Köln (Cologne) 


Today a city of just under 1 million people, Colonia (Latin for colony, hence Cologne in French and English, but Köln in German) was founded by the Romans in 50AD making it one of the oldest cities  in Germany.   Apart from the historical attractions of a city with Roman roots and an impressive Cathedral, there are the more hedonistic pleasures of river trips on the Rhein (Rhine), the unique beer style to wash down the hearty cuisine, a chocolate factory and museum.  But what impressed us most of all when we visited in June 2006 was the laid-back feeling of the place, typified by the dialect saying 'Et es wie et es - it is as it is', straight from Zen philosophy!  You get the feeling that the locals are out to enjoy life, and you're welcome to join in.  You'll find general information in the Wikipedia entry and general tourist information at the official website , which has an English version, as does this one, sponsored by the TV/radio company Deutsche Welle, so it includes a lot of current news.

  While you're exploring websites - or the city itself - you'll see this logo of two triangles on all sorts of items.  It represents the twin spires of the Köln Dom (cathedral) which has become a symbol of the city (left).  The cathedral is a definite must-see, but what made the deepest impression on us was the Römisch-Germanische Museum (right), a massive block of a building just behind the Cathedral.  It contains a well-displayed collection of Roman artefacts, and if you take the time to read the translations of the gravestones you will appreciate how widely-travelled folk were in those days, as well as getting a moving insight into their relationships and emotions.  Another less obvious Roman site but well-worth seeking out is the Prätorium (Praetorium, the administrative heart of Roman Colonia).  The foundations of the buildings are well preserved, below current street levels, and, lower still, you can walk along a whole section of the Roman city's drainage system. (right)   The entrance is in Kleine Budengasse  - which just happens to be within a stone's throw of some of the best Kölsch bars, so doing your tourist duty puts you in the right place for quenching your thirst afterwards.

Although there is a pedestrian area round the Dom I have to agree with Ron Pattinson's comments that some other parts of the city are distinctly pedestrian-unfriendly, with fast roads, mazes of pelican crossings with endless delays (and you can be fined for jay-walking - beware!) and tram lines to negotiate. It's often pleasanter to direct your route along the bank of the Rhine, even if it takes a bit longer, though even here you can be fair game for the kamikaze cyclists (who seem to think they have an absolute right to go anywhere at high speed, not just on the designated cycle paths!) If you want revert to childhood, and travel safely, try the little street trains which bump their way from the square by the Cathedral to the Chocolate Museum or the Zoo.

Köln is the home of Kölsch and it can't be brewed anywhere else.  It is protected by the German equivalent of the appelation contrôlée which the French apply to their wines and there is also a strict Kölsch-Konvention which lays down exactly how, where and by whom it can be brewed.  It is a top fermented ale, although to look at it, and even after tasting some brands, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a bottom-fermented lager. 

When you visit a traditional
Kölsch bar, you will be served by the Köbes - the name for a waiter in a Kölsch bar, identifiable by their blue aprons, their special trays, their efficiency - and their wit.  See our Köbessen und Kölsch page for more details, Kölsch bar etiquette, food specialities, dialect - and examples of the wit!

More links
There's a comprehensive website celebrating Kölsch at Koelsch-net (note that a lot of web references will appear to have slightly different spelling as the additional 'e' is inserted for use on systems which can't handle the German umlaut " symbol)  and another here - both of these sites are in German.

I must record my gratitude to Ron Pattinson and his European Beer Guide, and also to Paul Allison of NATA Online  Having had some disappointing experiences on our first trip in search of  Kölsch, their advice and tips helped us to seek out the better varieties - there's decent beer in Köln, but if you want to find the good stuff you have to do your research before you go.  You'll find our opinions of the different brands starting on the next page


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