Coming to Cologne always is a bit like coming home, at least for me. Even though I have only spent a little more than six months in total in Cologne, the city on the Rhine has conquered a place deep in my heart. Even now, almost two decades later, I immediately have a pleasant feeling when spotting the spires of Cologne Cathedral on the horizon. First and foremost, the warm and open nature of the Rhinelanders turns Cologne into one of my favourite cities. It is a place of many good memories already that I would like to add many more to this weekend.
To me, coming to Cologne means seeing the cathedral first of all things. As my hotel is right next to the Rheinauhafen, I decide to take a walk along the river with its famous crane houses, three ultra-modern structures shaped like an upside-down L that are modelled after the shipping cranes on the Rhine. I’m rather astonished at how much has changed since I last came down here. Strolling across the Severinsbrücke to the other bank – the Schäl Sick, or the “wrong” side of the Rhine according to Cologne, I continue on along the Deutzer Werft, where a few skaters and roller skate dancers are already busy this afternoon, practicing their tricks on smooth asphalt. If I had had my way, I would have joined them right away. The most beautiful view of the old town of Cologne, the cathedral, and the Hohenzollernbrücke is afforded from the viewing steps on Kennedyufer banks, also known as the Rhine Boulevard, where I sit for a while to watch the passing excursion boats, passers-by and a few photo shoots for family albums. “Nä wat es dat schön”, (oh, but this is beautiful) I think, smiling a little at myself. I’ve barely been in Cologne for five minutes and already have Cologne sayings spring to mind again.
The first love locks had been put on the Hohenzollernbrücke even then. Now, they are adding bright spots of colour to the crosswalk. Vows of love are placed wherever one looks. It may seem corny, but secretly I also find it kind of beautiful to think about the many stories hidden behind all of these couples.
Of course, I have dinner in a brewery – and not any brewery either. Johann Schäfer differs from traditional breweries by merging tradition and modern achievements. The dishes here are meant to be shared: tapas style “op Kölsch”. Sauerkraut with bacon and grapes, roast crust with strong beer sauce and sweet potato with chili are some of my favourites. “From head to hoof” is the motto here. In other words, the animal is used as fully as possible. Vegetarians and vegans will also find plenty of vegetables. A brewery would hardly deserve the name if it didn’t also have some of its own beer. I am surprised to find that it’s not Kölsch, but “Südstadt Pils” and “Chlodwig Weizen” here. This is a great place to linger.
My next morning is dedicated entirely to art, starting at the hotel already: The Artotel Cologne is a design hotel and art gallery in one, housing more than 300 works by Korean artist SEO. The corridors, rooms, and breakfast room all sport impressive rice paper paintings in their vibrant colours. After breakfast I visit the Museum Ludwig right next to the Cologne Cathedral. The building is impressive all on its own, with a wave-shaped roof covering not only the art gallery, but also the Cologne Philharmonic Hall. A mix of Pop Art, Expressionism, and Russian avant-garde makes the Museum Ludwig’s collection of more than 70,000 works one of the most important ones in the world. I particularly enjoy works by Warhol, Klein, and a huge Picasso diptych. I could have stayed in those rooms forever, if it wasn’t for the second museum I plan to visit today.
The MAKK – short for Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln – offers a dialogue of art and design in its exhibition. De Stijl furniture meets Piet Mondrian lithographs and famous cantilever chairs by Marcel Breuer are combined with a relief by Oskar Schlemmer here, causing incredibly exciting contexts and contrasts to emerge. This place makes clear just how much art and design have always caused, inspired, and fertilised each other throughout history, to the point of blurring the lines at times. As a designer, I find the tour of the two floors truly fascinating. It is, by the way, also available online.
Cologne’s old radio station is just a five-minute walk from the MAKK. Built in the 1950s, it used to be Europe’s most modern broadcasting centre. Now, it is a piece of West German broadcasting history, with the first floor still housing the Funkhaus Café, furnished in the style of the 1950s and forming a perfect lunch spot in the middle of downtown Cologne.
The sky is a bright blue, the sun is shining, and I decide that I just have to spend my afternoon outdoors. I love visiting botanical gardens and greenhouses on city trips, taking short breaks from the urban jungle. I’ve never been to the Cologne Flora before, and it’s really about time that I go there! Even the entrance forms an impressive picture, with a brightly coloured carpet of flowers, a fountain, and the festival house in the background. I spend some time strolling through the greenery, past ponds, small water features, sculptures, and vegetable gardens. The Flora houses more than 10,000 native and exotic plants. The “Dank Augusta” café will let visitors pack their own picnic baskets for their stay. I just take a lemonade and sit on a park bench to draw and let my day end here peacefully.
I have booked a table at Ristorante Toscanani for dinner. The place is famous throughout Cologne, offering not only what is supposed to be the best pizza in town, but also fresh homemade pasta and great salads. Vegan pizzas are on the menu as well.
The next morning I meet Sascha Klein from CityLeaks in the Cologne district of Ehrenfeld for a little street art tour. The neighbourhood has been famous for its colourful murals, paste-ups, and all kinds of other street art for many years. Sascha tells me a lot about the history of urban art in Ehrenfeld and the industrial past of the “Veedel” (quarter) as we walk past brightly coloured walls near the well-known Cologne collective Captain Borderline and a huge mural painted my favourite artist ROA, who produces rather macabre depictions of animals and whose rabbit caused quite a stir back in the day. Many of these large murals were created during one of the CityLeaks Urban Art Festivals that are usually held every other year. A large wall under a bridge commemorates the Edelweißpiraten, part of the resistance in Ehrenfeld during World War II. Some of them were murdered by the Nazis. The tour also leads through the busy Körnerstrasse, teeming with charming little pieces of art, including crocheted bollards, planted trash cans, and bulletin boards set up on trees as miniature galleries. After saying goodbye to Sascha, I put in a small coffee stop at the Van Dyck roastery.
I end my stay in Cologne by having lunch at Wallczka on Stubbelrather Straße. The stylish restaurant offers delicious mezze (with and without meat), good sandwiches, and a changing lunch menu. Fresh lemonade, baked goat cheese, and spicy zucchini albondigas complete my noon in Cologne in the proper way.
Author: Nina Hüpen-Bestendonk – No matter if it’s a city trip, a long-distance trip or a short trip, Nina Hüpen-Bestendonk loves taking pictures. Hailing from the Lower Rhine region, she uses one of her 30 cameras to record her adventures in pictures, texts, and small illustrations on her online blog Smaracuja.