The most romantic place to visit in Cologne is Europe's busiest railway bridge. However, there are more traditional romantic places to visit too
The busiest railway bridge in Europe with suburban, regional, ICE and high speed Thalys trains rumbling across several times a minute is the most romantic place in Cologne. The bridge, which takes trains from Cologne’s busy hauptbahnhof across the Rhine has grown into the de rigueur spot for lovers.
Thousands of padlocks engraved with messages of love adorn the railings that separate the pedestrian walkway from the tracks. Lovers lock their padlock to the fence as a sign of their undying love for each other and then toss the key into the Rhine below. When the state railway Bundesbahn indicated that they wanted to remove the padlocks public opinion forced them to backtrack. Now the bridge is festooned with tens of thousands of padlocks.
A stroll from Cologne’s iconic cathedral across the bridge takes only a few minutes but can be extended for a romantic stroll along the tree-line right bank, returning via Deutzer Brücke. Beneath the bridge you can, from spring until late autumn, catch a cruise along the Rhine (KD Rheinschiffahrt, Rheingarten, 50667 Köln; 0221 2583011; www.k-d.com).
The Old Town (Altstadt)
Between the Deutzer Brücke and the Hauptbahnhof is the Altstadt (Old Town). Largely pedestrianised the narrow cobbled streets and squares are best explored on foot using the twin towers of the Dom Cathedral as navigation markers. From the Rheingarten beside the river the Fischmarkt is the first part of the Altstadt you will come across. Its colourful town houses and the romanesque church of Gross St Martin positively invite you to linger. Full of pavement cafes and Brauhäuser it is one of the best squares to sit outside sipping coffee or Kölsch, the locally brewed beer served in a 20cl straight glass.
It is in Aldstadt where Cologne’s internationally known fragrance was originally made. Farina House (Obenmarspforten 21, 50667 Köln; 0221 3998 9941; www.farina.eu) is now a museum and retail outlet for Eau de Cologne. Visitors are greeted by a gentleman in a powdered wig and early 1700s fashion who introduces himself as Giovanni Farina, inventor of the perfume. An expatriate from Italy he found the stench of the non-existent sanitation and the masses of “great unwashed” too much to bear. He invented the light perfume that was “reminiscent of a spring morning in Italy after the rain; of oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bergamot, cedar and the blooms and herbs of...home”.
A guided tour of the museum takes you through the history of the perfume and the methods used to produce it. Attempts to copy the scent have been made over the years and the Farina family and their descendants have hired a total of 59 detectives over the years to track down illegal copyists. One high profile rival, 4711, also based in Cologne still rankles though.
No visit to Cologne, whatever the theme, is complete without a visit to the Dom or Cathedral (www.koelner-dom.de). Over 2 million visitors make this UNESCO World Heritage site the most visited site in Germany. It’s twin towers and gothic architecture dominate the skyline, and for nine years prior to the construction of the Eiffel Tower the cathedral was the tallest building in the world. If anything the interior is more breathtaking than the exterior with its many stained glass windows and soaring vaulted ceiling. The gilded 13th-century repository reputedly holds the bones of the three magi of the nativity.
The Food of Love
“If music be the food of love...” then a visit to the Kölner Philharmonika (Bischofgartenstrasse 1, 50667 Köln; 0221 204080; www.koelnerphilharmonie.de) is certainly a must. Cologne prides itself on its art and culture scene and has a highly rated concert hall between the cathedral and the Rhine.
The true food of love, as everyone knows, is chocolate and there are two places that have to be on anyone’s list for a romantic weekend in Cologne.
The Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum, Rheinauhafen 1a, 50678 Köln; 0221 931 8880; www.schokoladenmuseum.de) is built in an old customs house of the Rheinhafen (Rhine Harbour). Über modern architecture blends with the more traditional style of the old custom house to link everything under one roof. After walking through a cocoa plantation in a tropical hothouse you enter a museum where everything from the Aztecs use of the cocoa bean to chocolate as we know it today is presented in an easy to understand and interactive way. This includes working production lines where chocolates and truffles are made and novelties like Easter rabbits are wrapped by machine. Of course you can taste samples or dip a wafer in the larger than life chocolate fountain. After touring the museum and purchasing chocolate souvenirs you can enjoy views over the Rhine eating and drinking the “food of the gods” at the waterside cafe.
For those who appreciate good chocolates then dinner in the Hanse Stübe is a must. This restaurant, decorated in classic dark wood panelling, is part of the Excelsior Hotel Ernst (Tankgasse 1, 50667 Köln), Cologne’s top hotel. Service is efficient, warm and welcoming and the food is excellent. Dinner is rounded off with a selection of chocolates handmade in the hotel’s kitchens. These alone are worth splashing out for.
For some retail therapy there are plenty of well-known brands along Hohe Strasse beside the Dom Hotel and Schildergrasse. Boutique shops can be found along Ehrenstrasse. For that really romantic touch you can have a ring designed on Friesenstrasse. Alternatively you may just prefer to have a padlock engraved and stroll across the Rhine by moonlight attaching it to the steel fence of the railway bridge before together tossing the key into the Rhine.