A Dream Come True
Word of advice: Cologne on a Saturday night at Christmas is mental – and not in a good way. Surviving a mere hour before giving in, I retired at a record 7:30pm. On a Saturday. It may not have been very sporting and certainly not how I would have been a few years back, but I’ll take an early night sitting on my hostel floor like an actual child building a Lego Santa, not caring that my Russian roommate is looking at me funny, over battling against crowds at a snail’s pace, unable to see anything and without anyone for company throughout the ordeal, any day. If nothing else, it at least allowed me plenty of rest and refreshment for the moment I’ve been most waiting for since I embarked on this whole journey. For today, I managed to tick an important item off my travel bucket list. Yes, the dream in this post title isn’t playing with Lego, but in fact something much bigger.
For years throughout my childhood, I arrived back into my hometown of Cleethorpes after a trip out to be greeted with a sign. “Cleethorpes, twinned with Königswinter.” For years, I wondered where Königswinter even was, what it might be like. Well now I know, having just got back from this most charming of small German towns.
Around 40 minutes from Cologne, Königswinter is a worthwhile stop on a tour of this great country. Granted, you’re probably better off leaving your visit until a more thriving time of the year, but the place has the word winter in the name, so it was fitting, you know.
Now, getting to this place is actually surprisingly doable via public transport networks if you do your research or ask someone at the train station to help you. It can be a little complicated, but despite the stereotype of them being quite blunt or rude, I find Germans to actually be incredibly nice people in general, and I felt supported through the entire experience. And if you’re after a tip, look for a platform with the end destination of Koblenz. Königswinter is situated along this route. Alternatively, you can travel via Bonn and then catch a tram from there. Either way, there’s no need to book in advance as this route operates more like a metro system than a regular train line. You simply buy a ticket and validate it with one of many machines at the time you want to travel, before boarding a train at the most appropriate time (providing this is within a two hour window).
Still, it’s alright knowing how to get there, but why would you go if you didn’t have some kind of personal connection like I do? What does it actually have to offer? I know you probably haven’t come here for technical info on trains, after all.
Well, Königswinter is a quaint little town situated just south of Cologne, on the Rhein River, and it’s this river that most of the focus is around. That and, of course, the Drachenfels.
The Drachenfels is a hilly peak in the Siebengebirge (which translates to “Seven Mountains” in English) range, offering fantastic views of the region. You can climb the entire trail, or do what I did and get the little train up. Most of the year you can travel all the way to the top by rail, but at Christmas they have one single deal on. A return journey to the halfway point (castle) including entry to the castle and Christmas market it hosts – all for €12 per adult. Not bad.
And really, what’s a trip to Germany without a castle anyway?
Entering the grounds, the commitment is clear, the theme seemingly Victorian era Britain with a particular focus on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Staff walk around in period costume and even put on a show of the classic story within the market.
Inside the castle itself, more stalls can be found, and the furnished display rooms have even been presumably adapted to complement the festive feel they’re going for as well. The otherwise rather standard room set-ups are brought to life with the addition of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and one of the beds even contains a polar bear! Better warn the children!
Still, the castle itself is pretty anyway, like something from a fairytale, and the Christmas stuff is really just a happy bonus.
Alas, while it took me quite comfortably to the castle, the train wouldn’t take me the whole way up the incline, which forced me to use my legs even more. Thankfully, the journey from the castle to the viewpoint is only around 15 minutes by foot, because it is steep! Or maybe I’m just that unfit… Either way, reaching the top was a relief, and wow, that view. You could even see Cologne Cathedral on the horizon!
After taking in the views, aka. getting my breath back, I proceeded up the last little stretch to the old ruins because well, why not?
Working my way back down to the castle, I decided to forego the return ticket back to town in favour of doing the walk I was too lazy to attempt coming the other way. I mean, if you’re only going to do it one way, do it down, right?
This turned out to be a good decision, as there are a number of stops along the woodland route such as benches, cafes and other attractions. I took a breather by visiting Nibelungenhalle (Adult entry: €6), a peculiar place in that it exhibits river-based artwork in elaborate, gallery fashion, before going on to a short cave route with a large dragon statue, and finally a swelteringly hot reptile house. See why I was fascinated? Who even thinks to put all of those things together?
The reptiles being the main feature, this place is great if you like snakes because you can get up and close to them. If they scare or repulse you, however, maybe sacrifice seeing the artwork and give the whole thing a miss, because the reptile house is a large part of the experience.
Finally back in town, I counted my lucky stars I hadn’t stayed up the top longer, as the heavens opened suddenly with an almighty crack, the kind of sharp shower that would soak you in an instant that you’d expect to find in a rainforest. At least that gave me the perfect excuse to dip into a local cafe and sit back with some much deserved cake.
The mystery years in the making now solved, I feel a sense of accomplishment, and am so glad I took the time to pay a visit to this cute and homely town most have likely never even heard of. You could spend a lot longer exploring this region if you are into nature and hiking, or fancy making lots of smaller stops, but for me and my weary feet in my admittedly unsuitable boots, this was just right. Twin goals? Smashed it.