My first full day in Cologne was a Monday, which was not the best planning on my part. As with many places in Europe, most museums are closed on Mondays. I’m not a huge museum goer, but on a grey day in Cologne there really isn’t much else to do.
I took the tram from the Radisson into the city, and meandered over to the Rathaus– the city hall – which was not particularly scintillating, but interesting in that the compound reflects 4 different architectural styles – from the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 20th centuries. I had a schnitzel lunch outside on the Alter Markt, a cute square with lots of restaurants and bars.
From there, I headed to the Kolner Dom – the cathedral – the most visited sight in Germany. Not surprisingly, it was crowded. I’m kind of over cathedrals having been to 21 European countries (as well as half of South America), but it was pretty – though more striking from afar. Construction began in 1248, and it is a prime example of Gothic architecture. Although bombed heavily in World War II, it came out of the war in much better shape than the rest of the city.
After the Dom, I picked up some souvenirs at the Cologne City Shop, taking advantage of the discount I got with the 3-day City Card transit pass I had bought on my way into the city. I headed into the main shopping area of the Altstadt, centered around Schildergasse – apparently known as the busiest shopping street in Europe. I browsed, noshed, and then headed back to the Radisson, before a chill evening of outdoor Kolsch and a burger.
Initially I had thought about spending one night in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, a short train/bus/ferry ride from Cologne. The two cities share an airport and a commuter rail network. Given how close they were, I decided I would just make Cologne a daytrip.
In the morning before I headed to Bonn, I decided to hit the German Sports and Olympic Museum, which is actually next door to the Art’otel and the Chocolate Museum. As a lover of all things Olympics, I had to make a stop, though the crowds of teens and preteens made it a little difficult to navigate and take in. It definitely wasn’t as awesome as the museum at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but worth a visit if you have a few days in Cologne. My favorite exhibit was actually a photo exhibit on Germany’s recent World Cup win. Fun fact: the trophy flies Lufthansa Business Class.
I had initially planned to go right from the museum to the train station and onward to Bonn, but it was super hot and muggy, so I wanted an outfit change. From Google Maps, it appeared it would be quicker to take two trams rather than the rail to get to the Bundesviertel – the federal quarter of Bonn. That was a mistake. I was actually unable to even buy the correct ticket since the machine on the platform and on the tram wouldn’t accept my credit card and I didn’t have enough change. So I spent the majority of the trip fearful that an inspector would come and fine me for an insufficient fare. The tram was warm with no air conditioning, oh, and it just stopped several stops early and I had to get off and wait for another tram in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in between the two cities. So what should have been under an hour trip ended up taking closer to two. But I made it.
The Bundesviertel is a very quiet part of Bonn, with a lot of the former federal government buildings and museums. It was around 2pm when I got there and I was hungry, so I set out on a slightly difficult task of finding lunch. I found an unremarkable restaurant on a somewhat quiet street of rowhouses- very Washington-esque. The servic e was predictably terrible and it took a lot of effort to get a check, there were bees circling me and my meal the entire time as I dined outside, but the steak lunch special was tasty and not super expensive.
From lunch I walked over to the Haus der Gershichte, a free contemporary German history museum and my favorite museum in Germany. It covered 1945 to the present in both former East and West Germany, and showed the contrasts of what was happening in each country at the time. All exhibits discussing the Holocaust were delineated by black painted walls, which was striking, though led to them being somewhat ignored. Exhibits included a scale Bundestag and one on sex in Europe. Highly recommended.
The Haus der Gershichte is on something known as the “Path of Democracy,” a marked walk in the Bundesviertel tracking some of the more important buildings in the area. What used to be a bustling government sector – at least during the week – is now a sleepy vast emptiness. I expected more of the former West German Parliament buildings, but they seemed to just be boring vacant blocks of modernist/utilitarian architecture.
After adequate wandering, I took the U-Bahn into the center of Bonn, which I actually liked a lot more than Cologne. It seemed prettier and livelier, but I think that may have been due to the sunshine. There were several parks and cafés and people were out and about. I didn’t have any particular sights to see in downtown Bonn, but meandered and made my way to the train station, where I took a regular regional train (same price as my trams) back to Kolnmesse station, and was back at the hotel and napping less than an hour later.
Post-nap and gym, the sun was out in Cologne for the first time all day. I took the tram back into Aldstadt, where the first 2 restaurants I wanted to eat at were closed, and ended up at a gay tapas bar in Heumarkt, the older of Cologne’s two gay districts, where I was the only one eating. Three small plates later, I could understand why.
After dinner, I walked over to Mediterranea, my outdoor gay beer garden/cocktail lounge from night one in Rudolfplatz, had a few Kolsches, and then headed back to the hotel and bed, before the next morning’s flight to Munich for the last stop of my trip.