peter Zumthor; Düsseldorf likes to show off its buildings by Pritzker winner Frank Gehry. In some categories, one clearly is ahead of the other. Both celebrate Carnival on the Monday before Lent, but Cologne's party is larger and better known. Both have excellent shopping, but only Düsseldorf has the Königsallee, Germany's center for high fashion and high prices.
Reduced, but not gone
In the western reaches of a unified country, in the heart of a unifying continent, the cities may seem to be coming closer together. "The rivalry is a little reduced," says Monika Sprüth, a Cologne resident and Mr. Gurksy's art dealer. Reduced perhaps, but not gone. It only takes a few questions to get Ms. Sprüth to restart it. "Cologne is a city that is 2,000 years old," she says, when asked to compare the two. "It was important in Roman times and medieval times. Düsseldorf didn't even exist in those days."