Cologne overview

With a population of about a million, Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest city.  Lying on the Rhine in the North West of the country, it is seen as the cultural, economic and historic capital of the Rhineland.

Its position at the intersection of the Rhine and one of the major east-west trade routes, made Cologne an important place in the Middle Ages.  It also became an ecclesiastical centre, with its famous cathedral built over 600 years from 1248 to 1848.  At the time of its completion, the cathedral was the world’s tallest building (overtaken a few years later by the Washington Memorial in Washington DC).

The cathedral remains to this day an imposing building and the world’s tallest Gothic structure.  Cologne was largely flattened in the Second World War.  Yet, despite taking some 14 hits, the cathedral remained fundamentally intact and it remains the city’s dominant landmark.

Cologne is also famous all over Germany and elsewhere for its annual Carnival celebrations.  Few German cities have such a long carnival tradition or throw themselves as whole heartedly into the merry making as Cologne and its citizens with their costumes, organising committees and Karneval Prinz. Karneval, or the ‘fifth’ season starts each year on November 11 and ends on Ash Wednesday.

A media city
The colourful street processions, with many dozens of floats, are shown
live on nationwide TV, covered not least by major TV companies based in Cologne such as WDR (West German Broadcasting) and RTL, the highly popular commercial TV station run by Radio Television Luxembourg, which together make up part of a lively media scene in the city.

Kölsch and Kölnisch Wasser
Two liquids have also stamped their mark on Cologne over the years: Kölsch and Kölnisch Wasser.  Kölsch is the local beer (and the name of the local dialect).  It is a clear, yellowish beer with a less bitter taste than a standard German Pils and generally served in small 0.2-litre glasses (less than half a pint!).  Kölnisch Wasser, or Eau de Cologne, has been produced in the city since the beginning of the 18th century.  The famous ‘4711’ brand is named after the number of the house lived in by the founder of the company that first produced it.

Tourist attractions
The main tourist attraction is the cathedral.  Right next to it is the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, another big draw. It’s one of the city’s main museums, with a large collection of Roman artefacts from the ancient Roman settlement on which Cologne (Colonia) is built.

Down Hohe Strasse to Neumarkt
It is also this area around the cathedral onto which the city’s main pedestrianised shopping street, Hohe Strasse, opens out.  This is a nice street to stroll down to do some window-shopping, and also leads you round to Neumarkt, a square from which underground trains run direct to the Rhein-Energie stadium.

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