Hundreds of lights, tens of Christmas specific fragrances, many cheerful people carrying presents — and let’s not forget the beautiful Christmas music in this welcoming, clean city. A Christmas spent very quietly.
A new year, the same holidays, the same magic, but a different atmosphere. Deian’s uncle and aunt still live in Rennerod, a small town in Westerwald, Rheinland-Pfalz. Having not seen them for a while, we thought it would be a great idea to visit them, especially during the holiday season, when all the towns in Germany are beautifully decorated.
We flew to Frankfurt Hahn Airport, where they awaited us. They drove us to their home and served us Glühwein, we started to talk about what we’ve been up to and planned our trips for the following days. Our first destination was the western city Cologne.
We took a train and could immediately see the majestic Cologne Cathedral when we entered the station — its quite hard to miss, actually. After leaving the train station, we hurried to our hotel to leave our baggage and spend our Christmas in Cologne.
Our hotel, CityClass Hotel Caprise am Dom, was situated in the city centre; we deliberately chose it to be as close to all the Christmas markets and all the other related events. We fell in love with the hotel, because it was quite remote, although in the centre of the city. To find it, you had to go into a narrow street, take a turn, then you’ll find yourself in a courtyard where the entrance is.
The atmosphere was jolly, it was unusually quiet. Only a few steps away, hundreds of people enjoyed themselves at the Christmas market in Heumarkt. Even the train station was only a 15-minute walk away; there are also quite a few restaurants nearby if you want to have lunch or dinner. Everything in the neighbourhood was very clean; we had a really good time.
Cologne Cathedral is a Roman catholic cathedral and a renowned historic monument, known around the globe for its Gothic architecture. The cathedral, which has the biggest facade of all cathedrals in the world, is one of Germany’s biggest tourist attractions. Its towers reach 157 metres into the sky.
The cathedral was finalised in the year 1882, 632 years after the construction had begun. The interior is as spectacular as the facade suggests: high archways, stained glass windows from the 19th century and beautiful mosaics on the floors. Besides the altar, pictures and small chapels, you can also find the reliquary of the Three Kings. Another highlight is the oldest wooden crucifix known in the western world.
Theoretically, tourists can climb up to the top of the tower. But when we were visiting, the weather was not particularly great, so we decided against it and will visit sometime in the future. Still, we were happy that we could witness the choir on December the 24th, which sang beautifully that evening.
Walking through the city
The friendly hotel staff gave us a map to takes with us, but you should be able to find a tourist info centre behind the cathedral, in case you need a map or need help getting around.
During the holiday season, museums in Cologne were closed, so we chose to take long walks through the city centre, but also visit as many Christmas markets as possible; the latter are usually open until December 23rd. The closest Christmas market was the one in Heumarkt, a small square next to our hotel. Another one was the Christmas Market Alter Markt and very busy and interesting was the market from Roncalliplatz, next to the Cologne Cathedral.
Two more Christmas markets you should visit:
- Christmas market at Neumarkt
- Christmas market at Rudolfplatz
Eau de Cologne
We liked the Christmas market at Heumarkt and Alter Markt the most. They were small, intimate and didn’t seem as touristy as the others. The jolly atmosphere seemed to make even the visitors much more relaxed. After visiting Christmas market after Christmas market, we strolled through Schildergasse, a street full of shops of all kinds, where locals were buying presents.
What stood out to us was a building in Glockengasse nr. 4711, which is also the name of the world-renowned Eau de Cologne, developed by Giovanni Maria Farina in 1709. The most famous fragrance is called Eau de Cologne no. 4711, named after the shop location in Glockengasse. The perfume was developed in the 18th century by Wilhelm Mülhens from Cologne. To this date, it remains one of the oldest perfumes still being produced.
Besides said fragrance, you can try a lot more in their shop. If you want to find out more about their history, do visit the museum Farina at Obenmarspforten nr. 21, which is also the oldest perfume factory in the world.
The twelve town gateways
Originally, the mediaeval Cologne had twelve gateways, only three remain today:
- Hahnentor at Rudolfplatz
- Eigelsteintorburg at Ebertplatz
- Severinstorburg at Chlodwigplatz
We only managed to visit the first two, the third is on our bucket list.
After strolling around the old gateways the day before, on the morning of the 24th, we started walking along the River Rhine. It seemed like we were the only ones in the whole city wandering around. But from time to time, we would meet a local also taking a walk. Our way led us to the bridge Hohenzollern and ultimately past the bridge Severin — when the wind started to pick up, we had to leave the river side. Passing by the tower Malakoff and the Great St. Martin Church, which impressed us greatly, we changed direction into the centre of the city.
For the rest of the day, we walked randomly through the narrow streets of the old town, admiring the beautiful architecture, eyeing people passing by, who were desperate to get one last Christmas present for their loved ones.
One day, we even somehow ended up at the Zoo, by mistake, no less. Sadly, it started to rain, so we went back to the hotel.
Savoury food in Cologne
While in Cologne, we ate where we could, mostly from Christmas markets, but also different Italian restaurants. But our culinary highlights where Hard Rock Café and XII Apostel.
Hard Rock Café Cologne
The menu offers a limited, but diverse selection of food.
Looking for a place to eat, we arrived at Hard Rock Café. Sadly, all tables were occupied, but the friendly waiter gave us a pager, which would give us a sign once a table was free. Meanwhile, we sat in a cafe across the street and drank tee, impatiently waiting for our table.
In Hard Rock Café, we obviously loved the music, but we were also surprised by the tasty food. Alina chose a Caesar Salad, Deian Macaroni & Cheese. Looking at other people’s food, we noticed that they seemed equally tasty.
We stopped by XII Apostel one evening on our way back to our hotel. It was raining, we were hungry — two reasons that merit a well-deserved break to fill our stomachs. The restaurant was fully booked; luckily, there were two tables available outside. Staying outside on a cold, rainy December day wasn’t a problem because infrared lights kept us warm.
Alina chose, again, a Caesar Salad, because she is a sucker for salads. Deian, however, picked some kind of sausage with a marmalade sauce, red pepper and some kind of porridge.
I tasted what Deian ordered and I can honestly say that I liked it. The combination of the spicy pepper and sweet jam was very interesting.
The last breakfast
December the 25th was the day of our departure. We were lucky to find a place to eat on our way to the train station. It was the only open restaurant in Heumarkt. Sadly, we forgot to write down its name.
The two of us sat at a table near the window where an elderly man was sitting alone reading the newspaper. We liked the man very much, because he was wearing a suit and, when he saw us taking a seat next to him, he started a conversation with Deian. Alina, not speaking German, only smiled. Later, a few more people walked in — probably tourists like us.
After we had finished our breakfast, we walked slowly to the train station. Here and there, a few people had already woken up, strolling through the streets; around the train station, it was quite busy for a holiday, especially in the Starbucks next to it. We enjoyed our Christmas in Cologne, as quiet and peaceful as it was.