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Did You Know … ?
- The Cologne Cathedral, started in 1248, took 632 years to complete; for 282 years, nothing happened.
- Farina, in Cologne, is the world’s oldest fragrance house (1709).
- Cologne boasts Germany’s oldest town hall, a Gothic building dating back at least to 1135.
- The Cologne Cathedral was the world’s tallest structure from 1880 to 1889 (515 feet).
- Cologne was the birthplace of composer Jacques Offenbach, who signed his letters “O. de Cologne.”
Cologne and (un)common scents
A city of about a million located on the Rhine in western Germany, Cologne has the potential to appeal to visitors on several levels — literally.
Those levels are historical. Founded by the Romans about 2,000 years ago, the city was an important outpost on the perimeter of the empire. That era yields for modern archaeologists, and ultimately, tourists, a gold mine of Roman mosaics and other artifacts from a level a few feet below the typical street level today. A number of important finds are visible to the stroller or in museums.
In the next key era, medieval times, Cologne became the largest city in the Holy Roman Empire. It flourished as a center for pilgrims because of the evocative tale of St. Ursula and 10, 11 or 11,000 virgins — there are amazing differences to this story — who were believed to have been martyred here for their faith. As a result, the city, even today, is chockablock with churches built around relics in the Middle Ages. One of those is the world-renowned cathedral itself.
The third layer is Cologne’s modern face, sometimes attractive and sometimes jarring in a metropolis of such historic value. During World War II, 90% of the city center was destroyed. Locals did what they could to recapture Cologne’s soul, rebuilding the things that mattered most, including many churches, the historic Gothic Town Hall and even parts of the cathedral itself.
The Old Town area, characterized by small, sometimes brightly painted houses, remains charming; it is sometimes hard to know which of its buildings were completely rebuilt and which were among the few survivors. The Old Town today is one of the city’s popular areas for restaurants and bars. Beer fanciers know they must try Kolsch, the local brand.
Cologne also boasts about its numerous museums, which highlight history (religious and secular), art, even chocolate. It hosts Carnival, other festivals and, in early winter, six Christmas markets. Finally, it is the city that gave its name to eau de cologne. Two companies — Farina and 4711 — still make their perfumes; they offer small museum-type displays in their establishments, as well.
Things to do for Venturers
- Compete in the Ford Cologne Marathon, which occurs in the fall.
- Attend Cologne’s Carnival. The annual event starts on a Thursday with Weiberfastnacht, a day when women assume control. Carnival climaxes with a colorful procession across the city center on the Monday before Lent.
- Make the rounds of the clubs. The main clubbing area centers on Zulpicher Strasse and Luxemburger Strasse and offers a range of music types to fit a range of budgets, as well.
- Walk the entire extent of the medieval city walls, nearly five miles, by following the streets with names ending in the word wall.
- Attend Europe’s largest reggae festival, Summerjam, in July in Cologne.
- Climb the 509 steps up the cathedral’s south tower for access to a gallery 312 feet above the street and sweeping views of the city and the Rhine.
Things to do for Centrics
- Explore the city’s Roman history at the Romano-Germanic Museum. Pay special attention to the visible parts of the Dionysus Mosaic. It measures 23 feet by nearly 35 feet, much of which extends unseen below the plaza south of the cathedral.
- Shop in the Christmas markets. There are six, but look at the one next to the cathedral and also the medieval market next to the Chocolate Museum.
- See modern art at the Ludwig Museum.
- Sample the local Kolsch at any number of pubs. Also, sample the most typical Cologne snack, halve hahn, a bread roll with cheese and mustard, considered a good accompaniment for beer.
- Go underground to get a closer look at what the Romans built. See ruins of the Praetorium (governor’s palace) under the historic City Hall. Also, parts of the Roman walls can be seen on entering the parking space that is under ground in front of the cathedral.
- Or see the city from the sky, by taking a cable car ride across the Rhine.
Things to do for Authentics
- Shop on Hohe Strasse, which is described as Germany’s most popular shopping street.
- See the lighted cathedral at night.
- Sample the chocolate that flows from a fountain at the Imhoff-Stollwerck Museum. First, tour the museum to learn more about the history of chocolate, a New World plant.
- Of course, buy perfume.
- Take a sightseeing cruise on the Rhine. You can take a short daytime excursion or a longer evening trip with buffet, drinks and dancing.
- Follow a medieval trail of sorts, taking in some of the Twelve Romanesque Churches, the surviving city gates, the Gothic City Hall and other points, but, naturally, giving special attention to the Cologne Cathedral.
For more information, consult the Cologne Tourist Board at www.cologne-tourism.com