The symbol of Dusseldorf is the Radschlager -- a human figure executing a joyful cartwheel -- which embodies its joie de vivre. Residents put its annual Carnival on a par with the famous festivities in New Orleans and say Dusseldorf's main shopping street, Konigsallee, gives the Champs-Elysees a run for its money. (Oil-rich Arabs and Russian oligarchs agree, and they jet in for weekend shopping sprees to prove it.)
Dusseldorfers are also immensely proud of their MedienHafen (harbor district), an area of the docks transformed into a masterpiece of modern architecture. Dominated by architect Frank Gehry's gorgeously designed Gaudi-esque Neue Zollhof, the MedienHafen also is home to the 768-foot-high Rheinturm (Rhein Tower), which offers panoramic views across the city.
Dusseldorf is a delightful mix of ancient and modern, with urban trendiness and back-to-nature tranquility. Reach the end of Konigsallee, for example, and you'll find yourself in the Hofgarten, Dusseldorf's version of New York's Central Park. The Hofgarten is home to the fabulous Schloss Jagerhof palace, a magnificent reproduction of 18th century Rococo architecture. You can also enjoy a leafy stroll -- and lovely views of the rolling Rhine -- in the Rheinpark, a glorious tree- and cafe-lined promenade area.
Dusseldorf's perfectly formed Aldstadt (Old Town) might only cover one square kilometer, but it packs a heck of a lot into its cobbled alleys, including offbeat jewelry and craft shops,, high-spired churches and numerous bars (260-plus at last count).
The city is rapidly becoming one of Europe's top destinations for weekend and short breaks. You'll be hard pressed to decide how to spend your time. My tip for river cruise visitors: Keep it simple and don't try to do too much; you can always come back for more.
The effects of those potent local beers -- don't lose track of time or your riverboat.
The official currency is the euro (for the latest exchange rate, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com). Many banks in Dusseldorf offer ATMs, including Deutsche Bank, Postbank and Commerzbank. The main banking district is around Schadowstrasse, a few streets inland from the riverfront.
Younger Dusseldorfers study English at school, so it's widely spoken. But that's no excuse for not learning a few key German phrases, and the locals will love you for it.
Grab a couple bottles of Killepitsch if you want to give your friends back home a good time. Alternatively, take home a few jars of Lowensenf, a blow-your-head-off mustard created in Dusseldorf (Germany's mustard capital) in 1920. The sausage-loving Germans are obviously made of stern stuff because it's the country's favorite mustard.
Take home a lapel pin -- or statuette -- depicting a Dusseldorf Radschlager. Said to have originated in 1288, when citizens turned cartwheels in the streets to celebrate the birth of their city following victory at the Battle of Worringen, a cartwheeling figure is Dusseldorf's key symbol, replicated in everything from bronze statues to gingerbread biscuits.
Altbier, known to residents as "Alt", is a type of rich, dark beer that originated in Dusseldorf. Made from several varieties of hops and barley, it ranges in color from amber to copper to deep brown, depending in how much malt it contains.
A headier brew is Killepitsch, a powerful liqueur made from a blend of more than 90 herbs, fruits and spices. Blood red and syrupy in texture, it's best consumed with a mixer and -- at 42 percent alcohol by volume -- in moderation. But it is reputed to be an excellent digestif and to have medicinal qualities (maybe it's just that after a few sips of this stuff, you'll feel no pain).