The quiet university and market town that became Europe’s smallest capital city in 1949 was immediately dubbed the “Bundesdorf” (Federal Village). Bonn lost its capital status to Berlin when the two Germanys united in October 1990. The City of Bonn, situated on the west bank of the Rhine some 28 km south of Cologne, was tiny for a European capital. The city itself has a core population of only about 145,000, although Greater Bonn, embracing Bad Godesberg, Beuel, and other formerly independent municipalities, has a total of just over 300,000. But it’s a pleasant small town and definitely worth a visit.
Settlement of the immediate area goes back more than 2,000 years, to the Celts. In fact, Bonn celebrated its second millennium in 1989, based on records showing that the Romans set up a military camp here in the years 13 to 9 B.C. The town was fortified in 1244, occupied by the French in 1794, and taken over by Prussia in 1815; its centre was severely damaged in World War II. Primarily reconstructed along its old lines, Bonn has retained its human scale and continued charm.
As Beethoven’s birthplace, Bonn offers much in the way of music, including the triennial International Beethoven Festival at the Beethoven Halle on the Rhine. There is also opera and theatre at the riverside opera house, a lively summer program of outdoor cultural events, and museums, ancient churches, elegant villas, good restaurants, old taverns, a student milieu—and the Rhine.
Bonn is a compact town, much of it a pedestrian zone, with shops everywhere. It takes no more than ten minutes to cross the central city in any direction from the city ring (shaped more like a triangle). Like Aachen’s ring roads, the Bonn city ring changes its name several times, and its southern and southeastern sections are little more than narrow streets.
One of Europe’s greenest cities, with 1,200 gardens and parks, Bonn, in contrast to some other towns along the Rhine, also has 18 miles of promenades on both banks of the river. Pleasure boats from Bonn cruise past castles perched on top of wooded hills that are part of a vast nature reserve near the city.
Bonn’s cobbled Markt dates from the Middle Ages. The fruit and vegetable market, with its blatant stall holders, began in the 11th Century. During the summer, the Markt’s cafés, restaurants, and pubs set tables outside in good weather, providing a vantage point from which to see the local action.
The pink and white Rococo “Altes Rathaus” the old town hall, dates back from 1738 and stands on the site of a Gothic building that was destroyed by the French in 1689. The new building was severely damaged in an air raid in October 1944 but was completely restored.
The Markt is also the setting for the Bonn’s summer entertainment event featuring a musical programme that ranges from classical through international folk to jazz.
In case you decide to visit Bonn, make sure to have a walk amongst Botanic Gardens on Palace Grounds, visit the Cathedral and Beethoven’s House and definitely don’t forget to walk beneath a canopy of Cherry Blossoms (in the spring).