For those who haven’t seen my guide to Düsseldorf, Germany, I met up with my friend, Monja, who is from there, and we have begun our travels through three of Germany’s largest and most popular cities; Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Hamburg. After rising early to a traditional home-cooked German breakfast in Monja’s home, we headed out to meet up with her friends Annika and Carol in the Düsseldorf’s neighboring city of Cologne.
Cologne (Köln) has an interesting history and currently a more lively city than it has had in the past 75 years. I was excited to get there and see what it was all about.
For those who don’t know a lot about Cologne, here’s a bit more information:
Often known as Germany’s cultural hub, the 2,000-year-old city of Cologne is the fourth most populated city in the country with roughly one million inhabitants within its city limits and as many as 3.6 million within the metro area. It is located along the Rhine River just north of Düsseldorf. In the middle ages, the city thrived as a part of one of the most important trade routes connecting Eastern and Western Europe.
However, about 95% of the city’s population was lost in the Second World War due to being one of the most heavily bombed cities (either from fatalities or people leaving the city due to damage.) Many medieval cultural and architectural structures were lost and never rebuilt after that. In fact, only three of the original 12 medieval city gates survived. The city’s population just regained pre-WWII numbers in 2010 when it finally reached one million inhabitants again.
First Impressions. . .
The first thing I saw as I exited the train station was the Cathedral of Cologne. The Cologne Dome has the third tallest spire in the world. The detail, even on a gloomy day was astonishing and easily the most impressive cathedral I’ve seen thus far. It is hard to imagine the time and skill it must have taken to complete it. As most historic structures in Europe, however, it was under a lot of construction that took a little from the overall cosmetic look of it. Regardless, I took my time in the misty rain in awe of what was in front of me. One of the best parts about it is that it is right outside of Cologne’s main train station which is perfect for backpackers.
After a while, the rainy day started to dampen the mood of the day. We toured the inside of the cathedral amongst the hundreds of gawking tourists looking to escape the messy weather outside. When the rain still had yet to yield, we decided to hit yet another German brewery – this time the infamous beer of Cologne, Kolsch, in an attempt to ride the storm out. I liked what this brewer had to offer, however, if I were to choose one to see – not only because of the taste of the beer but also because of the atmosphere inside the brewery, I’d side with Altbier in Düsseldorf.
Rain soaked tour
After a few hours and a few too many beers, the rain had still not slowed. We decided to see as much of what we could in the rain. We walked across the Hohenzollern Bridge loaded with padlocks representing love. It seems every bridge in Europe has slowly become a “love lock bridge”. Actually, Monja tells me that the locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge today are only about half the locks that were originally locked to it before. The weight of the growing number of padlocks was becoming an unforeseen issue that Hohenzollern Bridge couldn’t continue to withstand. The city removed half the locks and banned “locking your love” to the bridge for good.
We saw a few more sites in the afternoon including the University of Cologne which is one of the largest and oldest universities on the continent – definitely worth seeing! By this time, the weather was taking a toll on us. It is hard to walk around in the rain for so long with no proper rain gear. It was time I tried my first döner kebab.
Döner Kebab time
Kebabs are offered all throughout Europe, however, I saved myself until I got to Germany because the German’s are sort of known for theirs as well as Turkey. A döner kebab reminds me of a Greek gyro for anyone trying to imagine what it looks like. It’s filled with either lamb or chicken roasted vertically on a rotating stick all day and shaved off onto your kebab when you order it. With the meat is an assortment of vegetables and some of the best options of sauce you can imagine. Even before arriving in Europe, I was told a döner kebab from Germany was mandatory. I must say, it didn’t disappoint.
After eating, we went back out into the rain, but all of our motivation to see the city was lost. I could tell Monja, Annika, and Carol were purely putting themselves through this for my benefit. We decided to call it an early day and head back home to the village of Mettmann.
More Attractions, Restaurants, and Bars to see in Cologne:
– Museum Ludwig – 20th Century art museum featuring works from Picasso
– Das Ding – bar/Party district strictly for those with valid student ID (a lot of good food joints, too)
– MTC – rock-disco with many live performances
– Grüngürtel– great picnic spot and perfect for spending time like a local
– River Cruise – infamous Rhine River cruises with knowledgeable English-speaking guides
Cologne would be a great stop for anyone traveling in between East and West Germany. It’s much less touristy than the likes of Berlin or Munich. The city really gives you a truly authentic feel.