Cologne & Düsseldorf
After a delay in getting our rental car (even though I reserved a car with automatic over a month ago, and checked with them in person a day early to confirm, they still couldn’t get one on hand in time) we hit the Autobahn and started driving west.
There’s a cluster of cities all closely grouped together in the western portion of the country. The largest is Köln (aka Cologne) but there’s also Düsseldorf, Neuss, Wuppertal, Oberhausen, Bonn, Dortmund, Essen (which is German for food/eating. I can’t imagine a US town simply named “Food.” Then again, they also have a town named Schwein, which is German for “pig.”), and so on. When you look at a map they look so tightly packed around each other compared to the rest of the county. If I had to guess why, I’d say it’s because of the Rhine river. But what do I know? Really we were going to Cologne to visit Gamescom (more on that in a separate post), but I was equally excited to see another of Germany’s many notable cities.
Cologne is sort of like Germany’s San Francisco in that there are lots of young people, lots of hip, fun things to do, and a lot of gays. It doesn’t share San Francisco’s good looks, however. Not that it’s ugly, because it’s certainly not ugly. It’s no Stuttgart. But there just isn’t much to see. Like most of the country, the town was bombed extensively during the war, so most of it is rebuilt. But the downtown area is very cramped. The main drag has very narrow streets, with very narrow buildings. And it’s almost as if they don’t care about their appearance as most everything looks like it was built in the 60’s/70’s, and they haven’t bothered to update it. The pavement, the public fixtures, everything is just unflattering. Which is a shame.
But the downtown area definitely has a lot to do. There are a lot of nice shops (like Stuttgart, there’s an explosion of H&M stores there) including the usual chains and some other interesting ones. Closer to the river there are a lot of restaurants with outdoor patios, all offering Kölnisch beer, Cologne’s own kind of beer.
The big attraction though is the Köln Dom (Cologne Cathedral), that impressive looking structure pictured at the top. It’s actually the most visited site in all of Germany. It has the largest facade of any cathedral in the world, as well as the largest free swinging bell. Something about it though makes it also look short and stubby, to me at least. Standing at the front and looking up, it was certainly massive, but at the same time wasn’t all the impressive.
It took over 600 years to build (which is probably considered efficient in terms of German construction time) and has only been completed for about 130 years or so. It was bombed something like 74 times during the war but managed to stay standing. The theory was that, because the spires were such a good landmark for pilots, they avoided destroying it.
I’ve certainly never been a church this massive, and it’s more impressive inside than outside. The ceiling just keeps going and going, and the stained glass windows up top are simply gorgeous. There’s not much going on for much of the interior. Once you make it to the rear of the church it’s lined with tombs and antiquities of different sorts. Our visit was brief, but we perused what was there, as well as the crypt downstairs. The most famous item is the Shrine of the Three Kings, the world’s largest relic, said to contain the remains of the three wise men. It’s a beautiful gold thing, shaped like a cathedral, and lined with jewels. Unfortunately, it was surrounded by scaffolding and such as we couldn’t really see much of it.
After that we drove out into the suburbs to check into the apartment we had rented. Airbnb is great, and this is the fourth time we’ve used the service. Almost always considerably cheaper than getting a hotel, and it’s nicer to have the personal touch of a host. Not to mention a private residence is usually much larger than a hotel room anyhow. Wanting to see as much of Gamescom as possible, we caught a streetcar and headed to the Koelnmesse (convention center) for the rest of the day.
The following evening, after getting a bit of rest, we decided to head back out and went to Rudolfplatz, which seemed to be the gay part of town. And it was certainly the gay part of town, but that usually doesn’t mean much before 10pm, so we instead walked around looking for other things. Because of Gamescom they had closed one of the streets and set up some stages with some live music. We had eaten at an odd time that afternoon, which was unfortunate as there were so many restaurants in the area. And they all looked so good. There was a New Orleans diner that looked awesome, but we were in no condition for a full meal. Instead we went to an Eiscafe and had ridiculous ice cream sundaes for dinner. Because it’s vacation.
I had wanted to visit the chocolate museum, which is on a sort of mini-island on the banks of the Rhine, but the timing didn’t work out. Which is fine, I was probably more interested in the gift shop than anything else. There’s also a mustard museum somewhere in town.
So Cologne was certainly nice, but there’s just not a whole lot to see there. I’m sure living there would be great, as there’s lots to do over a long term. But as far as visiting goes. Meh. It was just OK.
The next morning we drove to Düsseldorf as I wanted to visit one of the other nearby cities before we headed home. If Cologne doesn’t care much about it’s appearance, Düsseldorf is the exact opposite. It’s a beautiful city, expertly manicured, with lots of style. There’s a long running rivalry between the two towns, and ask any German what they think of people from Düsseldorf and the first thing they say is they “look down their noses at you.” It’s a snooty place, very rich, and with a lot of arts and media companies.
We parked on Königsallee (pictured above) and just wandered since we knew nothing about the town. And, it being Sunday, everything was closed anyhow. But like most German towns, the central part is very compact and very walkable. There’s lot of pretty buildings and upscale shops. Tons of nice looking restaurants (a lot of them Irish pubs, for some reason) and is probably your best bet for sushi in the whole country as there’s a large Japanese population there.
The area by the banks of the Rhine was especially beautiful. Lots of people hanging out, lots of little restaurants and boats with people drinking. The weather was gorgeous this weekend (for the first time in a long time), so the Germans were out in droves drinking. Even though it wasn’t even noon yet.
You may notice the top of the tower in the above picture is twisted. No idea why. We guessed poor construction.
There’s an iconic Frank Gehry building further down the river that I wanted to see as I love his buildings, so we drove in that general direction until we found it. It seems like they put all their modern architecture in one corner as there were a lot of interesting buildings here. One with colorful people shaped…things crawling all over it. It was nifty. We parked next to a Bentley, so this part of town must have been swankier still.
The Neuer Zollhof, like all the Gehry buildings I’ve seen in person, are fun to walk around. There are three buildings next to each other. One brick, one white plaster, and one stainless steel (pictured above), all in the same wavy style with the windows sticking out. Cool.
And that was it. Tired and without knowing where to even really look next we hit the road and drove back to Göttingen.
So we’ve now been east (Berlin), South (Stuttgart, Munich), and west. All that’s left is north, and I’d like to try and get to Hamburg and/or Hannover for a night or two before my train card expires in November. Though, like all vacations, this cost more than I expected. So who knows. I’d also love to get to one of the islands in the north sea, as they count as part of our state so Chris can get to them for free. And I miss the ocean.