Located along the Rhine River, Cologne makes an impressive appearance on the German landscape. It’s one of Germany’s many intriguing cities and has a culture all its own. From the small beer glasses mandatory for serving the local brew, Kölsch, to the massive gothic cathedral that took a staggering 632 years to build, to subtle humor expressed in landmarks around the city and a Fifth Season that’s all about partying, Cologne is one of those European cities that seeps into your soul. There are many reasons to add Cologne to your list of Germany “must see” places. Here are five of my favorite reasons to visit Cologne.
The Cologne Cathedral
It’s impossible not to notice the Cologne Cathedral as it can be seen from almost every point in the city. Construction on this magnificent Gothic structure began in 1248 and was completed 632 years later in 1880. Cologne’s skyline has been dominated by the Cathedral’s awe-inspiring filigree twin spires since their completion in 1880.
Some would say it’s a miracle the Cologne Cathedral is still standing considering the city was hit with 262 bombs during World War II. Fourteen of those bombs hit the cathedral—yet it survived. In 1996, the UNESCO declared the Cologne Cathedral a World Heritage site due to the building’s impressive Gothic architecture, the shrine of the Three Wise Men, the outstanding stained-glass windows and the many other important works of art. When you visit, be sure to check out all the gargoyles on the Cathedral’s exterior. It is said one represents its sculptor’s mother-in-law. I’m fairly certain that’s not a compliment.
Cologne’s Historic Old Town
The rustic narrow alleyways of Cologne’s historic old town are lined with traditional houses where you’ll find numerous restaurants, breweries and pubs. It’s an ideal place to enjoy a draft Kölsch beer, Cologne’s iconic brew. The beer is served in specifically designed small glasses, but be warned, your server will continue to fill that little glass until you signal that you’re done by placing a coaster over the top of the glass.
Monuments and fountains are plentiful throughout Old Town—each with a story to tell about this 2,000-year-old city. A number of historical remains such as the Archeological Zone, the Old St. Alban Memorial, and the Stapelhaus provide a window into the city’s past.
Between the square of Rathausplatz and Alter Markt stands the Old Town Hall Tower. Famous for its loggia, the late Gothic style tower showcases an impressive 130 stone statues. On the opposite side of the tower, you’ll find the infamous "Platzjabbeck", a wooden face sculpture which opens its mouth and sticks out its tongue when the tower clock strikes the hour.
The Chocolate Museum
I’m always a fan of finding chocolate in a destination and Cologne doesn’t disappoint. In fact, Cologne honors all things chocolate at Schokoladenmuseum—the Chocolate Museum. The origin of chocolate along with the cocoa-growing process are showcased through high-tech exhibits. There’s a live-production factory tour and, of course, a stop at a chocolate fountain for a sample (or three). Don’t even think about trying to leave without buying some chocolate—it’s virtually impossible.
The Farina Fragrance Museum
Did you know that Eau de Cologne was first concocted in Cologne? Although there are many myths and mysteries surrounding the history of Eau de Cologne, most sources agree it was originally created by a 23-year-old Italian named Johann Maria Farina who had learned the art of perfume-making from his grandmother. Farina had moved to Cologne where he created the new citrusy scent in 1708 and named it for his newly adopted hometown.
For over 300 years, this tradition has continued with the Farina family still creating the scent using the original secret formula. You can learn about the history of this and other perfumes with a guided tour of the Farina Fragrance Museum. You’ll be doing some interactive sniffing along the way and will leave smelling better than you did when you arrived.
The Fifth Season – Carnival
On the 11th of November at precisely 11:11, Carnival of Cologne kicks off at Heumarket in Old Town. The Cologne Carnival is one of the world’s largest and most well-known carnival celebrations. It’s considered the “Fifth Season” and a fun season it is with parades, songs, costumes and plenty of pub based celebrations.
Carnival celebrates centuries of cultural traditions like the world famous “Stippeföttchen-Tanz” of the Rote Funken, a dance that parodies the strict life of soldiers. From the kick-off on November 11th, the Fifth Season continues through the winter with over 600 shows, balls and parades.
Cologne’s Carnival is an authentic folk festival that stretches across all social classes. It is characterized by a tolerance that allows everyone to be happy—in whatever manner that happiness comes. Its motto is “Jede Jeck es anders” which means “every fool is different” – a slogan that is taken to heart in Cologne all year long.
Have you been to Cologne? What were your favorite experiences?
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