On Düsseldorf’s northeast shoulder, Ratingen is a well-off city where many international computer brands and high-tech manufacturers have their HQs. Ratingen’s innovative flair goes back at least as far as the 18th century when the city had mainland Europe’s first cotton spinning mill.
Today the Textilfabrik Cromford is a riveting museum attached to a Baroque mansion where the mill owner’s family resided for almost 200 years. Ratingen’s old centre oozes character, with a lively market square and pieces of the Medieval walls and defensive towers still guarding the city.
And if you ever crave a night out or romantic walk beside the Rhine Düsseldorf is never more than 15 minutes away on the S-Bahn.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Ratingen:
1. St. Peter und Paul
Ratingen’s parish church is one of the Rhineland’s earliest Gothic hall churches.
Most of the architecture dates to the end of the 13th century, and grew out of a Romanesque basilica from the mid-1100s.
There are hints of that first building in the blind arches of the western tower.
But while the three naves are from the end of the 1200s, the choir was extended in the Neo-Gothic style in the 1890s.
This was done according to plans by Heinrich Wiethase, one of the most celebrated architects of the time.
In the same project the tower was given its current Baroque-style dome.
2. Textilfabrik Cromford
In 1783 Ratingen was the first place in continental Europe to get a cotton spinning mill.
The mill, named after Arkwright’s Cromford Mill in Derbyshire, was set up by the entrepreneur Johann Gottfried Brügelmann.
He also had a palatial Baroque villa built next door, couched in formal and English landscape gardens.
Brügelmann’s descendants kept up the business all the way to the 1960s when the mill finally closed down.
Now, the mill and villa are managed by the Rhineland Museum of Industry.
In the factory you’ll observe how these cotton spinners operated, and learn about the rigours of life in the mill.
The villa exposes the plush lifestyle of the Brügelmann family, displaying furniture, period decor, clothing and family portraits.
Any trip to Ratingen has to begin in at the marketplace where people have been trading goods since 1371. It’s a picturesque scene, walled by historical townhouses, the 14th-century Bürgerhaus and the Church of St Peter and Paul.
When the weather’s good you could sip a beer or coffee at one of the bar terraces.
Market days are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and add some extra bustle to the square.
Less frequent, a flea market is also held on Marktplatz and there are special events for the carnival in early spring and the Ratingen Festival, for live music and fairground amusements at the end of June.
On a map you’ll see that Ratingen’s old town is almost a perfect circle, and until not so long ago this was enclosed by a defensive wall with 15 manned towers.
The defences were raised in the 13th century and were last reinforced in the 1400s.
Now, only three of those towers survive, but that’s more than most cities, and they help you imagine Ratingen in Medieval times.
The most complete portion of the old wall is a quick jaunt north of the old centre between Turmstraße and Angerstraße.
Here you can follow the old moat and see the Dicker Turm (1464), which is 13 metres high and 12 wide.
West of the centre is the Trinsenturm (1474), which used to be an armoury, while to the east is the Kornsturm (1460), an old granary.
5. Cromford Park
The park around the Cromford spinning mill stayed private until 1977. Twenty years ago these gardens became a listed monument, and most people now agree that Cromford Park is one of the Rhineland’s cultural treasures.
There isn’t much remaining of Johann Gottfried Brügelmann’s Baroque formal garden, save for a princely chestnut avenue leading to the villa and trimmed hedges in front.
In 1907 the landscape architect Reinhold Hoemann re-laid the gardens in the English style, with winding paths, tree copses and undulating lawns.
In 1997 a rose and perennial garden was planted on a rise, close to the Brügelmann family’s historic burial plot.
6. Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum
The Upper Silesian State Museum has been situated in Ratingen since 1983 and documents the history and culture of this region in the south of Poland.
The reason why a museum about Upper Silesia is found hundreds of kilometres away in Ratingen is down to complicated 20th-century history.
The region was partly German-speaking, and was in the German Empire after 1871. Then came the Treaty of Versailles and the Iron Curtain, and a lot of people with Upper Silesian heritage lived in North Rhine-Westphalia but had no easy way to visit home.
The permanent exhibition is on the upper floor and has folk crafts (painted eggs), farm tools, art, costumes, religious sculpture, ceramics and archive photographs.
Below there are short-term exhibitions on specific themes or figures, like one in 2016 for the Upper Silesian composer Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen.
7. Im Roten Hahn
The oldest private building in the old town is a pretty half-timbered house at Oberstraße 23. The first reference to Im Roten Hahn (Red Rooster), is from 1425 in the Stadtbuch, Ratingen’s official legal record.
The house was updated with a Late Gothic design around 1500, and what makes it such a good photo opportunity is the corbelled upper floor.
That upper level protrudes out over the street by almost a metre at the front, only adding to the building’s charm.
Im Roten Hahn is a restaurant if you’ve even felt like dining in a 500-year-old house.
8. Museum Ratingen
Near the old walls, Ratingen’s city museum clashes a little with the historical architecture around it.
From 1978, sheer concrete walls and exposed ventilation pipes reflect the Pompidou centre-style of the period.
That modern architecture is apt for the museum’s main exhibitions, which are for painting, sculpture and graphics from the end of the Second World War to today.
Extra attention is paid to the abstract sculptor and painter Peter Brüning who lived in Ratingen and was a member of the influential Group 53 before dying young in 1970.
9. Blauer See
On the east side of Cromford Park is what used to be a limestone quarry, which was flooded and converted into a recreation park in the 1930s.
The centrepiece is the boating lake, ten metres deep and contained by man-made bluffs 25 metres in height.
If you do take a boat you’ll notice how there are streaks of glimmering dolomite in among the limestone.
Kids will never get bored at Blauer See, because away from the lake are attractions like a mini golf course, a “fairytale zoo” and a miniature train.
10. Bürgerhaus am Markt
This discreet looking building on the marketplace was the centre of municipal and political life in Ratingen for hundreds of years.
It was also a symbol of the freedom of the city in the Middle Ages and a symbol of the will of Ratingen’s wealthier citizens to have a say in the government of the city.
The council would meet here and hammer out laws for anything from general administration to trading rules, policing and city defence.
Nowadays the Bürgerhaus is a traditional restaurant.
11. Wildpark Grafenberger Wald
Ratingen is on the northern lip of the Düsseldorfer Stadtwald a 2,500 hectare sweep of oak and beech woodland with nature reserves, golf courses and a couple of visitor attractions.
One, a brief road trip from Ratingen, is the Wildpark Grafenberger Wald in its own 100-hectare parcel of forest.
Under the oaks, beech trees and maples are paddocks with fallow deer, mouflons, raccoons, lynxes and wild boars.
One time to put in your diary is late Autumn, which is rutting season for the fallow deer.
You can bring your own food for the animals, provided it’s suitable (potatoes, apple, kohlrabi, carrots, acorns and chestnuts are all fine!).
12. Neanderthal Museum
A bit further south, but still only 15 minutes outside Ratingen is the exact excavation site where the first remains of Neanderthal Man were discovered in a limestone quarry in 1856. The bilingual museum opened in 1996 and has an army of models of Neanderthals based on fossils retrieved close by.
On a spiralling ramp that leads you up four floors there’s background on the story of this archaic human and details of how humans came to Europe from the savannahs.
You can also study a chronology of human development, including key phases like the advent of tools, religion, farming and society.
Nearby is the site where the first Neanderthal was found, and you can walk a garden trail with art and animal enclosures for wild horses and aurochs.
13. Evangelische Stadtkirche Ratingen
The city had a Protestant congregation quite early, and from 1565 citizens would hold services in private homes or travel to nearby Kettwig and Homberg.
The reformed community was granted a plot of land for a church in 1668 and it would be completed in 20 years.
The big western tower on Lintorfer Straße is actually newer and is a Neo-Romanesque construction from 1856. The first interior was Baroque, but has changed with the times and was last decorated in the 1966. In the gallery the organ was also refurbished in the renovation in 1966, but the sumptuous Baroque case is much older, dating to 1736 and brought here from a different church.
14. Wasserburg Haus zum Haus
Also next door to the Cromford Park on the west side is a moated castle that went up in 1276 after its predecessor burnt down.
Haus zum Haus was one of a chain of fortifications north of Ratingen and was enhanced in the 16th century with a bailey.
By the 20th century the castle was rundown and uninhabitable, before it was donated to the city and given a restoration.
Now Haus zum Haus is a cultural centre, concert house and office space, and until recently there was a restaurant in the keep.
Even if you have nothing else to do you can potter around the grounds, following the idyllic grassy banks of the Angerbach stream and spotting peacocks.
Hop on the S6 S-Bahn line at Ratingen Ost station and you’ll be delivered to the creative, fun-loving and affluent city of Düsseldorf in just 15 minutes.
To paint the town red, the Altstadt has a whopping 300 bars, cafes and nightclubs squeezed into just half a square kilometre.
And if you need to walk it off, the promenade by the Rhine is one of the most scenic on the entire River.
If Düsseldorf has a posh identity, it comes from Königsallee a canal-side boulevard with every luxury clothing and accessories brand worthy of the title.
And of course, if you do plan drink an Altbier or two, match it with some typical Rhenish fare like Senfrostbraten (mustard roast beef), Schweinshaxe (roasted ham hock) and Rheinischer Sauerbraten (a kind of beef stew with raisins).