A Luxury Cathedral and Kölsch Weekend in Cologne, Germany
By Rupert Parker
Cologne is just an hour’s flying time from London’s Stansted and the town centre’s a short 15 minute train ride from the airport. The big attraction is the Cathedral but there are also 12 Romanesque churches, 40 museums and 120 art galleries. And at every stage you can fortify yourself with a glass of the famous top-fermented Kölsch beer in one of the city’s 3000 restaurants and pubs
Hotel Excelsior Ernst
Flights with German Wings are cheap so you can afford to splurge on your accommodation. I stayed at the Hotel Excelsior Ernst, a five star palace directly opposite the cathedral and 5 minutes walk from the railway station. This is one of “The Leading Hotels of the World” and has had almost 150 years to get it right, making it the best hotel in town. Everything is sumptuously modern but its classic features remind you of its long history, and it’s still privately owned. The two restaurants, one classic French with a German touch, and the other offering a range of refined Asian dishes, meet the rest of the hotel’s high standards and there’s even a Riesling bar where you can sample glasses of this famous German tipple. Most of Cologne’s star attractions are within walking distance.
Dominating the view from your room are the two towers, almost 160m tall, of the cathedral. Building started in 1248 to house the remains of the Three Kings which had been taken from a defeated Milan a few years earlier, but it wasn’t finished until 1880 when it was the tallest building in the world. That honour didn’t last long but it’s still the largest Gothic church in northern Europe. Although most of Cologne was flattened in the 2nd world war, the cathedral survived intact and the stained glass was taken way for safe keeping. It’s certainly impressive and you can climb 509 steps up the tower to get an unsurpassed view of the city and the river Rhine.
Right next to the Cathedral is the Ludwig modern art museum, home to a great number of Picasso’s and the largest pop art collection outside the USA. Warhol’s “Brillo Boxes”, George Segal’s “Restaurant Window” and Roy Lichtenstein’s “Maybe” are all on display here and there’s also a selection of conceptual art and video installations. You can easily spend a whole day here wandering its four floors and marveling at the views of the Rhine from its windows.
If modern art isn’t your bag, then the Chocolate Museum is just a short walk away on the site of one of the old Rhine docks. Its three levels take you a journey through 3000 years of the cultural history of chocolate from the Aztecs to the modern day. There’s a tropical greenhouse where you can see Cocoa trees and other exotic vegetation and a modern production line showing all the production stages. This culminates in a Chocolate Fountain where visitors can try the delicious fluid for themselves.
Eau de Cologne Fragrance Museum
Of course the famous perfume was created in the city and, in 1709, Italian perfumer Giovanni Maria Farina unleashed his new invention onto the world. Unfortunately he didn’t patent the name and there are now many lackluster copies. The Farina family still guards the original recipe and they’ve created a museum in the small house where the inventor lived. If you’ve ever wondered how perfume is made, then this is the place to find out. Apparently when it was first launched a small bottle cost the equivalent of 2000 Euro and Napoleon got through at least one a day. No wonder he needed to conquer the world
Kölsch beer is Cologne’s local specialty and is almost the only beer drunk in the city. The taste is delicate and refreshing and less bitter than the normal Pilsner variety. It’s served in tall narrow 200ml glasses known as Stangen and the bar staff, in blue shirts, dark trousers and aprons, patrol the tables looking for empties and automatically replacing them with full ones. This is a dangerous way to drink beer, as there’s no natural break as you wait at the bar, or attempt to attract the bar staff’s attention. It has to be said that it slips down very easily and the only tally of how many you’ve had is the waiter’s scribble on your beer mat. After all you probably won’t be in a fit state to count…
German Wings flies two or three times a day from Stansted to Cologne. Flights start at 19.99 Euro one way!
Cologne Tourism has information and can make reservations. Tel. Hotline: +49 (0)221 221 30400
Excelsior Hotel Ernst offers special weekend rates. Trankgasse 1-5 / Domplatz D-50667 Köln. Tel.: +49 (0)221 2701. Fax: +49 (0)221 270 3333
Peter’s Brahaus has been serving Kölsch since 1544 and the food is excellent. Mühlengasse 1, 50667 Köln, Tel: +49 (0)221 257 3950