After an afternoon getting lightly sunburnt in Dusseldorf I made my way to the train station to get a train to Cologne. With trains every 15 minutes or so I just about had enough time to buy a ticket and find the platform before speeding through the countryside to Cologne. It’s an easy 30 minute train ride and the train was soon pulling into the station. Our hotel, the Lindner Dom Residence was only a short five minute walk from both the station and the Cathedral (which is surprisingly right by the train station and is the first thing you see when you exit the station). My boyfriend had already found it and checked in as he’d caught the train from London earlier in the day. After a quick shower to freshen up we headed out to explore Cologne and get some dinner.
The next morning, after a good night’s sleep (restorative for me after very little sleep the night before) we were keen to explore more widely than we had the evening before when we had pretty much walked over the Hohenzollernbrücke to get a view back at the Cathedral. It’s impossible to convey the scale of the Cathedral but it’s so imposing and impossible to get a sense of from anywhere nearby, you really do have to be across the river to get a feel for it.
Continuing the beautiful weather that we’d had in Dusseldorf, we treated ourselves to ice-creams as we wandered the streets of Cologne. I’ve heard it said that Cologne is mostly about the Cathedral and to a certain extent that’s true, in the sense that there isn’t a list of ‘must-see’ sights to check off a list. We were quite content with this and enjoyed pottering around, looking in shops and generally soaking up the atmosphere.
Of course one thing that was on our ‘to do’ list was to sample the local beer – Kölsch. I never used to like beer but a few years ago I decided it was ridiculous that I didn’t drink it as there are some situations when a beer is more appropriate than either wine or a G&T, so I decided to teach myself to like it. I once read something that said that you had to try something at least ten times before you could begin to like it (if you didn’t already). So I embarked on a quest to start drinking beer. It started with fruit beers – raspberry to mask the beery taste before I moved onto proper beer. I still have a preference for light beers over darker ones, so, I have to admit, that I favoured Kölsch over the Dusseldorf local beer – Alt, which I’d sampled on my first night in Dusseldorf.
Recharged after a very German lunch we decided to pay a visit to the Cathedral.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Cologne Cathedral’s cornerstone was laid in 1248 but the Gothic cathedral wasn’t completed until 1880. The Cathedral is home to The Shrine of the Three Kings, a shrine that apparently houses the remains of the Three Wise Men, which has always attracted pilgrims to Cologne and which led to the construction of the current cathedral. The cathedral now attracts over 20,000 visitors a day.
The construction of the Cathedral took place in stages and one of the most modern additions was only added in 2007 – a new stained glass window created by artist Gerhard Richter. The original window was destroyed in World War II by one of the fourteen bombs that hit the Cathedral and plain glass has filled the space since then. The new window is made up of around 11,500 pixel-like squares of glass in over 70 colours which were arranged randomly by a computer programme.
For a weekend that was planned to follow on from my work trip to Dusseldorf, the timing was perfect as I found out that the Saturday night was Kölner Lichter, an annual firework display set to music. It’s apparently a big event with all the boat companies running special evening party trips out on the river before mooring up to watch the fireworks. I was too late to buy tickets for either a boat party or the grandstand (which both offer great views of the fireworks) and so we contented ourselves with heading to the Rheinpark with a picnic.
Although I’d read on the website to get there before 8pm (the fireworks kick off at around 11.30pm), we got there slightly earlier, maybe around 7.30pm, after picking up some goodies at the local Rewe, and found ourselves inching along with what felt like the rest of Germany (apparently around 800,000 watched the fireworks that night, albeit not all from the Rheinpark) as we hit a bottleneck going into the park as bag checks were being carried out. It had been a beautiful day and so I think most of the people in the park, and certainly those who had the best spots, had been there for much of the afternoon, but we weren’t going to waste our time in Cologne sitting in a park just to get the best view.
Once we’d found a spot of grass with, what we hoped was a view, we settled down to have our picnic and to wait. Within the park were plenty of food and drink vendors for those who hadn’t brought a picnic or for a cold Kölsch.
We whiled away our evening just snacking and chatting and soaking up the atmosphere as the light gradually faded and the skies darkened and, as promised, at around 11.30pm the music started and the first fireworks lit up the sky. The music was a lovely addition to the firework display and we snuggled up together and watched the fireworks burst overhead. It was beautiful and a lovely way to spend a warm evening.
As the fireworks only started at around 11.30pm it was late (or rather, early) by the time we had packed up and made our way out of the park. However, we found ourselves delayed by a closed bridge, for no apparent reason and it was only when a few rebels decided to push past the barrier that the security guards in place decided they had to let the crowds across. Our delay did at least give me the chance to get a few shots of the Cathedral at night with the bridge all lit up and the lights of the returning boats caught going under the bridge. I love the effect of long exposure shots and so this Autumn as it starts to get darker earlier I want to carry my Gorillapod around more and try and get some more night shots of London.
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