Travel: A City of Diversity; Germany Is a Country of Contrasts. GORDON BARR Drives from West to East and Discovers Cosmopolitan Cities, Grand Palaces and Towns Steeped in Culture and History along the Autobahns

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OUR summer holiday usually consists of chill-out days by the pool, lapping up the sunshine and listening to our iPod. Not this year.

For summer 2008, on the recommendation of a contact, we decided to do something a little different - a trip across Germany.

I had been told it was a country full of contrasts and the tourist board is going all out to big-up Germany's palaces and gardens and cultural heritage. There are only two cities you can fly direct to from Newcastle - Dusseldorf and Hanover, and so it was to the former that we started our 10-night journey of sightseeing and discovery.

After a very pleasant flight of little over an hour with Lufthansa, we checked into the Hotel Windsor, about a 10-minute walk from the city centre.

A magnificent traditional boutique-style family-run hotel, each room is individual, staff are superb and the breakfasts incredible.

Get yourself a Dusseldorf Welcome Card, which gives you free travel on the trams, buses and trains - the public transport system is first-rate and a great alternative when your feet get sore with all the walking around you will inevitably do.

Within an hour we ventured into the centre, thinking at first the city was so, so quiet for a Friday night. We then turned a corner and were met with what can only be described as a more sophisticated Bigg Market, multiplied 10-fold, with everyone drinking and eating outdoors (this we experienced throughout the country), all ages, all in good spirits and not a hint of police presence. It was friendliness personified - and is billed as the longest bar in the world. Don't forget Germany is the beer capital of Europe, and it's easy to see why. This was Dusseldorf's AltStadt (old town). …