Welcome to Cologne
Cologne, a thriving German city with plenty to offer for Christmas.
Arriving in Germany by train from Brussels Thursday afternoon I promptly attempted to locate my next hostel in an effort to find at least some temporary relief from the pouring rain. Thankfully, it was only around a 10 minute walk from the station. The main thing I noticed as I shuffled along was how much busier and more vibrant this city is than the Belgian capital. It’s certainly a stark contrast indeed. But then, as well as the locals, this time of year in particular is a draw for visitors…
Yes, Cologne has a staggering number of Christmas markets to its name, and it being a little late to start doing much else, this seemed like the perfect jumping off point to introduce me to the city after checking in. It was only around 3pm, after all, a little early to call it a night, rain or not. So I sucked it up, located my umbrella, and set out once more.
Compared with Brussels, the markets here are on a whole other level. The stereotype is definitely right: Germans really know how to do Christmas! On this first night I found three markets, each with their own unique character.
First was the big central market by the cathedral, a labyrinth of warming stalls with a huge Christmas tree and stage hosting all kinds of musical acts right in the middle. I listened to an orchestra play Christmas tunes whilst tucking into the most incredible crepe, filled with actual melted Kinder chocolate. Divine!
The next market was more quaint and elegant, donning cute wooden huts and pretty white star-shaped lighting that hung from the trees. And the third, well, the entrance had me intrigued from the off. Wouldn’t it you?
First though, I needed to rest my feet, and was astonished that I’d been yet to come across any pubs. All I wanted was a sit down in the warm with a refreshment instead of huddling under a canopy on my feet sardined in with a bunch of strangers. It wasn’t too much to ask, right? Then, lo and behold, I found somewhere, right near this most exciting of archways. The atmosphere wasn’t exactly homely, but crucially it had available seats and drinks, and so I was well and truly sold. Listening to Last Christmas play over the speakers, I was brimming with anticipation of where this little trip might lead me next, already admittedly a little overwhelmed after such a quiet time in Belgium.
Slightly refreshed, I pressed on to market number 3, through the wondrous gateway – and wow, just wow. Despite the suffocating evening crowds this was definitely the most impressive yet, truly embodying Christmas in every sense. Oh, and there’s where the pubs were hiding…
Having only explored very remotely the night before, today I resolved to broaden my horizons a little further, making the most of actual daylight for getting my bearings. It being the best day weather-wise according to the forecast, I decided I’d take the opportunity to escape the madness and embrace the outdoors, heading to a wonderful expanse of green (or in this case brown) space a little out of the centre, home to Lindenthaler Tierpark.
This area of the park is home to many animals, such as deer, goats and donkeys, but unlike a traditional zoo, they’re wandering freely down the same paths as you, and there are a number of food dispensers throughout the trail for a cheeky little feed. The deer in particular seem to love this! You can also see various birds and on a nice day even bring a picnic. It was too cold for any of that today though.
I spent a little longer soaking up the park, but it soon got just a little too chilly. Opting against the hour-long weaving walk back, having already done that journey once, I hopped on a Number 7 tram back to the centre just in time for a late lunch – an absolute splurge at Hard Rock Cafe for a treat after living off street food pretty much since I arrived on the mainland. It cost a pretty penny – especially factoring in the several vodkas that accompanied it – but you know what? It was worth it, if nothing else for the mashed potato. God, I really miss mash when I’m traveling…
With my last little bit of rapidly dying daylight I headed briefly across the river for that view of the cathedral. FYI, if you’re planning on leaving a love lock on this bridge when you visit, you might want to think again, otherwise good luck finding any space!
And finally, with night (well, like 5pm, but still) once again upon me, there was only one more thing for it. The markets are the whole reason I came here in December rather than waiting for a nicer time of year, after all…