For our series “How do you live in…“, Michela Villani tells us about Bonn, a German city along the Rhine. Michela has especially fallen in love with the marvelous natural scenery around the city. How to blame her??!! Thanks a lot Michela for this wonderful article!
Bonn is a small, hospitable city. The historical center is an ordered maze of pedestrian streets and three or four squares, with two main ones: Munster Platz, with the well-known Beethoven statue, and Sternplatz, where the city hall stands. Before starting my description, it is worth pointing out that I was born and I have always lived in Rome so my reference, in the comparison, is quite predictable. Given this premise, I can state that Bonn is a city with three main features:
• It is relaxed (with little more than 300.000 inhabitants and a density of 2.000 people per square kilometer; in the roman neighborhood where I used to live density was close to 7.000 people per square kilometer);
• It is very livable (traffic – however neat and respectful, compared to the chaos I grew up in – is limited to the rush hours and, even then, the Roman that is in me cannot really define it as traffic);
• It is placid but, still, fulfilling.
Despite being for more than 40 years the capital of the German Federal Republic, the city kept some restrained dimensions and a relatively quite atmosphere. On the contrary, although the capital is today in Berlin, Bonn remains a city of unique personality and unusual charm.
The Alltstadt is, then, quite small, clean and well organized, with many restaurants and an acceptable number of shops. Nothing comparable to nearby cities such as Cologne or Düsseldorf but it is still an historic downtown suitable for a nice walk, properly flavoured with some shopping.
All around the heart of the Innerstadt lays an area with at least three or four museums that is worth visiting (including the remarkable Arp Museum a few kilometers far, in the Village of Remagen).
Bonn has an Opera House with an interesting season (anyway, with a 30 minutes’ drive it is possible to reach find the Musical Dome and the Cologne Opera House) and, every year in September, the city hosts the Beethovenfest, an event in which performing shows and music become a first class topic.
What really makes Bonn special to my eyes, though, it’s not the shopping and not even the cultural vitality, but rather the natural frame it is embedded in. The city districts lean along the banks of the Rhine, a magnificent river that with its wide flow, the continuous traffic of multicolored barges and the impressive view on the Siebengebirge hills, literally takes one’s breath away.
Siebengebirge are a range of volcanic hills densely covered with forests that lies on the left side of the river. So green in spring, red, yellow and orange during the foliage it represents a magical and still inspiring place where many legends, of the Norse mythology and of the Nibelungen saga, can be settled. The dense forests inhabited by a large population of birds of prey, also recall the atmospheres of many of the traditional German tales collected by the brothers Grimm.
Walking along the bicycle and pedestrian lane that coasts the river, it is impossible not to be hooked by the evocative view of an ancient tower ruin, on the top of the hill called Drachenfels: story goes that there was the cave where Sigfrido killed Fafnìr the dragon, later plunging into his blood to become invulnerable. A primacy, although mythical, quite significant for an area of Germany where tourism is almost exclusively local and where meeting an Italian on vacation is impossible, in the very literal sense of the word.
A few kilometers west from Bonn it is possible to visit the National Park of the Eifel, an area spanning 100 square kilometers of woods, creeks, rivers, lakes, scenic villages and castles. Whereas, going southward, there is the Ahrweiler, a valley named after the tributary of the Rhine running through it; it is very well known for its vineyards and the excellent wines it produces, among which stands out a remarkable red one: the Spätburgunder.
The food in this region is tasty and, most of times, surprisingly less fat than the one that is to be found in other Länder. Furthermore, meals taste very peculiar when, during the warm season, they are enjoyed under the fragrant arbor of some traditional Weinhäuschen. It is not rare, in fact, to come across these small wine cellars perched on the hiking trails of the many wine roads in the area. A glass of iced Riesling during the summer, a crunchy Flammkuchen accompanied by a plate of white asparagus covered with hollandaise sauce or – why not? – a classic grilled bratwurst, together with the mild and relaxed atmosphere of these hills, make time for relaxation slight and carefree.
Bonn represents the base for a large international community. First of all, the city hosts the headquarter of the United Nations, besides the ones of DHL, Deutsche Post and Deutsche Telekom. Inside the city can also be found the offices of Occar (the organization for joint cooperation in the armaments field), FedEx and, not far from the urban area, Ford, Scania (in Koblenz) and Bayer (in Leverkusen)…These are the main reasons why many foreign families settle in this area.
Bonn counts two international schools: one, the Bonn International School, with an IB curriculum and the other one, the Independent Bonn International School, with a British curriculum. Both institutes (especially the first one) are at the center of engaging events for expats families. There is even a chorus of international voices, the International Voices Choir (IVC) , which organizes shows and other musical entertainments. Expats families choose where to live according to their work requirements and to their personal taste; that’s because Bonn is not a city in which a foreigner experiments any kind of logistical restriction. Many families choose to live in a house (and there are a lot of magnificent villas), many live in apartments inside the American Compound next to the BIS school but, generally speaking, there are no such areas where expats concentrate most. Eventually, it wouldn’t make any sense.
Rents (Warmmiete) generally include all the costs, except electricity and adjustments for the heating; the maintenance costs of the buildings are quite high but most of condos have a garden and an equipped area for children to play.
Evenings in Bonn and its surroundings are extremely quiet, something hard to believe for a person, like me, grown up in the noisy city of Rome. The air is crisp and pure. Sometimes it snows but less often, compared to how much it snows in other German regions and, personally, I have never experienced too chilly or too long winter times.
One of the few negative aspects about living here is related to medical care: doctors lack with empathy and with the ability to “think outside the box”. Furthermore, the healthcare processes are extremely rigid and it is literally impossible to run any test or even plan a specialist stop by without passing through the approval of a general practitioner (a main figure for German people but, frankly, a superfluous one for Italians). As a whole, it is impossible to get away with it without a good health insurance (better if private). At least, Italy is close and sometimes it’s worth taking a couple of hours flight to go home and get things done more quickly and effectively.
In conclusion, Bonn is a romantic city coming from another time: sometimes a little jealous of its own traditions, lets itself be conquered with complacency. It is a good place for families and very suitable for children who can experience here such an independence, difficult to replicate in other urban scenarios. The Rhine, with its flow, is a true catalyst of energy and slows down the rhythm of Bonners life, adapting it to nature and seasons, in an continuous, clear and rigorous stream.