Cologne travel

Cologne is mostly known for its beautiful Gothic cathedral and crazy carnival, and I was lucky enough to experience both. Cologne is also a major cultural center.

After Düsseldorf I took the train down to Cologne, the largest city of the German Bundesland of North Rhine-Westphalia, during carnival time (Karneval).

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Carnival is a big deal in Germany, and the city of Cologne was unrecognizable when I arrived. There was a festive spirit in the air, lots of alcohol, music, fun, noise, crowds and thousands of people dressed up. Cologne’s Carnival is the biggest in Germany and has a long and rich history which I did not know much about, until then.

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The City of Cologne 

Cologne is a fairly walkable city, but if you are more of a bus person, a single ticket costs €2.80 a day pass is €8.60. Cologne also has a dense network of bike routes along the Rhine.

The river runs through the heart of old town so you can also take a cruise along the river.

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Altstadt (The Old Town)

Cologne doesn’t really impress with its old town since only a tiny area of historic streets survived the World War II. The reman streets are colorful and great for a wander around.

 

The Köln’s Dom

The world-famous Gothic cathedral, is located right next to the train station, in the center of Köln, is the fourth-tallest in the world, and luckily survived the war. The construction and details are quite impressive, and I do recommend going in the morning before everyone else arrives. Visiting the cathedral is free.

 

The South Tower, is 157 meters high, with 533 steps, (4€) if the weather is good you have a great panoramic view all the way over and around Cologne and the Rhine river.

The Belgian Quarter

Located outside old town, is kind of a pot mixing bits and pieces of France, Belgium and Germany. Here all the street are named after cities in Belgium, like  Brüsseler Platz, a beautiful scare surrounding a church.

There is a huge variety of local and international boutique shops, ethnic markets, restaurants, and local cafes to discover.

Ehrenfeld

It’s another area outside old town that deserves to be explored. A few years ago some well-renowned covered Ehrenfeld with stunning murals.

Art Museums & Street Art

Cologne has a number of excellent museums, like The Ludwig Museum with an impressive Pop Art collection with work from the well known Warhol and Lichtenstein, and great street art to be found around the city.  For instance, in Ehrenfeld, or Eigelstein, the key is to leave old town and walk around back streets, side streets and all the roads in between the main ones.

 

Some other museums are quite unusual, such as the German Olympic Museum the Chocolate Museum or the perfume museum.

If you do like museums, its best to buy the MuseumsCard (€18)

Hahnen Gate

This is one of twelve gates of the medieval city wall located in Rudolfplatz.

Skulpturen Park Köln (sculpture park) 

It is a relaxing and interesting place that combines art and nature. Artists have been commissioned, to create work that interacts creatively with the surrounded nature. The entry is free, and the park combines permanent and temporary exhibition.

Botanical Garden

Located in the north of the city, next to the zoo. It’s a great place to visit during summer and spring. The park is very well maintained, and the entrance is free.

Flea Markets

Cologne’s streets are home to an exceptionally large number of flea markets,  there you may find amazing and affordable vintage items. Even if you don’t want to buy something, it still is a nice place with a special atmosphere, to walk through looking at the antiques. If you are there to buy bargaining is a must, most of the markets also have food and beverage stalls.

The panorama tower, Köln Triangle

this impressive high-rise KölnTriangle offers a good 360-degree panorama view of Cologne, to go up they charge a €3 fee.

Love Lock Bridge

The Hohenzollern Bridge or Love Lock Bridge is completely covered with tens of thousands of padlocks, each one engraved with names, dates or something romantic.
From Old Town, you can cross one of the numerous bridges that separate the two parts of the city. From this side, there’s a great view of old town and the Cathedral.

 

If you have time:

Take a train and pop into some of the many picturesque towns outside of Cologne along the Rhine.

  •  Drachenfels has a spectacular castle, called the Dranchenburg Castle. 1 1/2 hours by train.
  •  Aachen is a university-town great for history-lovers, and it is close to Belgium. 1 hour by train.
  • Koblenz, is a town full of ancient history, 1.5 hour by train.
  • Mainz, its a nice little university town with a medieval center and an impressive cathedral. 1.5 hours by train.
  • Marburg is picturesque medieval hill town with narrow cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. 2.5 hours by train.

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Düsseldorf’s Carnival

Düsseldorf’s Carnival is a massive over-the-top event, It’s crazy how Germans are into it.

Düsseldorf has a completely different vibe during the celebrations. There’re lights, music, costumes, ‘home-made’ floats, rides, fireworks, street food everywhere, parades, and lots and lots and lots of alcohol.

Who would guess that Carnival is such a big deal in Germany and that German people are really into it?

Sure that doesn’t have the glamour, weather, music, rhythm and the tropical vibe from  Brasil but still is a massive event.

In Germany, the dispute is between Cologne’s carnival and Düsseldorf’s carnival, but best is not to ask around which one is the best one, since its a sensitive topic for some people. Apparently, they are eternal rival cities.

This may surprise you but Cologne’s Carnival is among the biggest in Europe, but someone said, what Düsseldorf lacks in size it makes up for in alcohol consumption.

There are several variations of Carnival throughout Germany. But the celebrations kick-off on November 11th at 11:11 am everywhere. But the crazy parties don’t really begin until February, also referred to as the “crazy days”

Dusseldorf is one of the fortresses of the Rhineland Carnival and drinking from early morning is part of the fun, during the week-long carnival, bars and pubs know no closing time.

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What to Expect

The dates of the carnival vary from year to year but always starts on a Thursday before Ash Wednesday. This day is called Altweiberfastnacht (Women’s Carnival Day). And is when the ladies take over the City Hall and cut off men’s ties.  Women in witch costumes “kidnap” the mayor and take control over the city. Followed by a street carnival in the Altstadt (Old Town)

If you think this is too crazy I’m afraid I need to say that this is just the beginning 🙂 From this point onward, it steadily gets more crazy, crowded, and loud.

On Saturday, is the Jugendumzug (Youth Procession), at Düsseldorf city center more oriented for families.

On Sunday is the “Karneval Sunday” in Konigsallee people start drinking and parting early in the morning, and locals get creative with ways to carry around their alcohol, have spectacular costumes and small ‘home-made’ floats

 

 

Rosenmontagszug or Rose Monday Parade

The parade comprises thousands of people in costumes marching around the city for hours, they include a giant decorated floats and people marching on foot through the city center and down Dusseldorf’s shopping street, Königsallee. Many of the floats from the Dusseldorf parade are political and often controversial.

 

 

It’s important to memorize the word- Helau, the local word for the Karneval greeting in Dusseldorf if you want to catch candies, chocolates, crips and other trinkets that they threw at the crowds, while you shout “Helau” and wave your hands.

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Have you been to a carnival parade in Germany?  What were your first impressions?

Do you have tips about Dusseldorf’s Carnival? Share in the comments below.

Now you just need to figure out what you’re going to wear next year…

 

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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