Cologne, the fourth largest city in Germany, is a fascinating and special, modern and multicultural city. The city, which lies on the banks of the Rhine River, holds more than 2,000 years of history and its streets are lined with buildings from the Roman period, Gothic buildings from the late Middle Ages and modern buildings. Over the years, it has become a unique urban life center of Germany, a modern metropolis that houses about a million residents and attracts about 7 million tourists a year.
The city has a unique character and customs that are worth getting to know – festivals, colorful markets and lively night life in the many pubs that serve the local beer “Kalash”. Various museums are scattered throughout the city, including period museums, the chocolate museum and the cologne museum, which you may have already guessed were invented in the city. If you’re lucky enough to arrive during the Christmas period, you’ll find lively markets at every corner, which are a focal point of attraction for many, locals and tourists alike. Cologne is the twin city of Tel Aviv and if you look hard enough you can even find “Tel Aviv” street in the city.
There is no doubt that Cologne, like other cities in Germany, definitely warrants a stop (although not necessarily a long one), if only for the wide variety of attractions it offers.
Cologne was established as a provincial capital of the Roman Empire in 38 BC, thus taking its place as the oldest city in Germany and boasting more than 2,000 years of history. In the late Middle Ages, it was the largest city in Germany, and therefore many Gothic buildings from this period are embedded in it (the largest of them – the Cologne Cathedral). In World War II, Cologne was bombed and almost completely destroyed, and after the war it was quickly restored and brought to its special architectural texture – ancient churches next to modern shopping malls, pointed buildings from the Gothic period next to modern concrete and glass construction.
The two spiers of the cathedral that have adorned the skyline of Cologne for hundreds of years undoubtedly made the cathedral the definitive symbol of the city, and one of the most famous buildings in Germany. If you had visited the cathedral in 1880, you would have seen the tallest building in the world at that time – 157 meters. This is the largest church in Northern Europe.
The cathedral was built over about 600 years. The original architects, from the Middle Ages, planned an ambitious and magnificent building in the Gothic style that would raise the profile of the city and match the fact that it was the Archbishop’s residence. Construction began in the 13th century and ended only in the 19th century, but the architectural line was preserved.
The cathedral is full of cultural and historical treasures and attracts a wide crowd of Christian pilgrims due to the tradition that in the Hall of the Three Kings – a golden temple inside the cathedral, are the remains of the Three Magus – kings who came to witness Jesus’ birth.
Due to the groundbreaking architecture, historical importance and beauty of the cathedral it was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Cologne’s old town is a magical place worth getting lost in. Although it was almost completely destroyed in World War II, the old city has been completely restored and its charm has been preserved. The narrow alleys, the traditional historical buildings, the breweries and the boutique stalls create a special atmosphere. You should start the tour at the historic town hall located between the town hall square and the old market square. This building is famous for its impressive architecture and especially for the beautiful exterior portico built in the Renaissance style.
Here you can also meet the Jewish life that was conducted in the city and in particular in the district where the Jewish ghetto stood. The Jewish community of Cologne is one of the oldest in Northern Europe, and right next to the city hall is the street of the Jews and also the only remnant of this life that was destroyed – the mikvah.
The best recommendation for the Old Town of Cologne is to simply turn up one afternoon and get lost in it.
Just a few minutes’ walk from Cologne Cathedral is this archaeological museum that provides a fascinating glimpse into the city’s historical heritage. The museum displays details of art and archaeological findings from the period when Cologne was the capital of the province and was called “Colonia Agrippina”. There is no doubt that one of the things that makes Cologne the most unique is its rich past that spans thousands of years, and here you can touch its earliest times.
One of the main points of interest in the museum is a beautiful mosaic floor from the second century that was discovered in the excavations conducted in the city during World War II. In fact the entire building was built around this relic that belonged to a Roman villa. Apart from it, you can find ancient jewelry in the museum – Roman and German, glassware, mosaics, pottery, ancient statues and more.
Additional ancient works showing the distinguished status of Cologne during the Middle Ages are displayed in the Schnütgen Museum.
History buffs and those who want to experience the past of Cologne – these are the places for you.
A visit to the Nazi Documentation Center will take us back to one of the saddest periods in Cologne’s past, but one that cannot be ignored. The documentation center of National Socialism is located in a building that was used as the headquarters of the secret police of the Gestapo. It deals with documenting and describing life under the Nazi regime in the city of Cologne and its long-term effects of this period. The museum also serves as a commemorative site of the community’s ancient roots in the city and delving into their rich and vibrant lives in it for about 2,000 years until the war. The Nazi Documentation Center includes a research institute of Cologne Jewry and German anti-Semitism in the Holocaust, a permanent museum where restored documents and detailed timelines and changing exhibitions are displayed.
The building itself also preserves and serves as a museum, the prison cells where the walls are full of scratches and inscriptions left there by the prisoners.
On the eve of World War II, about 20,000 Jews lived in Cologne, most of whom perished in the Holocaust. They were an integral part of the formation of the city and its development and visiting the documentation center and delving into these events are an integral part of the city experience.
Another monument that serves as a reminder of the rich Roman culture that was once here is this ancient building that was part of the city’s fortifications. This tower is the northernmost of nine identical towers with a wall between them, which surrounded the old city. This massive stone structure is beautifully decorated with special geometric patterns and almost 2,000 years after its construction it is still standing strong. Today the tower is surrounded by modern and tall buildings, which makes it stand out even more and is a special point where the main characteristic of the city – a mixture of old and new – is expressed in the strongest way.
There are 12 beautiful Romanesque churches scattered throughout Cologne, but without a doubt the St. Groen Basilica is the most special and perhaps even the strangest of them. The reason for this is that the construction of the basilica continued over four different construction phases, a situation that created a very uneven line that even arouses wonder in some cases. The lower and oldest part was already built in the 12th century, and later parts were added to it, which together created a magnificent portico. If you get close to the walls, you can actually notice the point where the form of construction changed, recognize the stages in which the methods changed, and you can only imagine the way in which the decision was made to build a huge arch on the basis of a Roman wall.
Roman foundations, arches, stained glass windows, columns and period markers from the following centuries that are all signed by a wonderful ten-sided dome – create a unique, strange, wonderful structure and definitely worth a visit.
Of course, despite its rich history, Cologne is not just history. The city is full of contemporary museums, lively pubs, gardens and parks, and much more. It is recommended to see this aspect of the city as well, and not focus solely on the heritage sites. There is no doubt that after a decent sip of weak beer, everything will seem better to you.
This is an ideal museum for lovers of modern and 20th century art. The museum was established following the donation of the Ludwig family’s collections, collections that include works from the 20th century. The building itself, which is located very close to the Cologne Cathedral, was built in the 1980s and stands out from afar with its modern design. Inside you will find a selection of masterpieces from the last century, including paintings by Picasso, avant-garde art, expressionist art and more. Among the many artists whose works can be listed here are Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol (the artist most associated with Pop Art), Kazimir Malevich and more.
On the other side of the Rhine, right in front of the cathedral and the Ludwig Museum, is this skyscraper that is a little over 100 meters high. The reason for this height is that no building in Cologne is allowed to exceed the height of the cathedral, which stands at 157 meters. This skyscraper would not be of interest to anyone who doesn’t work there, if it weren’t for the spectacular view from its top of Cologne as a whole, and the cathedral in particular.
The ascent to the observatory is via a dedicated elevator, and the entrance costs about 3 euros. From there you can watch the Rhine river, the cathedral, the huge communication tower behind it and the old city. It is recommended to arrive relatively early, so that you do not stand in line too long. For those who have time, it is recommended to go to the observation deck at sunset. This is one of the most romantic sights in Cologne.
This is the most recommended area for spending an evening. The Belgian quarter is named after the many streets in its area bearing the names of Belgian cities, and it was founded after Germany’s victory in the war in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Today, it is the trendiest district in the city. It is teeming with cafes, bars, pubs with live performances, cinemas and theaters and what not. If you are looking for a fun, lively and international evening, this is the place for you. This is also the place where the young people of Cologne come, so you can be sure that the atmosphere here will be much lighter than the one you will find in the museums, the cathedral, the churches and the other “heavier” buildings in the city.
This is definitely a unique experience for your trip to Cologne, one that you won’t experience anywhere else. Cologne is the source of the famous cologne, which was a cheap and high-quality substitute for the expensive perfumes that were used until their invention in the 18th century. They were invented by the Italian Joan Farina (Farina) in the same building where the perfume museum is today.
During the 45-minute tour of the building and laboratories, you will be exposed to the working methods, tools and rooms used to produce the perfume. On top of that, you can watch the modern production process of the colon water, as well as compare the original product with its competitors, which fall short of it in terms of quality (or so the original manufacturer claims). A fascinating and unusual experience that you won’t want to miss.
Another experience you will find in Cologne (although here it is not unique only to it), which challenges the heavenly reputation that sometimes goes to museums. This museum was founded by the famous chocolate company Lindt, which created for you Willy Wonka’s factory from “Charlie in the Chocolate Kingdom” (or at least the closest copy). In this museum you can learn about the production process of chocolate, starting with the growing stage of the cocoa beans and ending with the combination of the raw materials leading to the creation of the beloved food.
This is a first-rate educational and culinary experience, which will make you (and your children) run to buy a high-quality chocolate snack as soon as you leave the museum.
As in many other cities that sit on the river, in Cologne too you can sail in boats and ships for a tour along the river, a tour that will both provide you with a unique view of the city on its banks and also bring you to villages, towns and landscapes that are outside of it. There are several companies that provide this service to the banks of the Rhine, and the many tourist agencies will be able to sell you the ticket for all types of sailing.
Many choose the cruise that includes the fishing village of Rodenkirchen, and of course the many famous buildings of Cologne (and the cathedral at the top). The tours are accompanied by a guide who will provide you with interesting details about the places you will pass along the way.
Besides the cologne, Cologne is especially famous for its beer, the Klash. Besides the beer itself, which is an excellent and light beer in every sense, it is important that you know that the ceremony of serving it is just as important as the beer itself. You can find the Klash in every bar and pub throughout the city, and in all of them they will serve it to you in the same ceremonial way. So, how does it work?
First, the server of the klesh is called Köbes, so he is not just a bartender. He walks around the bar with a tray and on it a “wreath” (Kranz) of long 200 ml glasses called Stange, filled with the cold amber liquid. , and mark on your bottom the number of the Stanga you drank. It is important to know that if you do not want them to refill your Stanga, you must put the coaster on your Stanga.