I have started writing this draft since November actually. However, it seems a bit difficult for me to finish it since some photos I wanted to post here were stored in external disc (lazy gal, always find excuses ya). But when I looked at mbak Lorraine’s post and also some other posts about Christmas, it encouraged me to finish and share this writing again hehe. The story is about my traveling experience to Cologne, Germany during Christmas time, back then in 2013.*
We (my husband and I) didn’t go to Cologne on the Christmas day, but we went a few days earlier, because despite wanting to explore the city (center), we also wanted to go to the Christmas Market (Kölner Weihnachtsmärkte) that had been held since the end of November. The Christmas Market began on 23rd of November and opened until 23rd of December.
The reason we chose Cologne at that time was quite simple. We wanted to spend some quality time together (important because at that time I haven’t moved here yet, and we couldn’t leave the kids for too long), both of us were never been there before (well, he was but for work I think), and the city is not that far from our place. We also read on some articles that Cologne is best to visit during that time because of their Christmas Market(s).
We went there by car. It was approximately 2-3 hours of driving from our place. We didn’t bring the car to the city center of Cologne since there was some special rules about this (we need to have a special sticker to enter the city if I’m not mistaken. They have this area called “Low Emission Zone”) and we knew it would be very busy during that period. Thus we parked the car at the Park ‘n Ride facility in Bocklemünd (my husband was very sure with this location, while I am not – bad memory :p) and from there we took a bus to reach the hotel we were staying at.
We stayed at Hotel Im Wasserturm, which located at the very heart of Cologne City Center. The location of the hotel is in a quiet area, however you can reach Cologne’s major attractions in just minutes.
The Hotel itself once was Europe’s largest water tower. Partly destroyed during World War II, the 140 year old brickwork building had been rebuilt in the early 90’s and configured in three rings by a British engineer. The shape of the hotel is quite unique, as you can see below.
After getting some rest for a while, we decided to just start our exploration. First destination: the famous landmark of Cologne, Kölner Dom (or in English: Cologne Cathedral). As any other notorious Cathedrals I have visited, Kölner Dom also offered amazing both architecture and the interior. It is a renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture and is a World Heritage Site. The Cathedral was built between 1248 and 1880. As mentioned in Unesco official website, Cologne Cathedral is a High Gothic five-aisled basilica (144.5 m long), with a projecting transept (86.25 m wide) and a tower façade (157.22 m high). The nave is 43.58 m high and the side-aisles 19.80 m. The nave itself has many 19th century stained glass windows.
After a while adoring the Dom, we then continued with exploring the Christmas Markets.
As you might also know, there are 7 (places) of Christmas market in Cologne, but only five that considered to be more popular among the others. Those five famous spots of Christmas Market (or Weihnachtsmarkt in German) are: the one next to the Cathedral (Dom), Christmas Market in The Old Town, Angel’s Market in the City (Neumarkt), Harbour Market, and Gay-Lesbian Christmas Market.
We visited the market beside the Dom, the one in the Old Town, and the Angel’s Market. Too bad the photos we took from the Old Town were not shown-worthy (the weather was quite lousy also – cloudy and drizzles), thus what I posted here were only from The Market at Dom and Angel’s Market.
There were lots of typical German drinks (glühwein – mulled wine) and food/snack (bratwurst) sold here, but my husband and I didn’t get too excited with it since it’s not the typical kind of food/drink we like.
The Christmas Market next to the Cathedral was one worth to visit. With the cathedral as the background, the market has a giant Christmas tree and a merry-go-round as one of attractions for the youngest visitors.
However, I don’t know whether because it was the last days of the Market or it’s just how it was everyday, but for me the Christmas Market at the Dom was a bit too crowded. Even to walk around we had to struggle a bit to pass by. Too quiet is also not nice I know, but when it’s too much and make things less enjoyable is also not fun I think. That’s why after we thought we had thoroughly enough looking around we decided to just go back to the Hotel and have our dinner there.
On the second day of the trip, after enjoying a very nice breakfast at the hotel, we went strolling around the city center, crossing the Hohenzollern Bridge (in German: Hohenzollernbrücke), and then visiting the Angel’s Market. Actually there are quite a few of interesting museums in Cologne, for example Ludwig Museum, Chocolate Museum and Römisch-Germanisches Museum; but, again, when we were there they were not open (bad research before going to the city eh! :p). Luckily the weather was better than the previous day. No rain and more sunshine, thus we can nicely enjoy the walk.
We walked from the city center heading to the Hohenzollern Bridge. This bridge is now only accessible for trains and pedestrian. One interesting thing to be shared here I think would be the Love Locks at the Hohenzollern Bridge. I know there are many cities who has similar attraction to this (the famous one I know would be in Paris and Seoul – South Korea). But I think the love padlocks on this bridge is also quite special. Since 2008, people have placed them on the fence between the footpath and the railway lines of the bridge. Over time, tens of thousands of couples and friends in Cologne have sworn their loyalty to one another in this way. Experts estimate that the padlocks weigh over two tonnes with approximately 40,000 padlocks hang on the bridge.
Along with padlocks in all colors and shapes, there are also combination padlocks and bicycle chains on the bridge. Many of them have been elaborately designed; often engraved, painted, adorned, or decorated with home-made stickers.
The history of love padlocks itself according to Wikipedia dates back at least 100 years to a melancholic Serbian tale of World War I, with an attribution for the bridge Most Ljubavi (or in English “the Bridge of Love”) in spa town of Vrnjačka Banja. A local schoolmistress named Nada, who was from Vrnjačka Banja, fell in love with a Serbian officer named Relja. After they committed to each other Relja went to war in Greece where he fell in love with a local woman from Corfu. As a consequence, Relja and Nada broke off their engagement. Nada never recovered from that devastating blow, and after some time she died due to heartbreak from her unfortunate love. As young women from Vrnjačka Banja wanted to protect their own loves, they started writing down their names, with the names of their loved ones, on padlocks and affixing them to the railings of the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet.
We walked first on the north side, and then return to the city via the south side of the bridge. When we passed by (both north and south side), we noticed that there were more padlocks hanging on the south side than the north. We didn’t know why though.
From the bridge walking, we then continue our walk to some stores in the city center, had lunch at one of the cafe there, and then went to the Angel’s Market at Neumarkt.
The Angel’s Market was said to be one of the oldest Cologne Christmas Market that still exist until now. The color theme at the Angel’s Market was a bit different that the Market at the Dom. While the Market at the Dom had reddish as dominant color on the lights, the Angel’s Market had more of white-yellowish color on the surrounding lights. A nostalgic flavor is provided by decorative plates with illustrations of the Christmas markets with their long traditions, which are sold there alongside many other artisans’ products.
The angels are one of the highlights here, particularly for children. Dressed in white (sometimes red) and sprinkling glitter powder, they waft through the alleys spreading Christmas cheer.
To close the evening, we went to a nice Italian Restaurant close by for a dinner.
The next day we took it slow (again :p). We just had breakfast at the hotel, checked out and then returned back to Holland.
All in all for me it was quite a nice journey. We took things relaxed and easy, and we enjoyed what Cologne had offered for us. Maybe the city was not as “sexy” or popular as other (big) cities in Europe, but I think that’s just a typical “German”. As my husband said, they cannot really sell what they have. They just don’t know how to “brag” although they have lots of things to offer =)
*sorry for the long scroll due to the numbers of photos I posted here =)