‘What shouldn‘t we miss out on when we visit Cologne?” This is a question my friends asked me, when they were planning to visit my home city for the weekend. And I did not know where on earth to start.
What I have learnt about Cologne, after knowing the city more or less all my life, is that it does not have just one face, one style or one mood. Cologne is diverse and full of surprises, even after all these years. Whether you discover a beach on the roof of a parking deck, come across little forests and green parks in the middle of the town that take you away from the rush of the metropolis, or experience the Kölner (residents of Cologne) singing songs in their Cologne dialect in the middle of a tram to express their love for the city, there is a lot of variety.
In 2012 I moved from Aachen (half an hour outside Cologne) to the city centre to be close to the University. Since then, Cologne has become my home and it has given me a lot of fantastic memories. The summer is one of the best times to spend in the city. With temperatures rising over 20°C, students often leave their houses to have a BBQ or picnic with friends in one of the parks (eg Aachener Weiher) or directly on the River Rhine.
Of course, our ‘water of life’, known as Kölsch, is the beer brewed in Cologne and should also not be missed. There are several brewing companies in Cologne that have their own kind of Kölsch and you can get the beer in pretty much every single bar. Find out which one is your favourite! If you are after a fast refreshment, however, you can grab a bottle in one of the little Büdchen (like a kiosk) on your way. Or you can use this opportunity to make new friends in Cologne: the Kölner are very friendly and outgoing and do not mind sharing their stock of Kölsch with old and new friends alike.
People from all over the world with a spectrum of different backgrounds come to this city to find their luck, or just to stay for a little while and enjoy the special atmosphere. The variety of cultures and lifestyles on the one hand, and the tolerance and solidarity on the other, are some of the greatest strengths of the city.
The River Rhine divides the city into two halves. A walk along the river is in any case worth it. You can change sides by crossing one of the many bridges: the most famous one is probably the Hohenzollernbrücke, which is next to the Dom and central station, because of its love-locks. Couples put locks on the bridge (if they can find any space!) and throw the key in the Rhine as symbol of eternal love. The Dom itself is an impressive gothic cathedral and the landmark of the city. If you are feeling sporty, you can climb more than 500 steps to the top. You will be rewarded with a beautiful view over the city.
The veedel (districts) Ehrenfeld and Belgisches Viertel are the new up and coming, alternative places to hang out. Little bars and restaurants entice you over to enjoy their extraordinary meals and drinks outside in the summer. There are many good parties here also, accommodating for all different music tastes. My favourite one is the 80s/90s party in the Livemusichall (Ehrenfeld). Most of the veedel in Cologne are almost like their own little towns in their own right. At Christmas time, almost every veedel has its own Christmas-market and hopping from one market to the other has become a tradition for me and my friends. All districts have their own special atmosphere and it is worth leaving the touristy areas to explore these alternative places and make Cologne your own during your visit.
[Image: Caroline Dohmen]