Cologne, Germany, that is. I had read a few weeks ago that Cologne hosts the absolute best Christmas markets in Europe, so why not kick off the holidays by taking a mini-vacation there? We just spent the weekend in this awesome little city. It was a glorious, gluttonous frenzy for us as 1) We love food and 2) the markets were full of it. Oh, and we love the holidays! It definitely got us into the spirit.
We started it off right by taking the Bahn train from Amsterdam to Köln (as it’s properly spelled) on Friday morning (after a glorious Thanksgiving, see previous post). In about two and a half relaxing hours, we were there. For about half the price and half the hassle of flying, it was a nice change from all our previous airborne trips within Europe. Over the next couple of days, we did a ton of eating, drinking and sight-seeing. Here is a quick recap:
Christmas Market at Cologne Cathedral: This is the big, famous market on the Dom Square. It was so festive! With the famous cathedral as the backdrop and adorable red tents, it was impossible not to be excited for the holidays. Great food and gift ideas, but also HUGE crowds. Like, people breathing on your food everywhere you turn. However, it made for good people watching. Here are some samples of what we ate:
Angels Market: Our favorite. We accidentally stumbled upon this one while roaming the streets the first night. It was the most beautiful by far; at night the trees were lit up with paper stars. So magical! Here we had our fair share of Glühwein, a hot spiced wine that we occasionally enhanced with rum. Delicious. This is also the location of best food of the weekend: smoked salmon sandwiches got a unanimous vote (from all 2 of us) as top food. I honestly could have eaten this a dozen more times throughout the weekend.
Home of the Gnomes: This one was cute, but definitely geared toward the kiddies. We didn’t mind strolling past all the intricately decorated gnome huts or ice-skating rink with hot Glühwein or spiked apple cider in our hands though.
Cologne Harbor Christmas Market: Our least favorite. Hah. How could I say that about a Christmas market? Where is my Christmas cheer? Oh that’s right, I left it at the other three where I had already consumed my weight in Glühwein and bratwurst. Also, it was the least scenic and the least crowded. Not surprisingly, this led to a mediocre visit. I think our opinion was also influenced by the fact that we had not sat down all day and were already full from all the other 1,000 vendors we had hit up at other markets. Is there such a thing as Christmas market overload? I’m starting to think so.
Museum Ludwig: A great art museum right next to the Dom. Decent galleries of Andy Warhol and Picasso. The best exhibit was a temporary photo collection of Picasso throughout his life. He seemed like a cool dude!
My favorite piece:
Documentation Centre and Gestapo Prison: Whenever I travel, I try to do at least one historical site and this was high up there on the Lonely Planet suggestions for Cologne. I had no idea how sad and horrifying it would be. The prison in the basement is still intact and you can see the inmates’ scrawlings on the walls. You also learn about the rise of National Socialism, how the movement swept Germany, and the German side of World War Two. Wow. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am so thankful for my life of freedom and comfort. Seriously, being in a place like this makes you stop and think – Wow, I have it so good. I suppose that is the intention in preserving a site like this though. We left with renewed gratitude for our lives.
That’s all, folks! We did a lot with a little, no? In three days, we did not sit for one meal. Or drink. Or anything. Even breakfast was grabbed from a bakery on the go. It. Was. Exhausting. I highly recommend being more prepared than I was and bring very, very, very, VERY comfortable shoes. Even if you think stacked heel boots are usually pretty comfortable, even if you have multiple Dr. Scholl’s inserts, don’t risk it unless you know you can walk for miles. Don’t ask Jaro how much I
whined complained calmly discussed my aching feet every night. “Sore” subject for both of us. Ba-dump-ching! Yeah, that’s right, pun intended. I am my father’s daughter.
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I’m glad you mention the former Gestapo headquarters as a place to see. This is something I always tell people who’re going to Cologne to see. It gives a very good – and frightening – insight into the darker sides of my native Germany’s history, but something that every visitor should have seen.
Best regards from southern Texas,
It is very moving. And a good reminder to be kinder human beings.