The world feels at home in Cologne, where people meet for a Kölsch, a chat or simply a laugh. Life in Cologne is vivacious.
You only have a couple of hours in Cologne? Or you want a whistle-stop tour of the main sights? Our circuit around the Cathedral and historic centre is perfect.
All roads lead to the Dom – at least in Cologne. Nearly 160 metres high, the Cathedral can be seen from almost anywhere in the city and the surrounding area – making it an orientation point for many people. The locals love their Cathedral above all things – many carnival songs, proverbs and sayings are about it. The Cologne Cathedral can probably lay claim to being the longest ever building site – 632 years in total. Head through the portal on the Domplatte, enter into the sacred tranquillity of this monumental structure and take the architecture in.
Ludwig Museum and the Rhine Promenade
Leave the Cathedral and turn right towards the Ludwig Museum. The museum was opened in 1989 and contains many important works of art from the 20th century, including works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as contemporary art. The Cologne Philharmonic Hall is also located here. From here the arch-shaped Hohenzollern Bridge stretches across the Rhine and is flanked by statues of the rulers of the House of Hohenzollern – Friedrich III and Wilhelm II – who give the bridge its name.
Fischmarkt and Great St. Martin
Turn right off the Rhine Promenade and as you amble along, soak up the atmosphere of the historic breweries. Taverns such as "Kunibert der Fiese" or "Stapelhaus" entice visitors in with authentic Cologne hospitality. Rising high above the narrow traditional houses is Great St Martin Church. Build between 1150 and 1240, it is one of the twelve remaining great Romanesque churches in the city. After being almost completely destroyed during the war, it was returned to its former glory in 1985.
Tünnes & Schäl and Schmitz-Säule
Turn right off Fischmarkt and go straight up Lintgasse to the church. On a shadowy square stand two figures that represent the typical original inhabitants of the city: Tünnes and Schäl. Tünnes represents the somewhat simple and goofy farmers while Schäl is the classic bourgeois and bon viveur. Opposite the sculptures is the “Schmitz-Säule” – the Schmitz Column – a homage to the most common name in the city. It is rumoured that many many years ago Roman legionaries would meet up there with blond Germanic Ubian girls – the ancestors of the Schmitz family.
Willi Ostermann Fountain
With your back to the two figures and the Schmitz Column, turn right and head back down Lintgasse and then left through a narrow passageway to a small square surrounded by cafés. A modest fountain stands on the square as a memorial to the much-loved carnival singer-songwriter and composer Willi Ostermann. His most famous song "ich mööch zo Foß no Kölle gon" underlines the love the people of Cologne feel for their city and is still sung with great gusto today.
Alter Markt and Jan-von-Werth Fountain
At the end of Lintgasse you come to the Alter Markt. In the Middle Ages this square was both the site of the weekly market, and the court and place of execution. Today it is especially well-loved for being host to carnival opening on the 11th November. Opposite the town hall, high up on the gables of the “Em Hanen” house, you can see the figure of the “Kallendresser” who answers the call of nature in the (no longer existent) roof gutters – probably with the aim of making a mockery of the town hall. Numerous historic breweries are located around the square. In the centre of the square you can see the Jan-von-Werth Fountain – the legend of the unfortunate love affair between the soldier Jan and the maiden Griet is portrayed annually in the Cologne carnival parade. Legend has it that the maiden Griet spurned the simple farmhand Jan as she was hoping that someone better would come along. Jan consequently went to war as a soldier, stood out due to his bravery, and ascended to the post of general. When he returned to the city he encountered his former love on the market square and said to her, “Griet, if only you’d done it!”, to which Griet could only reply, “Jan, who could’ve known!”.
The town hall and the town hall tower
Walk past the fountain and exit the Alter Markt down Kleine Budengasse. If you turn left down Judengasse, you will come to the historic town hall that dates back to 1153. The town hall tower is covered with 124 stone figures representing important Cologne residents from over the ages. The bells chime from high above four times a day with different melodies.
From Judengasse turn right onto Obenmarspforten. On your left is the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum and Fondation Corboud where you can marvel at 700 years of European art – from the 13th to the 20th century. After the museum turn onto Quartermarkt where you’ll find the Gürzenich building. In the Middle Ages it was used mainly as a store and warehouse, but since the 19th century has been used as a dance hall and festival hall. Following reconstruction after the war, the Gürzenich combines historical elements with modern architecture. (Photo: © Raimond Spekking / CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Heumarkt and the alleyways of the old town
The circuit continues along Gürzenichstraße down to Heumarkt (Hay Market) on which the eponymous hay, along with cloth, leather, salt, meat and cheese were traded. Here too, there are traditional breweries that are worth popping into to try their home brewed versions of Kölsch, the city’s famous beer. Walking past the brewery “Zum Pfaffen”, you end up in the quaint Salzgasse and thus right in the centre of the winding alleyways of the historic old town. Linger in any of the numerous pubs, restaurants and speciality shops. Continuing down Salzgasse, you come back onto the Rhine Promende.
Heinzelmännchen Fountain and Früh Brewery
Stroll along the Rhine Promenade until you come to Große Neugasse Street on your left-hand side. This leads directly to the Heinzelmännchen Fountain. The fountain was built in 1899 in honour of August Kopisch who immortalised the legend of the Heinzelmännchen – the house gnomes – in his poem “The House Gnomes of Cologne”. Legend has it that the house gnomes took over the work of the stressed craftsmen every night until they were scared off by a curious housewife. Behind the fountain is the now international Früh brewery. With a view of the Dom and in keeping with the motto "Et kütt wie et kütt" – what will be, will be – sit back and relax until it’s time to leave.