I left Berlin early in the morning for the 5 hour train trip to Cologne. When I got there around 1:30 I was easily able to find my hotel and check in. Cologne is the 4th largest city in Germany, which surprised me because there are not very many things for tourists to do. Still, I needed to make my way back down south and I decided to skip out on going to Amsterdam and Brussels because both are super expensive and I wouldn’t have the time or money to really enjoy them. So Cologne for a night en route to Switzerland it was. I had no idea what to expect, but the German couple I met on my beer tour in Prague told me that I must go to the chocolate factory there, so I knew I had to do that. My first stop was at the Koln Dom – the Cathedral. The Cathedral is by far Cologne’s main draw because of its two impressive spiral towers, old stained glass windows, and the tombs of the 3 Magi. Cologne was an important pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages for these reasons. I particularly enjoyed the stained glass windows from the 1300s. After seeing the inside of the Cathedral, I decided to climb the close to 600 steps up to the top of one of the towers. In Europe, there are towers, and there are Towers, capital T, this was definitely one of the latter. The climb was of course physically tolling – old people gave up and turned back, overweight men heaved in breaths trailing after their wives. It’s also a claustrophobic tower since you go up a spiral stair case almost the whole way – which is enclosed by stone walls and people going up and down. Needless to say, when I got to the top I really appreciated the fresh breeze. Close to the top, you can see the towers huge bells, which I got to see ringing on the half hour. From the top, you get a good look out over Cologne but it is very obscured because the whole thing is closed in and there is nothing to tell you what you are looking at. In comparison to other towers/ observation points I have climbed up, this one was a real disappointment because it required maximum effort for quite dismal minimal views. If you ever go to Cologne; DO tour the interior of the Cathedral. DO NOT climb to the top of the spiral tower. I discovered a better way to see the city of Cologne from the sky – more on that later.
I walked along the Rhine River to the Chocolate Museum – I was excited for this one. The chocolate museum blew the chocolate museum in Prague out of the water – and was basically a huge expansion of the Ritter Sport factory store. The museum gave all the usual facts about the production of cocoa beans and the process of making chocolate – but the displays were super interactive. They even had a rainforest greenhouse with mango, papaya, banana, and yes COCOA trees! The museum also told stories about the farmers involved in the production of cocoa. I was shocked to learn some of the statistics – like some 80 percent of workers involved in the initial stages of cocoa production and packaging have never tasted chocolate. I had never before heard about the horrible conditions which the workers operate over and their severe underpayment and I didn’t understand the concept of fair trade chocolate until I read about it at the museum.
Another exhibit which I found equally intriguing was the labeling of chocolate as a cult object and how that came about. This exhibit studied the psychology of chocolate lovers and the angles which marketers utilize when marketing chocolate. I was shocked to learn that in a study of 40,000 young children given a cow and asked to color it – a full one third choose lilac to color the cow! Lilac is the color associated with the Milka cow, the mascot of the Milka chocolate brand, one of the most famous brands in Europe.
I think that Lindt was a large contributor to this chocolate factory (even though surprisingly the exhibits did not seem biased in any way and did not advertise for Lindt), the company has a chocolate making facility set up so that visitors can see chocolatiers producing the hollow Lindt bunnies and other hollow chocolate shapes. Lindt also sponsors the 10 foot giant chocolate fountain which is a focal point of the museum. I decided to create my very own chocolate bar here, since you can do it on the 2nd floor then come back in about 40 minutes after seeing the rest of the museum to pick up your customized bar. I choose a 60 percent cacao darker chocolate and elected to have hazelnuts, walnuts, cranberries, and dried blueberries mixed into the chocolate bar. Seriously one of the best chocolate bars I have ever had – the combo was amazing and it was so fresh! The Chocolate Museum was really well done – the interactive displays and touch screens provided a fun way to learn about chocolate. I was there for at least 2 hours, and that doesn’t include the time I spent browsing the chocolate store where they sell every major brand of European chocolate. The selection and packaging of them all was fascinating.
After visiting the museum, I headed back across town via the old market street of Cologne. This area is home to touristy and “old world” stores. I stopped into the Nutcracker Haus, a shop where they produce only nutcrackers, all of which are home made. For dinner, I stopped at a place by my hotel for a fresh salad with grilled chicken and garlic bread… Yum! Then I went to bed kind of early since I wasn’t feeling too well. I slept in late the next morning, but I felt better. I had looked up things to do the night before, so I set out on a mission.
I first crossed the railroad bridge which is most definitely the longest love lock bridge I have seen in Europe. It has the same density of the love lock bridges in Paris, only this bridge is much, much longer! On the other side is a large office building, but the top floor has been made into a panoramic viewing platform called the Triangle. This viewing platform was so much better than the one at the top of the church because it isn’t caged in, the clear glass lets you get a good look at the city. Imprinted into the glass are 20 something outlines of the most famous buildings of the city. It took me a little while to match all of the outlines up with the famous places. At only 2 euros, this Cologne attraction is a steal.
When I got down from the Triangle, I crossed back over the bridge and walked down Cologne’s main modern shopping street, which was crowded with shoppers hitting all of the summer sales. I headed to the Fragrance Museum, because “eu de cologne” was reportedly invented in Cologne and I thought that the museum of perfumes and colognes would be interesting. Unfortunately, there were no tours in English on weekdays, only German, so after reading a little about the history and sampling the “original” eu de cologne, I headed across the street to another museum, which I hadn’t really planned on going to, but I decided to stop in and ask at the Information desk about what they had on display. The Wallraf das Museum turned out to be by far one of my absolute favorites in all of Europe! I have seen a lot of art museums, but I absolutely loved this one. Not only did the museum have an impressive and extensive display of art spread out over 3 floors, but it also provided thoughtful commentary about each period or style of art as well as information about the individual paintings. The staff were really helpful too – they were willing to answer and questions I had. One older guy personally dragged me around his section, showing the most famous art there and explaining them to me. The museum is not at all crowded which is probably why the staff can pay so much attention to individual visitors. It is clear that they are passionate about what they do. The museum even let’s you take pictures of the artwork as long as you don’t use flash! The museum describes itself as being a place for European art from the 13th to the 20th century. The museum’s brochure claims that “A wealth of information is provided in ways that invite visitors to look and think.”
The brochure makes a bold claim, but it is backed up by the plethora of information available in German and English. Not only just print information, but also interactive computer and audio stations. I spent almost 3 hours in the museum and I could have easily spent more time. I really like that art historians wrote descriptions of almost every painting not just from a historical angle but also with a reference to the present – and many of the descriptions also posed questions to the observer, forcing you to think and question the artists intentions.
The museum has an extensive collection of Medieval Art, the strictly religious paintings which I have grown tired of by this point. However, I really enjoyed analyzing the works using the guided questions the museum provides. The museum is proud to house Stephen Lochne’s “Madonna of the Rose Bower”, which I could read about of the wall, inspect in closer detail on the computer, and the staff member in that room told me how the details of the painting are what made it so famous. Another floor houses Baroque art from famous masters such as Rubens and Rembrandt. I really enjoyed the impressionist floor – the museum claims that it has Germany’s largest collection of impressionist and neo impressionist art. They have pairings by Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and more. They also have bronze sculptures of dancers by Edgar Degas. I really enjoyed this museum! It is truly a gem amongst European art museums, where you often must buy a guide book from the book shop to receive commentary and guidance about the art on display.
I was quickly running out of time in Cologne, but I decided to stop by the Dom Brauhaus to try Cologne’s version of a light Pils and a potato salmon soup. I though the potato salmon combo might be strange, but actually it was so delicious that I want to learn how to make it! Then I picked up my bag from the hotel and grabbed a sandwich to go from the station and headed out on a 5 hour train trip to Bern, Switzerland. I enjoyed my quick stop over in Cologne!