As I scrolled through my Facebook feed earlier this week, it came to my attention that it was “this time last year” that I made my trip to Brühl. From what I recall of booking this trip; my January exams had been simply torturous and my bank account had been unusually full. Of course, in light of this serendipity, I decided to use my newfound prosperity to explore a land not travelled (by me). Having never been to Germany before and a promise to fulfill, a trip to see my friend in Brühl seemed like an ideal way to escape third year negativity. Perhaps, it is because I had no expectations of Brühl at all that this little town provided me with far more than I anticipated.
For those that have never heard of Brühl, Brühl is a small city that nestles itself in the Rhineland of Germany (that’s Western Germany for non-geographers like myself). Arguably, much like its British counterparts, it is a city that can also be found by its larger city indicators i.e. the “near Bonn” and “near Cologne” signifiers. Of course, all of those that live in rural England will know that this tends to mean “about twenty minutes from the cool places” and “a stones throw away from national heritage sites”. Whilst Brühl is the loving home of ‘Phantasialand’, a white-knuckle theme park, I arrived to find that it was sadly closed for business during the winter season. With this being the case, it was unto me to seek out thrills in the only ways that I know best; day trips and architecture. Yes, not unlike finding a £20 note in your second-hand jacket, Brühl pleasantly surprised me with being a source of high-brow architectural heritage. Despite being sparse in the way of bustling commerce, I found Brühl to be contrastingly rich in baroque masterpieces.
Born as a means to counter the simplicity and austerity of protestant art forms, the baroque architectural movement is an ornate and exuberant art style that encapsulates the late 17th century. Deeply encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church at the time, variants of this grand architectural style spread like wildfire throughout Italy, France and Spain, before eventually landing in Germany as the flamboyant ‘Rococo’. Being the final variant of its mother movement, 18th century Rococo pushed to the extreme the principles of illusion and theatricality via dense ornamentation, asymmetry, fluid curves, and the use of white and pastel colours with gilding. One of the first iconic examples of germanic Rococo or “late baroque” style is Brühl’s very own UNESCO heritage site, ‘Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces’, situated close to the city centre. Commissioned in 1725 by Clemens August – the arch-elector of Cologne – the palace was constructed by various influential artists of the era. In particular, the staircase crafted by Balthasar Neumann is undeniably the jewel in the palace crown and offers a visual medley of material. Envied by others of aristocracy for almost a century, the palaces no doubt epitomise the unmatched precedence of 18th century regality.
When walking around the frost glazed gardens – open 8am to 6pm – it wasn’t hard to visualise this palace being a hub for those of social standing. Evolved from French baroque, there is definitely a tinge of romanticism in the composition of the landscape. With curving shapes and extending pathways, the palace gardens are the perfect setting for romantic dalliances and BBC period dramas. The hedges despite mimicking the curves of nature, still feel blindingly ornate; an aspect that is not dissimilar to the golden gates of the local catholic church. Although, this little church may bear no reference to its Baroque predecessor, the grandeur of the iron wrought gate illustrates the influence of the Rococo movement on the dipiction of divinity in this small germanic city.
My next adventure involved getting on a short train ride to Brühl’s bigger and badder neighbour Bonn. The truth is that we spent more time in and around the underground tube station than we did in Bonn’s actual city centre. This is due to two fundamental reasons; a) the history museum Haus der Geschichte is there and b) the underground stations are pretty funky. Although I would not go as far as to say that I love museums, I will admit that I find a slight comfort in them. As I wander around I like to envision myself looking all inquisitive and beautiful as I read the plaques on the walls. I assume that this delusion is due to my watching too many independent movies. In any event, the Haus Der Geschichte was a thoroughly interesting visit. Showcasing Germany’s modern history from 1945 onwards, the museum is helping to create a “cultural memory” of German society that is constantly added to with the tides of time. Of course, as any museum in another country does, The Haus der Geschichte gave me a great deal of insight into germanic culture and the social fabric that marries it all together. There is no denying, however, that the bright yellow underground stations are where my heart truly lay. The primary colours juxtaposing the steel metal lines of the escalators make it a photographic paradise. If the museum is not an independent film set, then the Bonn underground stations certainly are.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip abroad for me without visiting a quintessential town away from the usual landmarks. It is with this in mind that Sabine introduced me to the quaint leisure town of Bad Münstereifel. Being one of few historical spa towns in the local district of Euskirchen, Bad Münstereifel is a town that is often overrun with colognian holidaymakers for the duration of the summer months. Of course, as we were brave enough to visit during winter, we were fortunately privy to a more idyllic setting away from the usual bustling crowds. Tucked in the hills and equipped with cobbled streets, a flowing river and half-timber houses typical of medieval Germany, Bad Münstereifel couldn’t look more like the set of a German fairytale. Featuring striking architectural configurations, bold designs, splendid ornamentation and brightly coloured paintwork, this medieval town is nothing other than a real-life model of 15th century Germany. It therefore comes as no surprise that this town would provide solace for those escaping urban living. It certainly did the trick for me.
Bruhl’s proximity to adventure and diverse structural heritage is where its true magic lies. Situated equidistance from the Rhineland’s biggest cities, this little ol’ town is in on the action, yet, still comfortably distanced for head space. I originally thought the best way to destress from third year pressure was a rollercoaster ride to scream my lungs out on. However, the discovery of Bad Münstereifel, an epitome of traditional Germany, made me realise that fresh air and picturesque aesthetics were all I required to save my mental health. To quote my boys ‘The Rolling Stones’, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you find you get what you need”…
…because screaming your lungs out in the hills is much more satisfying.