Germany Holidays: Beer rivals, Düsseldorf and Cologne

There is a fair degree of rivalry between the cities of Cologne and Düsseldorf, situated just 30 miles apart on the Rhine. The former prides itself on its history (it dates back to Roman times), the stature of its famous cathedral, and its relaxed easygoing lifestyle. However it was the latter, Düsseldorf, that was made capital of North Rhine Westphalia after World War II, not its larger neighbour. It has since become a major financial centre and, in the Königsallee, boasts one of the most exclusive shopping streets in Germany.

So you may not be surprised to hear that both cities strongly disagree on another very important issue: the preferred style of beer. In Cologne the locals drink Kölsch, a pale yellow, soft refreshing drink, not too dissimilar to standard German pils, lightly hopped and with just a touch of wheat malt. Düsseldorfers though prefer Altbier (commonly shortened to ‘Alt’), a copper-coloured, malty, very hoppy ale that has a dry and crisp finish.

Both cities are very proud of their respective beer and its heritage. Kölsch is protected by EU regulation and can only be brewed by 24 breweries, in and around Cologne, set out in the Kölsch Convention of 1986. No self-respecting resident of Cologne, when flying in or out of their shared airport (DUS or Düsseldorf), would contemplate indulging in an Alt; that would be an act of betrayal.

Where to drink it

Anyone visiting Cologne Cathedral will pass Früh am Dom, possibly the largest and most well-known of the Kölsch breweries. Whilst their beer is no longer brewed on the premises, it remains the busiest beer hall in the city, with a capacity of 1,000 and selling the equivalent of 850 litres of beer per week.  Other renowned brewers are Sion, also in the Altstadt, and Paffgen, which is reputed to be the best Kölsch in the city.

In Düsseldorf, a city renowned for having ‘the longest bar in the world’ in honour or the profusion of pubs, bars and restaurants in the Altstadt, there are no restrictions on who can brew Alt. However production is now centred on four breweries in or near the city centre, the most famous of which is zum Uerige (‘grumpy’ in the local vernacular, allegedly named after the original owner in the 1860s), a cavernous beer hall with many interlocking rooms leading off it. Other brewers include Zum Schlüssel, the Brauerei zum Füchschen and the Brauerei Ferdinand Schumacher, which is the oldest brewer of Altbier in the city, having been brewing continuously since 1837.

There are however a couple of similarities between the two cities. The beer is served by a Köbes (waiter) in both and comes in small 20cl glasses. Alt and Kölsch are designed to be drunk fast and fresh. Once emptied, your glass will be replaced by a full one within minutes by said Köbes. Both are top-fermented, too, in contrast to the bottom-fermented pils enjoyed in the rest of Germany.

But despite these shared characteristics, no two other cities in Germany, especially ones so close geographically, have such a healthy rivalry when it comes to what is consumed in their beer halls. – Mark Arrol

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