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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Feeling festive? The cheer starts in Dortmund, Germany

Famous mostly for its football team, Dortmund’s huge Christmas market – with the world’s tallest tree – starts this weekend

Dortmund’s 45-metre Christmas tree is made up of 1,700 separate fir trees carefully stacked to create the illusion of being one giant tree. Alamy
Dortmund’s 45-metre Christmas tree is made up of 1,700 separate fir trees carefully stacked to create the illusion of being one giant tree. Alamy

Why Dortmund?

Dortmund is one of those cities – like Porto or Liverpool – that gets an awful lot of recognition for footballing reasons alone. It is home to the largest football stadium in Germany, and every hipster’s favourite club, Borussia Dortmund.

But the largest city of the Westphalia region is not just a land of black and yellow scarves. It has also been ­bestowed with a series of rather unusual but impressive attractions, which mean ­Dortmund’s punching above its weight doesn’t just take place on the pitch. It’s also home to an enormous annual Christmas market, which opened on November 22.

A comfortable bed

The NH Hotel (nh-hotels.com) near the main train station is surprisingly appealing. Cookies, jelly bears and mints can be snaffled for free in the lobby, there’s a sauna on the 7th floor and the standard rooms are essentially spacious suites. The decor is neutral, but with cool touches such as TV screens that can be spun 360 degrees between the sofa and bed, as well as black and white street scenes making for feature walls in the shower. Expect to pay from €139 (Dh584).

A room in the NH Dortmund hotel. Courtesy NH Hotel Group
A room in the NH Dortmund hotel. Courtesy NH Hotel Group

On a budget, the A&O (aohostels.com) offers a centrally located hotel-hostel hybrid. The perfectly decent private rooms are reasonably large, if fairly spartan, while unexpected facilities include pool tables and a kids’ play area in the lobby. Doubles cost from €70 (Dh294).

Out of the centre, and handily between the Westfalenpark and Signal Iduna Stadium, the Radisson Blu (radissonblu.com) steps above the usual chain fare by having a surprisingly sassy Asian restaurant and the biggest heated indoor pool in town. Prices start at €160 (Dh672).

Find your feet

Just north of the station is the Steinwache (ns-gedenkstaetten.de/nrw/Dortmund), a former police station and prison that was notorious for the ill-­treatment and torture of prisoners during the reign of the Nazi Party. It still recognisably looks like a prison, with the cells hosting displays on the 1933-1945 era. It’s grim, uncompromising, and puts particular focus on how the Nazis tightened control by co-opting big business and controlling the press.

Considerably more fun is the German Football Museum (fussballmuseum.de), which offers a Teutonic spin on the beautiful game. There’s plenty of rather predictable stuff – old boots, balls and shirts in glass cases – but there are a lot of interactive touchscreens, too. One makes you the referee – you have to blow the whistle when you think you’ve spotted the infringement. There’s also plenty of biographical detail on the players and coaches that have helped Germany become four time World Cup winners.

The city is known primarily for its home team, Borussia Dortmund. Getty
The city is known primarily for its home team, Borussia Dortmund. Getty

From there, hop on the U-Bahn towards the big, open Westfalenpark. This is more than a little dominated by the Deutsche Rosarium(rosarium.dortmund.de), with more than 2,600 varieties of roses being grown in the beds that flank the footpaths.

Meet the locals

Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park (bvb.de) may hold 81,000 spectators, but getting a ticket for a game can be tricky for those not prepared to pay over the odds to touts. If you’re unlucky, there’s always the option of the €12 (Dh52) stadium tour – some of which are conducted in English.

Book a table

The city’s greatest culinary strength is its willingness to import from overseas, leading to plenty of good Korean, Japanese and other Asian joints that hit the sweet spot of being easy on the wallet while not looking cheap. Nhystar Vietnamese (nhystar.de/dortmund) is a case in point – it looks modern, inviting and suitable for either a couple or a group of friends, while serving perfectly-spiced duck curries for under €10 (Dh42).

For something flashier, try Emil (emil-dortmund.de) at the back of the Dortmunder U arts complex. It’s all chandeliers, pillars and long banquettes inside, while there’s a massive terrace outside. Emphasis is on the grills – with steaks sourced from Canada, the United States, Australia and Uruguay, all coming with detailed explanations and €25-plus (Dh108) price tags.

Shopper’s Paradise

December is the time to come shopping in Dortmund, as its gigantic Christmas market sprawls over the pedestrianised streets in the city centre. The centrepiece is a ludicrous piece of showing off – the world’s largest Christmas tree, reaching 45-metres tall and made up of 1,700 separate fir trees carefully stacked to create the illusion of a single big one.

Otherwise the city centre shopping scene is fairly standard, although the 135-year-old Appelrath Cupper on Westenhellweg manages to pull off a big department store vibe while solely offering womenswear.

What to avoid

Relying on public transport can be more of a nuisance in Dortmund than in other German cities. This is particularly the case if you want to get to one of the city’s highlights, such as the Zollern (lwl.org/industriemuseum/standorte/zeche-zollern). The strikingly beautiful (it was ­designed as a showpiece) former coal mine-turned industrial museum and cultural centre is a must-visit, but it’s absolute challenge to get to it by train or bus.

Don’t miss

The enormous Dasa Working World Exhibition (dasa-­dortmund.de) has the potential to be exceptionally boring – and, yes, there is really a section that gives you instructions on how to safely lift a heavy box. But it gets ­rather cool when you can drive lorry ­simulators, play inside a ­helicopter, sit at the controls of an air traffic control tower and even watch high-tech robotic arms in action.

The Dasa Working World Exhibition lets you command an air traffic control tower and more Getty
The Dasa Working World Exhibition lets you command an air traffic control tower and more Getty

Getting there

Emirates (emirates.com) and Etihad (etihad.com) fly to Dusseldorf from Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively, with returns costing from Dh2,975. Frequent trains to Dortmund from Dusseldorf airport take around 50 minutes and cost €19.90 (Dh83).

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