Cologne is one of those places that seems symbolic of a country without ever tempting you that it’s essential to go there. Berlin for Germany, Paris for France, London for the UK, all have capital city pretensions and pretty much live up to them. The second rank cities are the places you go to if you have spare cash and time on a trip. If you don’t make it to them on this trip, there’s always next time.
Spending more time in mainland Europe has meant that we can wipe that kind of thinking away; most of Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium are easily accessible from our home by car, and the fringes of Switzerland, the Czech republic and Austria are a little further afield but reachable with a longer drive and overnight stay.
What has this got to do with Cologne I hear you ask? Well, it’s one of those cities that seems to have a lot to offer, without it being anyone’s idea of a first port of call if you’re visiting Germany. How wrong was that thinking?! We decided to make it one of the destinations of the day tripping bowl of destiny, and a couple of weeks ago fate pulled it from the bowl and made it our next German destination.
As usual, a little online research uncovered a fantastic tourist information site, complete with English translations and maps. German cities all seem to have great websites which give you a sense of where to go and what to do in a no-nonsense and practical way. In planning the trip, we decided the cathedral, and the old town were two places we wanted to see first.
When we arrived in Cologne, the first surprise was the sheer size and prettiness of the centre, split by the River Rhine into east and west areas, the east section being the medieval centre. Driving right up to the cathedral square, we parked underneath it and so were central for everything in Cologne. \Dashing up the stairs into the square , we managed to hop straight onto a tour bus, which for the next hour and a half drove us around the city and all the major sites. From a cable car over the river, to a huge zoo and park complex in the north, Cologne looked vibrant and exciting.
The tour took us around the old town walls, showed us the art museums and brewery’s and the museum housed in the old police headquarters that detailed the history of National Socialism. We didn’t have time to check it out, but definitely somewhere to look at in the future, it was both grim and strangely featureless, looking just like another anonymous office block.
We arrived back at the square with a really good understanding of what Cologne was about on both sides of the river bank, and then popped into the cathedral itself to see what the fuss was about. It was jaw dropping, from the height of the ceilings which gave me vertigo (can you get that standing on the floor?) to the beautiful gilded paintings and stained glass which was maybe the best I’ve ever seen.
Awe inspiring and incredibly beautiful. The most interesting bit was the amount of 1000 year old tombs there were, scattered around all the various wings of the building, and amazing in the detail worked into them (one had his own castle including portcullis as a tomb!)
We left and had just enough time to wander through some of the cobbled old town streets that wound away from the cathedral square before we paid our small parking fee and headed home. All in all, a beautiful and under rated city, with a huge amount of cultural and historical things to see and do. We will be going back!