The Federal City of Bonn is a city on the banks of the Rhine in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with a population of over 300,000.
Because of a political compromise following German reunification, the German state maintains a substantial presence in Bonn, and the city is considered a second, unofficial, capital of the country. Bonn is the secondary seat of the President, the Chancellor, the Bundesrat and the primary seat of six federal government ministries and twenty federal authorities.
Bonn is one of the largest cities in the Cologne Lowland, second only to Cologne itself in terms of population count. Despite the size, it maintains a cozy, relaxed atmosphere of a small town, featuring mostly low-rise buildings, a charming old town and a lot of greenery. Located only 28 km south of Cologne up the Rhine river, it has a wealth of museums and points of interest.
The city of Bonn has an eventful past: not only was it the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949 to 1990, it also looks back on a history that spans more than 2000 years. This makes Bonn, the site of former Teuton and Roman settlements, one of the oldest cities in Germany. And in 1770, an artist was born in Bonn who went on to make musical history: Ludwig van Beethoven came into the world in a house on Bonngasse. The centerpiece of the Beethoven-Haus is Beethoven’s birthplace at Bonngasse 20. This building houses the museum. The neighboring buildings (Bonngasse 18 and 24 to 26) accommodate a research center (Beethoven archive) comprising a collection, a library and publishing house, and a chamber music hall. Curiously, the building was largely unknown till well into the 19th century. After the back part of the house was identified as Beethoven’s birthplace around 1840 by Beethoven’s friend Franz Gerhard Wegeler, a physician, and Carl Moritz Kneisel, a teacher, the new owner opened a restaurant on the ground floor in 1873 with the name Beethoven’s Geburtshaus (Beethoven’s birthplace). A beer and concert hall was added in the yard in 1887. In 1888 a grocery merchant bought the house but sold it just one year later. Thanks to the Beethoven Haus association, founded in 1889 to preserve the house, it was spared from demolition.
Today Bonn is known as the City of Beethoven, and the backstreet house in the city center has long since become a place of pilgrimage for music lovers from around the world. Beethoven-Haus now houses a museum with the largest Beethoven collection in the world. The city also pays homage to its famous son once a year with Beethovenfest, which has since developed an international reputation with some of the most extraordinary interpretations of Beethoven’s music.
Along with Beethoven-Haus, many other buildings in the city on the Rhine are worth a visit. At the heart of the city lies the Bonn Minster, built over the graves of the martyrs and patron saints of the city, Cassius and Florentius. The mighty Bonn Minster has continued to grow over the centuries and has now been named a “European monument”; its medieval cloister is a truly unique gem. Most of the current building dates from the intense construction activity of the 11th to 13th centuries. Romanesque and Gothic stylistic elements merge to create a rare harmony in Münster. Even the decoration – primarily Baroque or dating from either the end of the last century or this one – fits perfectly into the space and gives the basilica its own very special atmosphere.
The Bonn Minster is one of Germany’s oldest churches. At one point the church served as the cathedral for the Archbishopric of Cologne. However, the Minster is now a minor basilica.
It was built on the graves of the two martyred Roman soldiers who later got promoted to be the city’s patron saints. It got its Gothic look in the 13th century but the Romanesque origins survive beautifully in the cloister. Both church and cloister are closed for restoration until at least 2019.
Another of the city’s architectural jewels is the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) on the Bonn Marktplatz. Overlooking the triangular Markt square, the rococo Altes Rathaus absolutely glistens with silver and gold trim. It was completed in Rococo style in around 1780. This three-storey building with gilded stairs leading down to the marketplace has been the backdrop for a number of important events: Theodor Heuss, Charles de Gaulle, John F. Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II and Mikhail Gorbachev all gave speeches here. Today it still serves as an office for the mayor and is used as a building for official occasions.
The University of Bonn has held a place as one of Germany’s most important universities since the 19th century and the reason why becomes immediately clear when you see the university’s main building: the former residence of the Prince Elector and originally a 13th-century fortified house belonging to the Archbishop of Cologne, the building has housed the Faculty of Arts since 1818. Though the castle has been repeatedly rebuilt after being destroyed several times, it continues to wow visitors with its magnificent architecture, its courtyard, which overlooks the Siebengebirge (Seven Mountains), and its long east wing, which extends almost to the Rhine itself. The city’s museums also embrace the spirit of the humanities and fine arts. One of the city’s most popular museums is Haus der Geschichte (House of History), where visitors can trace German history from the post-war era to the present day. Temporary exhibitions of international significance are on display at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany. There are many other museums along the Bonner Magistrale on Bonn’s Museum Mile.
As well as art and culture, the stunning natural landscape surrounding the city is yet another facet of Bonn that is sure to impress. The city forms the gateway to the Middle Rhine Valley and shows off Bonn’s romantic side.There are several parks, leisure and protected areas in and around Bonn. The Rheinaue is Bonn’s most important leisure park, with its role being comparable to what Central Park is for New York. It lies on the banks of the Rhine and is the city’s biggest park. The Rhine promenade and the Alter Zoll (Old Toll Station) are in direct neighborhood of the city center and are popular amongst both residents and visitors. The Arboretum Park Härle is an arboretum with specimens dating back to 1870. The Botanischer Garten (Botanical Garden) is maintained by the University of Bonn. The gardens were originally castle grounds for the Archbishop of Cologne, dating to about 1340, which were fashioned into a renaissance garden circa 1650. In 1720 the site was reworked as a baroque garden. The natural reserve of Kottenforst is a large area of protected woods on the hills west of the city centre.
The headquarters of Deutsche Post DHL and Deutsche Telekom, both DAX-listed corporations, are in Bonn. The city is home to the University of Bonn and a total of 20 United Nations institutions, including headquarters for Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the UN Volunteers program.