My department at work is spread across six offices in four different countries and so when we need to work with each other our correspondence is mostly done via email and phone. However, two years ago my head of department decided it would be a good idea to bring everyone together for a few days. I envisaged a hotel conference room in London but no, it was three days in Italy where we sat out on a terrace, looking out over rolling hills and ate, drank and got to know our colleagues and discussed how we could work better as a team and explored possibilities for working across offices to provide a better service for our clients by using the expertise that each person had. At that point I’d only just been made my job offer and so I was delighted to spend time with not just my team for the time being, but my team.
Fast forward to two years later and my feet are well and truly under the desk and I feel like I belong in the team and less like I’ve snuck in under the radar by accident. So I was excited when it was announced that there was going to be another work retreat this year. This time, the venue would be Dusseldorf, Germany.
Timed so we’d fly out to Dusseldorf early on Thursday morning before finishing on Friday afternoon, the retreat offered the perfect opportunity for a little bit of a German mini-break and so I made arrangements for my boyfriend to meet me in Cologne (only about a 30 minute train ride from Dusseldorf) where we would spend the weekend.
Dusseldorf is only a very short hop from London City Airport, when I say short I mean seriously short, our flight time was 55 minutes. I spent more time in the airport than up in the air! I love London City, it’s only 20 minutes on the DLR for me and so is super convenient, plus it’s always a breeze to get through, unlike some airports which feel like a hassle.
So, super early on the Thursday morning (7.25am) we boarded what is maybe the smallest plane I have ever been on – three seats wide and with propellers! It felt like a private jet, especially with lots of business people on the flight and as I ended up with nobody sat next to me so I could spread out a bit. I’ve always been jealous of people who get amazing aerial shots of London from flights as I never seem to fly over the main sights of Central London. This time though we flew right over the Olympic Park and so I got to see the stadium, Orbit, velodrome and swimming pool from the London Olympics from above. We also took in the O2 and Canary Wharf before heading further East, tracking the Thames right to its mouth.
Our flight landed at around 9.45am and we met up with others who had been on other flights in arrivals before getting a cab to our hotel, the INNside Dusseldorf Hafen, a Melia hotel located in the Dusseldorf harbour area. We checked in, found our conference room for the two days and headed up to the 16th floor for a spot of lunch in the SkyLounge which has fantastic views (below) across to the Rhein Tower and towards the Old Town.
We spent the afternoon watching presentations from the various offices and taking part in business development sessions before breaking off to have drinks upstairs in the bar before heading out to walk to the Old Town for dinner and our first glimpses at Dusseldorf. The harbour is around a 20-25 minute walk from the Old Town and has some fascinating buildings, it’s a real mish mash of styles and design. Our hotel was the multi-coloured one below with the red sticky-out top floor. Located a few doors down is the Roggendorf House building covered with an art installation of sticky men, ‘Flossis’, by German artist Rosalie.
Walking towards the Old Town you come across a cluster of rather unusually shaped buildings designed by Frank Gehry – der Neuer Zollhof – each one clad differently. One is curvy and plastered in white, another is wavy and clad in metal and the third is red brick. They’re quite a sight in the bright summer sun.
Our destination for dinner was Zum Schiffchen, the oldest restaurant in Dusseldorf which serves up traditional German food and has apparently played host to Napoleon! We took our seats at long tables and our German hosts ordered us the local beer – Alt – while we perused the menus.
We shared meat platters as a starter before my, very German, Rheinischer Sauerbraten. Braised beef ‘Rhineland style’ with raisins, almonds, red cabbage, stewed apples and potato dumplings, this was made to an old recipe of Zum Schiffchen and was the most amazing comfort food I have maybe ever had. With a rich thick sauce, this was stodge of the very best kind. It doesn’t look much presentation wise but it was so good and I mopped up the last of the sauce when I was finished with the doughy dumplings.
However, what really caused a stir at our table was the arrival of the pork knuckle for two of my colleagues, which was not only huge but even came with a knife stuck into it. Camera phones came out and I suddenly felt a lot less weird about taking photos of my food. It was truly mammoth, although I was later assured it was mostly bone and so not as gargantuan a challenge as it might at first appear.
After our mains and a few rounds of Alt, our German hosts decided it was time to introduce us to shots of Killepitsch, a liquor popular in the Dusseldorf area. Now I am not the kind of girl that does shots. My first shot was on my 18th birthday when we left school at lunch time to head down to Wetherspoons in town and I had my first legal drink. A shot was bought for me and I must have practically inhaled the thing as I ended up choking slightly. Since then I have not been one for shots in fear of dying. But, I did the first one in two and although at first it’s strong (42% alcohol by the way), it doesn’t have a bad or unpleasant aftertaste, it’s actually very smooth. A second round was quickly ordered and arrived in front of me, after that an almost constant stream of shots made their way to our tables and were handed round and knocked back. I think we all lost count a bit but I definitely had at least seven of them, as did pretty much everyone else.
Dessert (to try and counteract some of the Killepitsch) was vanilla ice cream with hot raspberries and whipped cream. Nice enough but nothing to write home about.
We all sat around chatting and laughing before moving on to Meerbar in the red brick Neuer Zollhof building, where we had a few glasses of prosecco before we got kicked out as they were closing and then moved on to the hotel bar, which we then got kicked out off as that was closing and at that point we accepted that we all had to retire to our rooms for the night.
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