On the surface Münster is a very quaint historical city, perhaps more likely to attract an older clientele on account of its architecture and churches. But peer a little bit closer and you’ll notice animatedly chatting students whizzing over the cobbles on their bicycles and that, in fact, those historical buildings along Prinzipalmarkt are not quite as old as they seem.
The market centre of Münster, which dates back to the 14th Century, was destroyed during the Second World War. (An unbelievable 92% of Muenster was flattened.) But the buildings in the centre have been slowly reconstructed in a way that remains true to their original structures. From afar, therefore, Prinzipalmarkt looks like it has for hundreds of years. Only by taking a closer look could I see modern roofs behind the elaborate gable facades, and high-end designer stores now hiding in the arches.
I could also see a lot of bikes.
“There are two bicycles to every person in Münster,” says Brigitte, my guide with a pink stripe through her hair to match her make up and accessories. She was taking me on a tour of the city the way locals navigate it – by bike.
“But why would anyone need two bikes?” I innocently ask.
“Because this is a Catholic city,” she replies. I wasn’t following. “And on Sunday we ride our best bike to church.”
(A whole new meaning of Sunday Best opens up for me.)
“But also,” she continues, “Because the bikes often, what we call, ‘change owners’.”
The high concentration of bikes in the city comes hand in hand with a large number of thefts, or ‘change of owner’ as the locals call it. I could see how. Outside the bars in Kreuzstrasse we visited there were more bikes than I’ve seen at any train station in London. If you were to do a bar crawl and forget at which bar you left your bike, perhaps you might decide to ‘borrow’ another and return it tomorrow. Bikes are often ‘returned’ to the city’s waterways. The council go fishing periodically, collecting the bikes and then restoring them before selling them off.
‘If you are lucky,” explains Brigitte, “Perhaps you can repurchase the one you lost.”
Everyone rides bikes, all ages and at all times. I see lecturers carrying notes under their arms as they ride to the university and dogs being ‘walked’ alongside their cycling owners. They even have cycling police to make sure the rules of two wheels are obeyed and cycling roads where bikes have priority over cars (such a novel idea to me as a Londoner!)
Another way that all ages come together is at the weekly market at Domplatz. In front of the impressive Cathedral over 100 stalls gather to sell all sorts of foods and fresh goods. I wandered down whole aisles dedicated to cheese, or fruit or flowers and deliberated over what queue to join for hot sausages. My attention was drawn, however, by a crowd outside a building, down a side alley just off the Domplatz. It seemed to have a high concentration of young people who were chatting and lounging in deck chairs. My mission being to find Youth Hotspots, I decided to take a closer look.
The building that hosts Fyal Central was once a stable, then a generator warehouse. Now it is a café, bar, creative hub and most certainly a youth hotspot. I took a seat on a bench inside, where the lamp on the table doubled-up as a charging point for my phone. Stevie Wonder was on the stereo, a disco ball hung from the ceiling and my latte, when it arrived, was good and cheap for its size (2.70Euro for a generous large.) I was contentedly making notes when the owner came over to introduce himself and tell me more about the café’s interesting backstory.
“Fyal was only supposed to be a pop-up for 3 months,” he explained. “But after 3 months the customers petitioned for us to stay open. We realised we had a good business.”
The name Fyal, he revealed, was a provocative poke at the art fair that was being held in Münster when they opened. (F you art lovers is what it stands for!) 6 years later trade is still good and I was glad to have found them.
My experience of Germany so far is that they do coffee shops rather well. Münster was no different. After Fyal I fell in love with Pension Schmidt, a café made up of a collection of miniature, retro living rooms. It was like an Ikea showroom from the sixties, one where you could take a seat in your favourite room and enjoy a coffee (2.40Euro for a large here.) The lamps, TVs, sofas and paintings are different in every corner; I loved them all. The café/bar also hosts a range of evening events, including poetry readings, and apparently an elderly local gentleman is partial to playing the piano most nights.
From the city centre my accommodation in Münster was a 15-minute bike ride away. It’s worth the journey though. The Factory Hotel used to be a brewery but is now a member of Design Hotels. The hotel’s architect, Andreas Deilmann, has fused parts of the original industrial building with modern design – flashes of hot pink furniture and contemporary art are set against a backdrop of exposed brick and concrete walls. Although unusual it works well, the ambitious design not compromising any of the comfort.
My time in Münster was short but it was long enough to see why this seemingly historic town appeals to the hundreds of students that study here. This city has an old façade but is young and fresh at heart.
Click here to find out what hotspots I discovered in Cologne. I am travelling in Germany as part of the Youth Hotspots Germany project in association with the German National Tourism Board. My next and last stop on this trip is Hamburg.