Unlike many place names, Cologne sounds cool and positively fragrant. It originates from Colonia, an important Roman town and the fragrance comes from the time of Napoleon. The German name Köln sounds equally cool and in the local Kölsch dialect it’s Kölle.
It’s situated on the wide and gently curving river Rhine – der Rhein – and if you’re arriving by train from the north or east, you will cross the river on the magnificent railway bridge – die Hohenzollernbrücke.
Before I write any more, I have to say that as a visitor, I prefer to explore rather than be told where to go. I also don’t enjoy being overloaded with historical information. My motto is: experience first, facts later.
Having said that, it’s not bad to have a few clues of places to see and a few tips for visitors – Besuchertipps – so read on.
Let’s go back to that railway bridge, and the train moving across it, and between the criss-cross girders, there’s the magnificent wide river and then Cologne Cathedral – der Kölner Dom.
The train stops at the Hauptbahnhof – the main station. Be sure to go to the front of the station, not the rear as I did – and as you walk into the entrance hall, there is the Kölner Dom in all its glory, filling the massive plate glass windows.
Out of the station, into the pedestrianised square, then up the steps and you’re standing in front of one of the most incredible feats of medieval engineering in the world. Cologne Cathedral is gigantic, overwhelming. Try to imagine how it must have appeared hundreds of years ago. Like many cathedrals it took centuries to build.
Inside, as you look towards the altar, your eyes are drawn upwards. It seems twice the height you’d expect. Most of north Germany is Lutheran but Cologne – roughly in the middle to the west, not far from Belgium – is Roman Catholic. That affects the character of the churches and the city itself. It’s difficult to describe, so I’m not going to try!
For a bird’s eye view of Cologne, it’s possible to climb the tower, but it’s only open until five.
If you look at photos of Cologne, you’ll notice the cathedral is often paired up with the railway bridge. That’s one of the unique aspects of the city. I can’t think of any other combination like this. Cologne is known as the ‘Domstadt‘ – the cathedral city but it could equally be called ‘die Eisenbahnstadt‘ – the railway city.
The most famous view is the one of the Cathedral and the railway bridge at dusk from the other side of the river. We walk onto the bridge along the pedestrian walkway past thousands of padlocks attached to the railing. Following an Italian tradition, the padlocks are left by couples as a permanent symbol of their love. The trains pass very close on the other side of the fence. It’s practically low enough to jump over. In many other countries that would be considered a security risk. Here in Germany it’s not a problem, it seems.
Now on the east side of the river, we look back towards the cathedral and we can see one of the most famous views in Germany.
At first sight the cathedral is a lot smaller than I was expecting. That’s because the river is wide. The distance is about 600m or half a mile. You need to zoom right into the view. I have a powerful zoom lens on my Canon DSLR.
Placing the camera on the stone wall – I never carry a tripod – I hold the camera firm on the stone and take a number of exposures. I’m very pleased with the view and happy that I’ve finally taken that classic shot of Cologne myself.
All the light has drained from the sky now, so it’s time to make our way back for something to east – the station has all kinds of shops and restaurants and they stay open very late.
That’s all from Cologne – Köln. This is truly a fantastic city and there’s plenty more to see but we’ll leave that for another day.