Cologne (locally known as Köln) is a port city that sits on the Rhine River in western Germany, which made it an ideal first stop on the way to Mainz to visit some of Jenn’s relatives. We arrived by train and stayed in a one bedroom Airbnb in the middle of Old Town close to the river. As soon as we walked out of the train station we were in awe of the massive cathedral standing directly in front of us, which is one of the most visited landmarks in the country. The dark gothic exterior looked like something out of Game of Thrones.
Cologne is well known for Kölsch, a light ale brewed by many different beer makers in the area. It’s served in tall, thin .2 liter glasses in brauhauses (bars) all over the city, and at about $2/glass can add up quickly. We learned that the bartender or “Köbe” will continue to give you refills unless you signal that you are finished by putting your coaster on top of your empty glass. They also keep a beer tally by writing hash marks on a coaster until it’s time to pay. Köbes generally aren’t friendly and tend to come across as grumpy and annoyed. We learned that this was “normal” service and that locals enjoy their prickly personalities and often times dish it right back which the Köbes respect. We tried several types of Kölsch and our favorites were Päffgen and Gilden because of their semi-sweet finish. While in Cologne we also had our first taste of authentic German food and enjoyed pork Wienerschnitzel and Bratwurst with potatoes that paired very well with the local brew. The portion sizes were huge so we shared everything!
We only spent 2 full days in Cologne but managed to fit in another free walking tour that began under the Eigelstein Gate, one of four remaining medieval gates used to enter the old city. We learned that around 90% of Cologne was destroyed during World War 2 and rebuilt from the ground up by many immigrants, which has made the area fairly diverse and accepting of all cultures. Cologne also takes the annual Carnival very seriously. For an entire week before Ash Wednesday the city celebrates by dressing up and having parades and parties. It’s customary that every person is required to wear a different costume each day so by the end people share costumes or piecemeal them together. On the tour we made our way to a few historical landmarks including the Roman ruins, interior of the cathedral, and then finished the tour right…in a brauhaus! After some back-and-forth with the Köbe to find a table, we shared a few Kolsh’s with our guide and others from our group. It was interesting to share stories with travelers from all over and in the end we got a few tips for some of the places we plan to visit in the coming weeks. We enjoyed our time in Cologne and wish we could have done more exploring. Hopefully we will be back for another visit!