Herbie Shultze is as impressive as a burgher … a beef burger.
He lives in Hilden, one of the neat little suburbs on the hilly outskirts of Dusseldorf.
No, Herbie is not a caricature and he isn’t employed by the Deutsche tourist board … but he does wear lederhosen, a belly as big as the frontage of an Altstadt delicatessen, a nose like a burst beirwurst and a face as red as the average Brit’s overdraft.
He also has a chauffeur-driven black Mercedes. It’s chauffeur-driven because of all the Altbeir he consumes most of the day every day and he has no intention of facing jail and a heavy fine.
Herbie is actually the eccentric but successful face of this the capital city of the North Rhein-Westphalia region.
He sells space on the advertising hoardings that march along the autobahns and he is so adept at it that life seems to be one long loud conversation punctuated by beer and laughter.
The business districts and the banking areas near Ko are his happy hunting grounds. The millennium chrome and glass buildings there scrape the sky with their sense of fiscal importance.
But I suspect that his lederhosen and laughter are as much a uniform as the suits and ties of colleagues and associates.
You see, beneath the party atmosphere of oompah and giant beer glasses, bombast and drinking songs, Germany is a very serious business indeed.
And while it is good advice to get away without mentioning the war – it is obvious everywhere you look that this country is one regimented European institution.
Everybody sounds like they are giving you orders from innkeepers to shopkeepers. Even the road signs bark at you “walk” “don’t walk” “cross now” “don’t cross now”. And woe-betide you if you ignore them – the looks you will get from the good people of this very tall nation would wither an oak tree. And you run the risk of an on-the-spot fine.
But fines are a way of life in this part of the world – take a trip on the Rheinbahn, but don’t forget to get a ticket from the orange sidewalk machines and don’t forget to have it stamped by the orange machine on board or it’ll cost you!
Dusseldorf goes by with a clinically-clean attitude of fastidious efficiency, police whiz by in sunglasses and immaculate cars, delivery vehicles are vanquished to the rear of buildings and the streets are kept spotless.
This all-pervading mixture of business and pleasure is almost schizophrenic. Perhaps that’s because the city actually does have a split personality … split by the Rhein.
On the other side of the river is the old town, the Altstadt.
But even here you can see the regimentation … they’ve put history in its right order. A chronology of their living breathing past. Some of the buildings are medieval and yet they are immaculate and restored. You could be forgiven for believing it’s a film set for a new Teutonic Tales.
Dusseldorf grew out of a fishing village, its position chosen because of the conjoining of the Rhine and River Dussel.
At least they are right about one thing, there were no cars in medieval times. And guess what! There aren’t now either. They’ve pedstrianised it.
But despite the fact you move through its history as if you were moving through time warps, it is a beautiful place to be.
Order and beer seem to be the absolute way of life here … and one of the main benefits is that you can order beer all day and all night. There are 260 bars in less than a square mile and every one of them is umpah-ing and laughing and talking at the top of its voice.
By early evening the city is settling down and it’s worth taking a stroll down the beautiful tree-lined Rhine promenade. The traffic is taken into an underground tunnel here and there is almost peace.
History is everywhere, the leaning tower of St Lambert and the Schlossturm. Now the streets are narrow and lead into ancient squares. Make a visit to the old town hall, so quaintly called the Rathaus.
You can pick up the tree-lined Ko and walk along the moat with its myriad of old bridges until a time warp allows you into the late Victorian era which has been wonderfully – but too cleanly – restored since that unmentionable event in the 40s. The art nouveau Kaufhof departmental store is still one of the proudest buildings in the area.
And the final time warp brings you back to the present with a jolt. If you keep walking you will eventually be confronted by the Schauspielhaus. This is the showpiece of the city’s culture and they proudly describe it as sensual. I’d describe it as knew.
It was time for me to return to the Marktplatz by the Rathaus where I’d arranged to meet Herbie in Zum Uerige, Dusseldorf’s most famous Brauhaus. It’s a labyrinth of rooms and barrels roll across from the brewery to the serving hatches.
Herbie was there of course, punctually, as promised and was deep in conversation with the whole bar room … we bought each other farewell drinks for a couple of hours and I realised why despite everything, I like this city.
It makes me laugh.