Living in Berlin can make you feel like you don’t need any other city. Every weekend feels like a city break. There are so many places to explore, although I have been living there since 2015. I find that every year holds it own different ‘feeling’ and memories, and I spend time with different people. I am planning another year or two living in Berlin to get to C2* German – the journey just hasn’t finished yet.
Explore more of Germany with a city break
Germany is, of course, much more than Berlin. Many often say Berlin doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to the rest of Germany. My curiosity landed me in Cologne, where I spent 5 days exploring the city at ease, feeling reasonably comfortable due to the fact I could speak the language.
September has kicked in, leaving crisp, fresh air and crunchy leaves around. In order to do some relaxed sight seeing, the weather should be in your favour. Although, a bit of rain never stopped us Brits from doing anything, anyway?
My main observations of Cologne:
– The people are extremely friendly
– The city is not ‘hässlich’ (ugly) as others described
– They have great beer and breweries (0,2cl of beer is served – we like responsible drinking, unlike at Oktoberfest).
– The U-bahn looks like a tram but is in fact, the underground
– Spätis (24-hour shops in Berlin) are called Kiosks
– It’s not too much more expensive than Berlin
– It’s easy to reach from other cities
– There is a large dutch/belgian influence
– REWE (supermarket) is EVERYWHERE.
Why is Cologne called Cologne?
Eau de Cologne 4711, or aqua mirabillis (in latin), is the oldest which is still produced today. It was created by Giovanni Maria Farina, who wore it as it reminded him of his hometown in Italy and also to gain presence in a room. The scent was a mixture of essential oils made from lemon, bergamot, neroli, tangerine and grapefruit, adding lavender, jasmine, thyme, rosemary, and even a bit of tobacco.
He has been quoted saying to his brother:
“I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain.”
The flagship store, located at Glockengasse no 4711, is called the Dufthaus 4711, which still sells it today.
Address: Dufthaus 4711, Glockengasse 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
What to bring:
– Umbrella and sunglasses (yes, both)
– A single ticket is valid 90 minutes and costs 2,80EUR (1b)
– A day ticket is 8,40 EUR with unlimited travel via tram, U-bahn and bus (YES, Germany!)
– Ensure to bring cash for this city break, Germans love the Bargeld (cash) or as the French say, ‘liquide‘.
What to do:
– Drink Kölsch Früh
– Drink Kölsch Gaffel
– Try to get lost in the different Viertel (district) (you’ll be fine)
– Interact with the locals (they will make conversation in, well, any situation)
– Eat breakfast here
If you’re big on walking around the city, having a coffee here and there, speaking to some locals and maybe going to 1 or 2 museums, then here is my Cologne Guide for a relaxing, culturally enriching city break:
Der Kölner Dom
Let’s start with the most obvious elephant in the room: that huge church when you arrive: the Cologne Cathedral/Kölner Dom. The Kölner Dom is located right near Hauptbahnhof (named Köln Hbf/Dom) so when you arrive, you cannot miss the thing. This ‘horrific’ gothic masterpiece is always being renovated and cleaned – it really is intricate, great to look at from every angle.
When I visited in September, there was even a concert on with an orchestra, Kölner Philharmonie.
The dome itself has 506 steps, takes an hour to get to the top (I imagine you have to climb the steps at the majority’s pace) but the view is incredible. At 4EUR, it is significantly cheaper than other landmarks people want to go to the top of: the Arc de Triomphe (10EUR) and the TV Tower (14 EUR).
A bridge full of locks. Most cities have copied it from Paris on Pont des Arts. Walk along here to see views of the Kölner Dom, the Rhine and get some fresh air. The U-Bahn runs along the bridge, sort of feels like you’re going over Brooklyn.
Note: I personally would rather avoid breaking bridges which date back to 1800s and express your love via other means. Not only is it massively not environmentally friendly (keys are thrown into the water), it also looks kitchig, goes rusty after a few years, and causes bridges to collapse such as the Pont Des Arts in Paris. Please stop. Qudos to these lot in New York disrupting the destruction by picking the locks.
Learn some local dialect: Kölsch
“wat wellste maache” – what can you do (such is life)
“Et hätt noch immer jot jejange” – it’s gone well so far (great optimism)
“wat süll der quatsch” – what’s that all about?
“Isch han disch jän” – I love you
“Et es wie et es” – it is what it is
Fuppes – Football
Muckefuck – a cup of instant coffee, when you were expecting a creamy french press
The outside of this brewery reminded me of the buildings in London; I stumbled across Peters Brauhaus whilst walking past the dome, on my way to the bridge of locks – where everyone is walking along the bridge to admire the views Cologne has to offer.
You can buy beer here in cute 0,2 glasses, frisch vom Faß (fresh beer on tap, of course) and it tastes very good. You should put a beermat on top of the glass to demonstrate you do not want a top-up. They also have lots of hearty food, some Kölsch classics include mashed potato and apple sauce.
A city break is never complete without some shopping. This area in Cologne is dedicated to the Belgians; it has street names named after Belgian cities, there are several boutiques, bars and restaurants. I think the apartments in Brüssler Platz are really beautiful, with very intricate detailing around the doors and varied architectural styles as you walk along around the leafy square.
Having lived in Belgium for 10 years, I am fond of all things Belgian. Despite the incessant racist remarks from some Dutch and French people about the Belgians, I still and will always have, a soft spot of Belgium. It was where my first memories where created, after all. I still have a Flemish accent when I try to speak Dutch (very confusing for the Dutch, coming from someone from the UK), and I love their culture. I find the Belgians to be incredibly friendly, warm, and especially those in Antwerp.
Another FAQ: does Kölsch have to be brewed in Cologne?
Short story is yes. Just like champagne has to be from the Champagne region in France to be called so, and Cheddar must be made in England from British cow’s milk, Kölsch also has its appêllation protégée, which makes that ‘myth’ about Germany having a beer purity law that says beer is only allowed to have limited ingredients seem very real.
How to get there
Take the high-speed train, Deutsche Bahn’s ICE train, from multiple cities in Europe. From Amsterdam Centraal, Munich, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Paris etc, you can travel over to Cologne in a few hours. For this city break, I travelled from Berlin Hbf in 4,5 hours (200km/h) and back for 80 EUR.
Try looking for a Sparpreis or Advance/discount ticket (usually about 10-14 days in advance) try GoEuro where it is sehr einfach to compare times to pick the best one for you. I found that travelling to Cologne could take 8 hours with several changes, or no changes for 4.5 hours.
Ticket prices vary; if you want to travel by train from Berlin to Cologne, then expect to pay around 60-100EUR each way. My advice is to book up a long weekend for a proper city break (to see the Christmas markets, for example). You may even get to travel in 1st class for just a few bob extra.