When I first stepped off the U79 train from central Düsseldorf, I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard that Kaiserswerth was the oldest area of Düsseldorf, but beyond that, I had little clue as to what I’d find there. With little more than an old school map and a few friendly locals from whom to ask directions, I set off to explore this historic part of town.
The train ride to Kaiserswerth takes around twenty-five minutes from the Hauptbahnhof (the central train station). Departures are roughly every twenty minutes to half an hour and so access to this part of town is fairly easy. From the station, the walk into the historic part of Kaiserswerth is around another ten minutes by foot. Also, I’m going to be honest with you: wandering around the town, I just couldn’t stop snapping photos! Every inch of this district was just so beautiful and oh so very Germanic. Yes, I was one of those visitors!
Kaiserswerth: A historic District with Character
17th-Century house fronts, the ruins of a once grand palace and the first hospital Florence Nightingale worked in. You’ll find all of this and more in Kaiserswerth. Quaint cafés sit side by side with altbier gardens (a regional specialty). Literally, everywhere is packed with a whole load of history.
As early as the 8th Century, the area which Kaiserswerth now occupies was inhabited. A monk by the name of Saint Suitbert chose the region to build his Benedictine Abbey. Unfortunately, the abbey stood for less than ninety years before it was destroyed. In the following centuries people continued to live at Werth but little changed until the arrival of Barbarossa.
In the 12th century, Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, also the ruler of Germany decided that Werth would be the perfect location to build his palace. The name of the town was changed to ‘Kaiserswerth’, the addition of the ‘Kaiser’ signifying that the emperor had chosen to put down roots in the area. Often referred to as one of the medieval era’s ‘greatest’ leaders’, Barbarossa lived in Düsseldorf during the 12th-century.
The Kaiserpfalz (literally ‘imperial palace’) is located on the fringes of the town, overlooking the mighty river Rhine. Many locals hang out in a nearby altbier garden, and even more cycle along the river at this point. Of course, what attracted me most to this district was the promise of a ruined castle. In some places, the walls are up to four meters thick!
St. Suitbertus Basilica on Stiftsplatz
The large and imposing church sits a mere few hundred metres from the once grand palace of Barbarossa. The basilica is named after Saint Suitbert, founder of the first abbey in the area. Parts of the current church were constructed as early as the 11th-Century, though much of the building was renovated in the 18th century. It is also here where the remains of Saint Suitbert lie.
One of my favourite things about German is that many of the words describe the location, place or thing exactly. For example, ‘Krankenhaus’ literally means ‘sick house’ but would generally be translated as a hospital. It is in a Kaiserswerth Krankenhaus that Florence Nightingale first started working.
Trained under Theodor Fliedner, in 1851 Nightingale passed her nursing exams. A few years later, she was deployed as a nurse during the Crimean War. Whilst away in Turkey, she saved hundreds of lives and improved hospital sanitation. She demonstrated that practicing clean hygiene practices saved lives and her techniques were implemented throughout the world. There is no telling how many lives she managed to save…