Cologne’s odd mix of stateliness and irreverence makes it a fascinating destination for all kinds of travellers, from businessmen to backpackers. Perhaps because you can experience it with all your senses, it’s a place you won’t forget in a hurry.
Most visitors arrive at the impressive Hauptbahnhof, or main train station, which is located right in the middle of the city, near the Rhine river. As you emerge from the station, your vision is immediately filled: the world’s largest Gothic cathedral towers over the square, stunning in its size and opulence. As well as the cathedral, you can see the remains of a Roman arch, and not far away you’ll find the Rhine and a lovelock-covered bridge over it.
You’re in Germany, so one of the main flavours has to be beer. In Cologne, though, they do it differently — no one-litre steins here. The locally brewed Kölsch is served in tiny 200ml glasses, and when you’re finished a waiter will probably bring you a new one without your asking. Place your coaster on top of your glass if you don’t want more.
Perhaps the most famous museum in the city is the Chocolate Museum, which documents the history and production process of this delicious snack. Unfortunately, though you do get to taste a little, the free samples are limited to a small square on arrival and a chocolate-dipped wafer from the fountain later in the visit.
Cologne is the home of Eau de Cologne, so a visit to one of the fragrance houses is an important part of a stay in the city. Farina has a fragrance museum and 4711 offers a make your own Cologne course on Thursdays — a great rainy day activity that creates the perfect souvenir.
Since space was at a premium, Cologne’s concert hall was built underground, with a public square above. Unfortunately, the designers didn’t consider the effect of pedestrians and skaters moving overhead — it completely ruins the acoustics! During rehearsals and performances, security guards patrol the square, preventing people from passing through.
If you’re interested in music, you can attend a performance for yourself, and listen carefully for any rogue pedestrian walking over your head.
Cologne’s slogan is “it’s a feeling”, and it’s true. Cologne has a special atmosphere that you can only experience by being there. Walk the pedestrianised streets, be hassled by a waiter in a Kölsch bar, get into the madness during Carnaval — Cologne really is something else.
[box]A great way to get around Germany is with the German Rail Pass, available from ACPRail.[/box]