The capital of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia and the largest city on the Rhine, Cologne seems to have it all, including a convenient location: Brussels, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Paris are all four hours by train, so it’s worth dropping by for a visit to see and experience all the city has to offer: from the famous cathedral and the Rhine promenades to the ubiquitous 0.2L Kölsch beer glasses (and the unusual serving habits!) and its famously hospitable & warm residents. Follow these tips by Cologne locals and get a taste of why some call Cologne Italy’s northernmost city!
Neighborhood gathering point
Cologne has plenty of beer gardens and outdoor drinking locations, but this one’s local Marcel’s favorite. Leafy Rathenauplatz is mainly used as a neighborhood park and meeting point, and even when it gets crowded in summer (it’s a popular public viewing spot for international football events), it never feels hectic or unpleasant. That’s mainly because the community takes care of it itself — they operate the beer garden and there’s even a book-swap shelf and a boules field. Get a snack from one of the surrounding shops & restaurants and have a seat on a bench or on the grass!
A postcard for every taste
Germany’s biggest treasure trove for postcards is right in Cologne! Around 50,000 postcards are said to be stored in W. Königs Postkartenladen (or postcard shop). It has two floors, and on the first floor you’ll find a modern gift and souvenir shop, but it’s on the second floor where it’s truly at. Take your time and browse through the vintage cardboards with yellowed hand-written index cards that are somehow reminiscent of old videoclubs and you’re bound to find something a card you just won’t be able to leave behind.
Α bar in a ‘shared apartment’
Wohngemeinschaft literally means shared apartment, and this hostel bar is modeled after an international common living area complete with 16 different rooms. With its fair prices, cool ambience, live music nights, travel presentations and language exchange evenings, it not only attracts open-minded and social travelers, but also a lot of locals!
Reclaiming the neighborhood kiosk
The kiosk, or büdchen, located at the corner of Remigiusstrasse and Lotharstrasse in Sülz is the “Büdchen” of local Julia’s childhood. As she grew older, the kiosk was getting shabbier, until one days it closed down. However, it was taken up by the neighborhood, including Julia, and now they’re running it together and organising small concerts, art exhibitions and of course always selling coffee, ice cream and sweets with a smile. It has brought together neighbors and created new bonds — a true gem in this overly commercialised and impersonal age.
A modern traditional restaurant
When local Stephan feels hungrier than usual, he heads out to Bei Oma Kleinmann (Granny Kleinmann’s). Here they specialise in schnitzel in all its shapes and forms, and they even have a few vegetarian varieties! They also have weekly seasonal specials like chanterelles, asparagus or roast goose. You can either make a reservation or do a walk-in and wait in line at the homely old beer bar with a Kölsch (or two) in hand.
A true underground rock ‘n’ roll bar
Ehrenfeld has gained a reputation for being the coolest, punk-est (or, let’s face it, more Berlin-like) of Cologne’s neighborhoods. The Sonic Ballroom is one of the staples in the rock’n’roll topography of the district, and whereas other nearby venues take more of a pop-rock approach, this one’s remains firmly in the hand of the (true) underground. Punters range from punks with mohawks to metalheads — and a concert schedule to match. Come here for your fix of electric guitars, sweat and cheap beer.
Memorials to armed resistance against Hitler
While we’re still in Ehrenfeld, you can find murals and memorial plaques next to the train station dedicated to the Edelweißpiraten. This was a loosely knit youth-group that had been organised to oppose the predominance of the Hitler Youth. Thirteen of them, including several teenagers and Hans Steinbrück, their leader, were executed without trial in a public hanging in the very same area where the memorials stand today on November 10, 1944. Another annual tribute to them is the Edelweißpiratenfestival, a music and culture festival held in the Friedenspark in the south of the city.
Cologne’s best viewpoint
If you’re in Cologne, chances are that at some point you’ll try to take a shot of the beautiful Rhine and its riverside promenade together with the Dom (the Cathedral) and the rest of the cityscape. There’s no better place to do that than from somewhere up high, and more specifically the KölnTriangle, a skyscraper on the other side of the Rhine. From the viewing platform not only do you get a 360° view of the Dom, the old city and the other areas of Cologne, there’s also information on what you’re seeing.
For more local favorites to add to your Eurail itinerary, check out Spotted by Locals.