So, how’s Cologne? I mostly visit this city because it’s the home of one of my dearest friends (as I detail below). Or else, Cologne isn’t the most happening city in Germany; I’d say that a day trip would be enough time to explore the city and enjoy some of the highlights: there’s a modern art museum, the Cologne Dome (don’t miss it!) and the Rhine riverside & Old Town. Go to Aachenstrasse for the plethora of amazing cafes, and also the love locks bridge.
After finishing three finals (calculus, accounting, and economics, thanks very much), a 20-page paper on Kafka and two other final projects, I was nearly dead when I dragged my ass on the plane to Germany via Shanghai. I have no idea what possessed me to start my summer trip in the middle of finals week. But I’ll never do something like this again, I swear. I didn’t learn my lesson well enough last time, when I came back from a week-long boating/snorkelling trip in Palau to finish another 20-page Jane Austen paper in time to hop on the plane to Sri Lanka the next day. But I’ve learned.
Alwina Hilt and I first met nearly four years ago, when we lived in NYC together working for a volunteer organization in Brooklyn. The last time I saw her was nearly 2 years ago, when I came to stay with her in Germany for nearly a month–we went all through Switzerland and Brussels; and she has this amazing ability to both act as my surrogate mother and the fantastically funny friend that makes you laugh until you cry.
So when I had the chance to visit Alwina and our friend Juliane (who also worked with us in the program) for a quick little stopover in Cologne before I headed off to Sweden, I didn’t hesitate to take the chance. tooked the super fast (and super expensive! My goodness, 60 euro for a one-way train ride!) ICE train from Frankfurt to Cologne, where Alwina picked me up and treated me to her famous latte macchiato (I’ve only ever seen this drink in Europe, and have yet to figure out if there’s actually any espresso in it…) before we headed it off to the city.
Last time I was in Cologne (or Köln, in German), I had already seen the famous cathedral: the Cologne Dome. It’s beautiful and apparently the most visited site in Germany! It is indeed beautiful, and free to go in! However, I’m glad that I saw it last time, as this time the back part was closed for a service.
Following a tip from the Travelettes blog [which I love], we headed towards Aachenstrasse on the west side of the Rhine It was pouring rain when we got into Cologne, and it looked like Jesus was making an imminent return, so we went (aka, I forced Alwina to take me) to this street, which is full of hipster cafes, and yesssssss. I nearly cried on the spot. An entire row, gorgeous hip cafe after gorgeous hip cafe. We first stopped into Salon Schmitz, a lovely place with that kind of semi-bohemian, vintage-y romantic look going on.
I love my spots in Taiwan for their own brand of unique charm, but it was when I saw them, it suddenly hit me: This is Europe! I’m in Europe…
Alwina ordered a milk coffee, and received an entire bowl of milk and espresso. The photos can´t even begin to do it justice, but her cup on the right is literally the size of a bowl of 100NT noodles in Taipei. Since the rain was pouring down at apocolyptic pace, we decided to just cafe hop along the street and wait for our friend Juliane to get out of her class.
We then headed to Cafe Bauturm, which reminded me of a cafe that we have in Taipei that I affectionately term: the hipster cat cafe. It´s all old books, plush couches–just no cat. We ate a delicious lunch (with the famous German portion size) in the dining room and walked into the adjoining cafe to admire beautiful chandeliers created out of recycled glass by a local artist (see the picture below, how incredible is that?)
We wanted to stop by Salon Schmitz’s neighboring space (adore the tiling; it used to be an old butcher shop!) but we were simply too full to try all the delicious pies on offer.
Afterwards. we walked off lunch with a walk by the Rhine. Oh, but what of the rain, you ask? Right–it totally disappeared! I was told that it rarely clears up like this in Germany and so I´m counting it as a blessing that enabled me to see the best side of Cologne (and the three huge L´-shaped Microsoft buildings along the river!) The walk itself wasn’t too scenic, though: next time I’d rather go out to Cologne’s Old Town and join the crowds in the park along the river.
The best part about travelling to see your local friends is that you get to see how they live! My friend Juliane lives in an incredible part of Cologne called Nippes.
I remember that Monocle did a feature back in the day about “the perfect city block,” which essentially gave the run-down on what an ideal patch of city would have: mom-and-pop grocery stores, plenty of cafes, lots of green space and communal areas, etc.
I felt that Nippes was the perfect example–I wanted to move in right away! It had 4-5 wonderful cafes (with outdoor patio seating, I can’t get over it! We don’t have any in Taipei) in addition to being near a massive green park full of trees. Juliane, Alwina and I sat outside with a couple of sodas (they told me it was too early to have the radler I wanted: lemonade + beer!) and enjoyed the sun.
Nippes really was the perfect place to live: in addition to cafes, it even had some wonderful vintage shops, a huge green park with plenty of trees, and even an old mansion/castle-like space where community events are held! What else could you want in one neighborhood?
However, my favorite part was the “village square”–an open area right in the middle of all the housing; with a mess of tables and a little annex of the cafe across the street, selling beer and drinks. Even though it was 3pm on a Thursday, there were tons of people just lounging and chatting outside, their kids playing together nearby. It was such a warm, neighborly scene!
We ended the night at Hans Im Gluck, a hip burger joint on one of the main tree-shaded shopping avenues in Cologne. I was dubious about going to a burger grill at first (I mean, I was in Germany! I thought that I should have sausages or something!)–but I’m so glad that Alwina took me there: the interior was so unique! Since Hans Im Gluck is based off of a fairy tale, the entire restaurant was filled with birch tree trunks from floor to ceiling! Like eating in the middle of a forest! Their burgers (and blueberry mojitos) were absolutely divine! The perfect ending to a perfect day in Cologne, and all thanks to my lovely friends and hosts.