I have to be honest. Germany has never really been on my radar on the “list of countries to visit before I die.” It wasn’t until my friend decided to surprise me with a trip to Cologne that I started thinking about the European super power. We skipped the hustle and bustle of Berlin and Munich and settled for quaint little Cologne for a quick visit. Despite the compactness of the city, it still claims to be the fourth largest city in Germany. I didn’t think any other city could topple Amsterdam as the most pedestrian friendly place in the world, but Cologne is right up there with Amsterdam and London.
I was pleasantly surprised at how easily we could navigate through the city. We hopped on the S13 train from Bonn Airport and got off at Cologne Central Station and started our exploration of the city. On exiting the station, you are confronted with one of THE most gigantic cathedrals in the world! The gothic architecture and sheer size of the cathedral dates back to 1248 AD, making it one of the oldest churches in the world, not to mention a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One can’t help but be amazed by the medieval structure. I couldn’t help but think about all the worldly events that church had stood witness to, all the wars, the famines, the persecutions and the festivals. So much history in such a small place…
One of the best things about the Cologne central is its proximity to some extraordinary museums. If you are into history and art like me, then I suggest you head to the Ludwig Museum that houses some 350 works of modern art including some of Pablo Picasso’s finest work. Not far from the Ludwig museum is the Wallraf- Richartz Museum, which boasts of the most extensive collection of medieval Cologne paintings, apart from the Old Pinakothek in Munich, as well as precious works from the time around 1500. Flemish and Dutch masters of the 16th to the 18th century, Rembrandt and Rubens included, are also represented as is a collection of German and French paintings from the beginnings of the modern era until 1900.
If modern art isn’t really your cup of tea, then there is the Roman- Germanic Museum that displays an impressive collection of sculptures and cultural artefacts from medieval Rome and Cologne. But if there was one museum, I was most excited to see, it was the Imhoff Schokoladenmuseum , A.K.A – The Lindt Chocolate Museum!
Talk about being a kid in a candy store!
The museum, over-looking the river Rhine, is nothing short of paradise for all chocolate lovers. The museum, takes us through the history of chocolate, from the picking of the cocoa beans in South America to the final product – the Lindt bar that we all know and love so much. The museum/factory showcases all stages of the life of the humble cocoa in becoming what was once termed the “Food of the Gods.” Don’t fret! You do get samples of your favourite chocolate and there’s plenty of it on sale if you wish to buy a box or two. And if you are lucky, you just might be invited for a chocolate decorating tutorial session. Let’s face it, this is the closest that any of us will come to living our very own version of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!’
If you are in Germany, there are certain foods you just have to try. Germany is famous for its sausages and potato dishes, and it is also the birthplace of the now ‘All American Burger’. Remember Hamburger…it originated from Hamburg in Germany. For me, that must try food was- A Pretzel! Yes, a pretzel. I had waited 23 years of my life to have a pretzel and to have one that was authentically German and freshly baked from the oven was worth it!
A trip to Cologne is simply not complete without stroll along the Hohenzollernbrücke bridge. On walking animatedly through the busy crowd along the bridge, I noticed literally thousands of love padlocks on the fence between the footpath and the railway lines. The feeling of love was truly in the air…. The bridge has become something of an institution in Cologne. The padlocks alone were a big tourist attraction. It has become something of a tradition to leave a lock behind whether with your lover or just for the love of Cologne. I didn’t end up placing a love lock on the bridge, but then again, there’s always next time!