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The Japanese are allegedly the most likely to succumb to the so-called ‘Paris Syndrome’. The metropolis by the Seine is, due to its heavily romanticized image as the city of love, art and elegant savoir-vivre, often held up to such high expectations that visitors are almost bound to be disappointed. In Cologne, however, the situation is the exact opposite. Germany’s fourth largest city almost always sells itself short. So you’d be surprised…
Arriving at Cologne’s main station after just a 15 minute train journey from the Cologne/Bonn Airport, visitors are greeted by the Cologne Cathedral with its plurality of sophisticated superlatives. The monumental cathedral has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, and its height of 157.38 meters makes it the third tallest church building in the world. Its construction took 632 years from start to finish: it was initiated back in the 13th century, but due to a construction freeze it wasn’t completed until the 19th century. Indeed, the construction site of the cathedral defined the image of the city for 300 years, and supposedly gave rise to the ironic saying: “If the Cathedral is finished, the end of the world is coming”. So the cliché of German efficiency certainly doesn’t originate from Cologne.
A visit to the cathedral is in many regards an impressive experience. Gazing up at the grandiose façade will make anyone’s jaw drop. Which is not surprising, since the western front, along with the two towers, covers an area of 7100 square meters. Of course, the Gothic structure has to be viewed from the inside as well, and this can be achieved without miles of queues at the entrance, admission fees or security procedures. So you’ll have even more time to enjoy some of the city’s fine street art, shopping, culture and entertainments – or to experience the stunning silhouette of the cathedral city from the bird’s-eye view of Cologne’s cable cars. The cable network that takes you across the Rhine and connects the banks of the Riehl and Deutz districts was instituted in 1957 on the occasion of the Federal Horticultural Exhibition, and can be enjoyed in the warmer months of the year from March to October. And if you’re in Cologne during the colder months, you can behold an equally impressive view from the KölnTrianglePanorama. The 100 meter tall observation deck on the roof of an office building offers a spectacular 360o view over the city and the cathedral.
A more down-to-earth experience can be enjoyed in the Romano-Germanic Museum. Here you can admire many fascinating vestiges of the city’s two thousand years of history, such as the tomb of the Poblicius, discovered in the 1960s. The museum’s architecture is in itself also worth a visit. The large rectangular block next to the ornate cathedral with its modern and splendid glass cabinets is hard to overlook. Then for something different, the highly enticing combination of visiting a museum and tasting delicious chocolate can be fulfilled at the Chocolate Museum in the Rheinauhafen. This dreamily delicious museum illustrates the fascinating journey from cocoa bean to packaged chocolate bar. In addition to the various presentations about the past and present of cocoa and chocolate, the museum offers tours, tasting sessions and even chocolate classes.
To work off some of those chocolaty calories, an energetic stroll up and down Cologne’s largest shopping street, the Schildergasse, comes highly recommended; though younger and more individualistic shopping fans may want to visit the district of the Belgische Viertel instead. The “Chic Belgique” collective was founded more than ten years ago with the objective of making the shops in the area better known. Packed tightly side-by-side, these shops are full of unusual jewellery, bikes, vintage furniture and hip fashion, while others offer street art and excellent food. Since 2009, the creative potential of the Belgian District can be admired at the “le bloc” fashion and design festival, which takes place in June and features concerts, readings, workshops, studio tours, exhibitions and much more. And surprise: admission is free!
For a casual finish to a day full of sightseeing and shopping, the Brauhaus Früh by the cathedral is a great option. Or if you feel like going someplace hip, we recommend the Bar Arty Farty with its incorporated art space on Maastrichter Straße.
Wherever you happen to go, and whatever you do, it’s unlikely that you’ll feel either drained or stressed in Cologne, but probably more like a little bit in love. This feeling may be influenced by the city’s signature Kölsch beer, or simply by the irresistible flair of the place itself.