Düsseldorf, Germany

Düsseldorf by Regina Spektor

In Düsseldorf I met a clown
His nose, it was red...
In Düsseldorf I met a dwarf
With bad breath and a really good tan
Nestled in West Germany a mere 40 minute drive from the Dutch border, Düsseldorf is a city renowned for trade fairs, fashion, and Fortune Global 500 companies. The city owes much of its development to the RAF bombing campaign that targeted the Ruhr industries during World War II. Reconstruction commenced in 1946, growing the city into what it is today a sprawl of modern glass and steel architecture stretching over some 84 square miles. Düsseldorf is also at the centre of the 'Blue Banana,' a corridor of cities running from Leeds in England south through central Europe to Genoa. This European Megalopolis denotes one of the world's highest concentrations of people, commerce, and industry. Money and mega-corporations aside, Düsseldorf is also renowned for its cultural heritage, its Academy of Fine Arts and music.

Panorama of Dusseldorf from the bend of Rhine river
Photo: Mikhail Markovskiy, Dreamstime

Kraftwerk, formed in the 1970s, is arguably the most important post-war German band and perhaps one of the most influential bands in the avant-garde scene. Pioneers of the electronic music genre, Kraftwerk paved the way for industrial acts such as Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, and even the more recent EBM scene. A city both affluent and culturally significant, Düsseldorf is one of the most visited cities in Germany, but it doesn't seem to be any of these attributes of the city that inspired Regina Spektor's eponymous song.

Released in 2006 on the extended and bonus versions of Spektor's album, Begin to Hope, "Düsseldorf" is a vagabond song, the lyrics of which seem mere anecdotes from the traveller's perspective. Spektor, known for her rather unique if not totally bizarre musical compositions, retains some semblance of normalcy with "Düsseldorf," an uncomplicated song accompanied by energetic piano chords bouncing along as Spektor trips her way through the comedic lyrics with her signature nasal, somewhat recitative-like singing style. The lyrics detail a traveller's adventures through much of Europe, Düsseldorf being one of only two cities mentioned twice in the song. While Spektor's anecdotes of other cities such as "And in Amsterdam I got quite crazy, Might have been all the tulips and canals, Or it might have been all that hash," contain references to stereotypical attributes of the place in question, the lines about Düsseldorf seem rather inane by comparison, mentioning a clown's red nose and a dwarf's tan, before the song wraps up with death grunt vocal effects. Compared to the single "Fidelity" from the same album, which is Spektor's most successful single to date, "Düsseldorf" seems more like a B-side or cute afterthought.

Russian-born Spektor burst onto the music scene in the early 2000s as part of the anti-folk scene in New York City. She offered something truly unique, a non-conforming style that blended conflicting styles (like hip-hop and classical piano) to create a lush soundscape that defied categorisation. Although sometimes described as a brunette Tori Amos, Spektor certainly has something different to offer discerning audiences, but "Düsseldorf" sadly isn't it.

Suzanne van Rooyen
March 16, 2013

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. Although she has a Master's degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me.


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