Cologne is a short train ride from the airport (between 15 & 25 minutes) via either the ‘S-bahn’ or ‘Regio’ services provided by Deutsch Bahn. There are approximately 5 trains an hour, with the ‘S-bahn’ services every 20 minutes and the two ‘Regio’ services being hourly. Unfortunately, this means that the intervals between services aren’t evenly spaced and some trains may arrive at the airport first but depart after another service. There are however electronic displays and paper timetables on all platforms, so providing you double check, you shouldn’t go wrong.
I was lucky enough to catch one of the infrequent ‘Regio’ services and so the first stop after the airport was Cologne’s Hauptbahnhof or Central station, just 15 minutes after leaving the airport. The approach to the Hauptbahnhof from the south is impressive with trains crossing the river Rhine by way of the Hohenzollern bridge and arriving into the station’s amazingly re-constructed train shed under the shadow of Cologne’s cathedral. Cologne was heavily bombed during World War 2 and as a result the station, as well as the bridged approach were both heavily damaged. Whilst it took a prolonged period of time for the station to be rebuilt (compared to the Cathedral it was still nothing – keep reading), the rebuilt station is reminiscent of Victorian era train sheds in Britain and a great improvement over many stations built in the 1950s and 60s.
Originally my plan had been to head to the Chocolate Museum first and then to the Eigelsteintor where I was meeting my walking tour. Unfortunately having just missed a train at the airport, I had a little over an hour before the tour started, and with the Chocolate Museum & meeting point being in opposite directions, I chose to just explore the area around the Cathedral whilst heading towards the Eigelsteintor. Just a short walk from the Cathedral there is another large Catholic church, which turned out to be the church of St. Andrew. The church was initially consecrated in 974, however was re-built in the Romanesque style in the 12th century. Since 1947 the church has been ministered by the Dominican order. Just around the corner from the front of the church, I was able to get an interesting view of the Cathedral rising from behind the residential buildings.
Meeting the walking tour (Freewalk Cologne) under the Eigelsteintor, we were provided with some of the history of the city, and the gate itself, which is one of three that remain in the city along with the Hahnentor and the Severinstor. The gates are part of the city’s medieval fortifications, however, were only in use for a short period before the city developed further and expanded beyond them. In one of the parts of the gate there was a wooden boat hanging from the roof, which is a lifeboat from the SMS Cöln, a three-year-old German naval vessel that was destroyed in World War 1 during the Battle of Heligoland.
Heading south again with the tour, we passed back under the railway lines by way of a very interestingly lit bridge and headed down Marzellenstrasse to outside the Cologne Hilton hotel. Opposite the Hilton is the church of St. Mary of the Assumption, a 17th century church that was at one point the largest church in Cologne after the Cathedral. The church was almost destroyed during World War 2, however was rebuilt and restored to its original condition and there is a small display about the restoration and rebuild inside the church. During my travels I have visited many churches of different denominations, however this church has possibly the most stunning interior I have seen!
Continuing on we arrived back at the square in front of the Cathedral and I was astounded to discover just how long it had taken to complete. Construction work started on the Cathedral in 1248 however was halted in 1473 as the project ran out of money. The Cathedral stood, unfinished, for almost 400 years before work re-started in the 1840s with the Cathedral finally being finished in 1880! Constructed with sandstone and limestone, the Cathedral was initially quite pale in colour, however with the adjacent Hauptbahnhof opening in 1859 the porous nature of the structure the building has absorbed the smoke and pollution from the railway and over time gained its much darker colour. If you head to the south side of the Cathedral, it is a much lighter colour than the north side that is closest to the railway.
Since 1996 the Cathedral has been a UNESCO World Heritage site and in 2004 it was placed on the “World Heritage in Danger” list due to plans for a high-rise building to be constructed nearby. In 2006, following the local authority’s decision to limit the height of buildings built nearby, the Cathedral was removed from the list. Oddly for a world heritage site, or any important building, the Cathedral’s street address is number 4 and not number 1.
Just south of the Cathedral is the Heinzelmännchenbrunnen, or fountain of the Heinzelmännchen. The fountain depicts the legend of the gnome like creatures who are said to have done all the work of the citizens of Cologne during the night so that the residents could be lazy during the day. This continued until a tailor’s wife became so curious to see the gnomes that she scattered peas onto the floor of the workshop to cause the gnomes to slip. Becoming angry, the gnomes disappeared never to return, meaning that the residents of Cologne had to do their own work from then on.
One of the final stops on the walking tour was to Domplatz, a small square near the Altermarkt. In Domplatz is a monument called the Schmitzsäule or Schmitz Column which is a monument dedicated to all the people in the world with the surname Schmitz. Supposedly there was uncertainty on what to put of one of the sides of the column and so, with the monument being finished in 1969, it was decided to commemorate the major event of that year, the Mood Landings. Yes, there is a monument to the Moon Landings in a random small square in Cologne! With the existence of the monument alone being amusing, the inscription adds to the amusement as it describes the distance to the moon in great detail as 389994km and 100m. The final sentence on the column states “Neil A Armstrong, Wernher von Braun and NASA took note of the pillar and inscription gratefully”.
Finishing the tour near Heumarkt, I headed straight to the Chocolate museum. Whilst I now hadn’t really got time to do the museum itself justice, I was under strict instructions to bring back chocolate and so headed straight to the museum shop! Finding the wonderfully named product “Happy Cups”, I headed back outside and took a selfie with possibly the largest Lindt bunny I had seen (about 6 foot tall). That was until I looked up and saw an even larger bunny on the roof of the museum!
With my time in the city running out, and my stomach complaining that it was hungry, I headed to the ‘U-Bahn’ to head across towards Hahnentor and the top “Cheap Eat” in Cologne according to TripAdvisor. Cologne’s ‘U-Bahn’ is unusual, well at least to me, in that rather than being a completely segregate metro system, it is essentially a tram system that at some points runs in tunnels under the city. Whilst I could have easily walked the two stops to the Rudolfplatz stop, I took the ‘U-Bahn’ as I was exhausted after the walking tour earlier in the day.
Mad Dogs Hotdogs (their website is here!) is rated number 1 out of 2,075 restaurants on TripAdvisor and has only 19 reviews (of 148) which aren’t ‘Excellent’ and only 1 of those is ‘Terrible’ or ‘Poor’. Mad Dogs has 10 different hot dog options ranging from a traditional ‘Curry Wurst’ to an Italian style ‘Bella Italia’. Of the 10 options, seven are also available as vegetarian hot dogs and there are also a range of fries and salads available. I opted for the ‘Curry Dog’ which although not the best hot dog I have ever had, especially in Germany, was nice and at €6 for that and a drink was relatively cheap!
With my time in Cologne running out, I headed back to the ‘U-Bahn’ and Hansaring station for a train to the airport. As with my previous visits to the city I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cologne, and I am still finding more things to do and learning more and more about the city each time I visit. I would certainly recommend visiting Cologne if you have the opportunity and you can travel to the city easily with its air and rail connections. From the UK there are flights from seven different airports with four different airlines and you can get return flights for less than £20 if you travel at the right time!