Hello, Germany! It’s been a whole 7 months since I’ve last seen you. How have you been?
Yup, leaving hectic lab work behind for a few days, I was on my way to Deutschland again. As I boarded the InterCity Express (ICE) train from Brussels to Cologne a few days ago, my heart was filled with the same excitement and anticipation that I felt when I travelled alone for the first time. I think that was Paris last year during Christmas, and much has changed, definitely, between the two trips.
With that said, the visit to Cologne was nothing short of eventful. In between getting lost for an hour before finding my hostel, meeting a friend studying in Essen, almost losing my bank card due to my own stupidity, pushing and shoving through more Christmas markets than I’ve ever been to, and overdosing on food that resulted in pimple surge, I had fun. In fact, I haven’t had this much fun in a long while!
The recount on Cologne will be split into two posts. This one will be a more general overview of the fabulous city while a special Christmas edition will follow shortly.
So why Cologne? Two very simple reasons: distance and price. From Brussels, it took less than two hours to get to Cologne with ICE, well within my acceptable range for a weekend train trip. And it wasn’t expensive; if booked ahead of time, you could get round-trip tickets for well under 50 Euros. Score.
Let’s start with a few brief facts about Cologne (Köln in German). The fourth largest city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich, Cologne is traversed by the Rhine river. Within the city, seven bridges cross the river, and five of them are easily visible from the city center. As much as Hamburg is known for the hamburger, Cologne is known for well…Eau de Cologne, which originated, of course, in Cologne. What did you expect?
Time for some photo spam (full album here)!
Perhaps the most well-known landmark in Cologne is the Dom, or the cathedral. That might be because…oh, I don’t know, because it’s RIGHT outside the central train station? You simply don’t “miss” the Dom; the first thing you see upon taking the main exit of the station is literally this massive structure. And massive is by no means an understatement. According to Wikipedia, the Cologne Dom “[was] tallest building in the world from 1880 to 1884; [is the] largest Gothic church in Germany; [is the] tallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world”. Certainly rather impressive.
German vocabulary of the week: hauptbahnhof, meaning central station. Looking towards it with the Dom behind me, the station was packed on Saturday. People were probably coming from surrounding cities to see the many Christmas markets that Cologne has to offer.
On Sunday I climbed the 500+ steps of the Dom – why would I not, after the previous entry? Thinking about it, that’s halfway up the “Heavenly Gate” in Zhangjiajie, China. Pretty intense stuff. I should have gone on Saturday instead though, since the weather was gorgeous while it was rather gloomy on Sunday, but at least there was no rain, for which I was thankful. My dear goodness, it was COLD up there, especially after workin’ up a sweat during the climb! But for the beautiful skyline of Cologne, it was worth it! I especially liked the view of the little red booths at the Christmas market. Maze, anyone?
I had to complain that my Nikon lens couldn’t fit through the fencing around the top of the Dom to get clean shots of the city from above without catching parts of the fence in the corners. That’s where good ol’ Canon A2000 came in handy. Glad I brought it along!
This is my favourite picture out of the bunch taking at the top. Three trains – an ICE in the middle and two red, regional trains – were either entering or exiting the train station. The trains cross the Rhine on the Hohenzollern Bridge to the other side. Hohenzollern appears in many German place names; I need to find out what it means.
Alright, let’s get down to business with the food section! This is only one small part, the other (possibly better) part will be in the Christmas entry.
So, people say the best food in the world is found in France. Can I disagree by saying I prefer German food over French food? I think I’ve emphasized it enough in the Berlin entry a while back, and the food experience in Cologne further affirmed my love for German food. Well, I only ate at one restaurant with a friend of mine while the rest of my meals centered around market food, but this was one good restaurant with reasonable prices and the expected German portions!
I ordered the “local spicy sausage with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes” while my friend got “homemade marinated beef with sweet-sour sauce, potato dumplings, and apple sauce” (I think the beef was called sauerbraten). We shared our food and I must comment on the texture of the potato dumplings. It was…bouncy, kind of a like a rubber ball! The combination of sausage and sauerkraut was perfect, and as my friend said, the apple sauce can double as a dessert simply because of its thick consistency.
Of course, let’s not forget about beer! The beer in Cologne is known as Kölsch, being sold in 20 cL (200 mL) glasses. Alas, Wikitavel doesn’t lie! “Don’t worry, waiters will be fast to bring you a new one once your old one is (almost) finished. In more traditional bars and especially the breweries, the waiter (called “Köbes” in local language) will even hand you a fresh Kölsch without being asked, so it is easy to lose track of how much you drank. He will put a pencil line on your coaster for each beer that you drank, this will be the basis for your bill, so do not lose it!” Haha, how true! I only had two, but I could have easily gone for more if we weren’t running short on time!
BONUS: I went on a special cheesecake hunt as I was trying to find a cheesecake that tasted like the one that I had in Berlin, which was probably the best cheesecake I had ever had. Well, this one did not have the particular taste I was looking for – actually I had forgotten what it was like, I just knew it was PERFECT – but it was not shabby at all! In fact, it was better than the average cheesecake, not ridiculously sweet – that’s why I like German cheesecake! Partnered with a “chococcino”…this was a lovely afternoon dessert!
These are the love locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge. As far as I know there are more than one of these in the world, apparently one being in Paris. Lovers write their names or initials on the locks, then fix them to the fence of the bridge, symbolizing being together forever. Seen here is Annie with a lock much more enormous than the others.
With tens and thousands of locks on the bridge, it was impossible to go through every single one, but I did manage to find some interesting inscriptions. I did not put the red one there (top left), but hey, I agree, eh 😀 As for the one on the bottom right…clearly someone has Bieber fever…
Here we are at the museum section. Cologne offers an interesting series of museums to be visited, one being the Schokoladen Museum, or the Chocolate Museum (top row). A lot of neat chocolate-related exhibitions were on display, including chocolate sculptures. The history of chocolate was also thoroughly introduced, as well as the process of making chocolate. Worth a visit for those with a sweet tooth!
The other museum I visited was the Romano-Germanic Museum (bottom row), displaying a large amount of artifacts from ancient Rome. The only problem I had with this museum was that the German explanations had no English translations! As a result I had to guess what most of the artifacts were…boo!
Observing the ships and buildings by the Rhine, on the Severin Bridge. I liked the arrangement of the buildings. It reminded me of toy blocks and Tetris…
After having crossed to the other side of the Rhine, we see the Chocolate Museum directly opposite. It would seem like some people were in the mood for fishing as well, hoho! It wasn’t a particularly warm day as well, therefore, I salute you, sirs!
A look at the Severin Bridge stretching across the Rhine. As soon as I saw the Rhine river I raised the question whether the Rhine was wider than the Garonne in Bordeaux. My first impression was that yes, indeed the Rhine was the wider of the two, but I needed confirmation. So I did some research and found the lengths of the Pont de Pierre (487 m) and the Hohenzollern Bridge (409 m), which are bridges that cross the Garonne and the Rhine respectively. That means…Garonne wins? Visually, I find it slightly hard to believe, but then again, I ALWAYS underestimate the magnificence of the Garonne. Then every time I revisit it, I reaffirm that the Garonne is indeed a big, big river. Maybe when you get used to something, you start to take it for granted and lose sight of its true grandeur.
Time for some…window shnapping? Nope, that’s not a typo. It is a combination of window SHopping and photo SNapping, where I walk around and take pictures of eye-catching items behind the glass. This was made especially easy on Sunday when the shops were closed and I didn’t get funny stares from shop owners that made me feel uncomfortable. Oh, and I found the original Eau de Cologne!
This is Schildergasse, one of the main shopping streets in the Cologne city center. It is joined by Hohe Straße, the other main shopping street. It was so crowded even on Sunday night when the shops were closed, that it actually reminded me of shopping areas in China…and that is quite a comparison!
Wow, this turned out to be a long post, and it’s only half of what I have to say about Cologne! The Christmas edition should be done tomorrow or the day after, and I promise more food, more beer, more colours, and more fun!