A weekend in Cologne, Germany

We all know 2020 is a special year because it hails the start of a new decade. A time to refresh and reshuffle. But, aside from the changing of the decade, 2020 is a very special year in the music world- our world – as our day jobs are musicians / music tutors. 250 years ago to this year, the absolute genius that was Beethoven was born; in an attic (or more likely the kitchen actually) of a town house in Bonn, about 30 mins away from Cologne, Germany. We could not let this birthday celebration pass without a visit to his stomping ground, a thing that’s now become a little bit of a tradition for us, as we enjoyed a visit to Bach’s Leipzig last year and also Mozart’s Vienna and Salzburg prior to that.

When we visited Leipzig last year, we hired a car for our use but research showed this time we could reply more on Public Transport. We nabbed cheap Ryanair flights from London Stansted to Cologne – leaving first thing on a Friday and returning at 8.30pm on Sunday. The outward flight was only 55 mins in length, and 1 hour 10 on the return. Presumably because we were all full of beer and sausage making the flight heavier 😉

Our hotel, the Wyndham Koln, was situated opposite the train station, so within an hour of disembarking our flight we were checking in to our hotel, which conveniently was able to offer us an early check in. Bags dropped and bodies freshened up, we set off to begin our adventures in Cologne.

We didn’t know much about Cologne, other than it’s home to a UNESCO cathedral, got bombed heavily and has the Rhine running through. We could see the imposing spires of the cathedral from the front of our hotel, a brisk walk through the train station and we found ourselves directly outside. As soon as we emerged out the other side of the station, our breaths were taken away. The cathedral is HUGE. At 157m high, it’s currently the tallest twin spired church in the world. And absolutely magnificent. The intricate detailing- and sheer scale of it – on the Gothic architecture is absolutely mind blowing. We must have stood at the base of the cathedral in awe for 15 minutes before making our way inside.

Inside the cathedral is also spectacular but on first look, we couldn’t see any English signs so whizzed round not really too sure what we were admiring. It was only when we revisited the next day with our lonely guide book at the ready we realised there were English pamphlets at the door!

As our bellies and tastebuds were beginning to wake up, we headed just a small walk away to one of the most popular and oldest beer houses in Cologne, Fruh. In Cologne, the local beer is called Kolsh, and served in small 200 ml glasses. Beer halls serve almost exclusively this, and it is brought out to you by waiters carrying multiple glasses and topping up tables as they run dry by using a ‘crown’, then marking on a beer mat a tally indicating how many you’ve had. When you don’t want any more beer, you place a beer mat on top of your glass. Good fun, and a very cheap and refreshing way to drink as the glasses were on average around €2 a glass. Our server was fun and we really enjoyed the experience and banter. Beerhalls serve a selection of local delicacies to eat and we got stuck into our first brat sausage meal of the weekend- it was delicious.

After lunch we made our way towards the Rhine, walking along the river path for a mile or so, before heading to Eigelstein Torburg, where we saw some surviving city wall ramparts.

We also visited St Gereon’s Church, a stunning Roman Catholic Church, parts of which date back to 612. The choir gallery was built in 1151 and the mosaics on the ceiling were wonderful to see.

During our walk, we made several refreshment stops, our favourite was the exceptionally local and non touristy Brauerei Päffgen, a huge beer hall, serving their local house brew. Being Friday afternoon into evening it was packed and by mostly men! What was interesting was the colourful outfits they all wore- linked to the festivities of the Cologne Carnival season apparently. We never saw such a colourful and smart bunch down the pub on a Friday afternoon! We felt like we stood out as tourists a little but we didn’t care. It was a wonderful place to people watch for an hour.

We nipped back to the hotel, took a nap and freshened up before heading out for dinner. We walked back past the cathedral and along to the river bank, which was a hive of activity. Lots of restaurants line the promenade, all with their menus on display and waiters trying to encourage you in. We opted for the last one on the strip, with no waiter outside. A lovely quiet fish restaurant named after their main dish, Herrings. We had a drink outside and decided to order their signature dish, battered herring fillets. They were delicious, and a first for us both. We really enjoyed our evening there. We walked back to the hotel via the old town, which was buzzing with people in the bars, enjoying Friday night on the town. For us, our early morning was catching up on us so we decided to make our way back to the hotel.

Saturday

We rose fairly early and decided to make a return visit to the cathedral to view some of the items inside with our guide book to help up. Inside we saw the Shrine to the Maji – a beautiful gold tomb said to contain the relics of the 3 Kings. We also saw the oldest life size wooden crucifix that remains, it’s over 1000 years old which was incredible.

Across from the cathedral was the Roman museum. The main museum was closed for refurbishment however we could still see the 2000 year old and almost complete mosaic floor- made up of over 10 million glass beads, and a large Roman Tomb dating from 40AD. How these, along with the cathedral, survived the war is beyond me. The mosaic floor was only discovered when a bomb shelter was being built in the 40s! What a surprise they must have had.

A visit to Cologne cathedral is worth the trip alone but for us, was just the appetiser.

We checked our of the hotel and made our way to the station where caught the next train to Bonn. There are 3 trains an hour and it cost just €8 each. It took 25 mins to reach Bonn and was a pleasant journey.

Once at Bonn, we were rewarded with another early check in, this time our hotel was the Rheinland Hotel. You can imagine our surprise when we entered into our room.

See video!

It was a little dated and there is no accounting for taste lol, but centrally located so we dumped our bags and made our way to the marketplace. We had a quick beer in the historic Em Hottche, said to have been a place where Beethoven came to drink and dance. We really like the atmosphere of German traditional bars.

We stopped for some lunch in the market place at the market which had some tasty looking food and drink stalls and also gave us an opportunity to try the local Rheinland wine. Which actually was rather good.

Fed and watered it was time to go and visit Beethoven’s house- the main reason for this trip!

No pictures are allowed inside but we had the most wonderful time exploring inside the townhouse where Beethoven was born. We saw his original viola and a piano that was made for him. We found the piano especially incredible as it was one of the first that had the lower notes and larger range. This marked the transition from the classical period of music into the romantic period of music. The music became more exploratory rather than the organised structured music of the classical era. Beethoven is considered one of the important composers of the transition and it was amazing to see this original instrument.

Other inspiring items for us to see were Beethoven’s hearing trumpets, which enabled him to continue composing as he lost his hearing. It never ceases to astound me that he had hearing problems whilst he wrote perhaps his most well known symphony, Beethoven’s 5th.

We also saw his reading glasses and quill along with lots of his original notation. To say we found the visit overwhelming and inspiring is an understatement. I cried when we saw the piano. It was simply marvellous and a must for anyone remotely interested in music of any genre in our opinion.

The rest of Saturday was taken by exploring some of Bonn’s beer halls and soaking up the atmosphere around the town. We headed to a great German wine bar in the evening where we tried some local wines which actually were rather good, before heading back to Em Hottche for dinner. We tried the local dish of black pudding sausages and mash with lashings of apple sauce. Following dinner we took a recommendation of our waiter for a nightcap in a cocktail bar where I was able to try the local Rheinland gin.

Sunday

We hadn’t any definite plans for today – other than catching our flight home at 8pm. I’d read up about a UNESCO site close to Bonn and Cologne so we nipped to the Tourist Info to investigate logistics of getting there without a car. Turns out it couldn’t have been easier for our final day! Schloss Augustusburg is situated just 100m from the main Cologne to Bonn rail route and has its own train station (Brühl). Schloss Augustusburg has hand luggage lockers and is UNESCO World Heritage so it was a perfect place for us to stop at as we travelled back toward Cologne from Bonn. It’s just 10 mins from Bonn and 10 mins from Cologne.

We knew nothing about the site before our visit, being drawn in solely by its world heritage status. As soon as we stepped off the train we knew we were in for a treat as the perfectly symmetrical U shaped palace is visible almost immediately.

The castle (sometimes known as Brühl Palaces Augustusburg) represents one of the first examples of Rococo creations in Germany. Built in the 18th century it survived the war, and really is a baroque masterpiece.

The staircase is utterly magnificent- I’ve never anything like it – I actually cried when I saw it, it literally took my breath away. I think part of this reaction was based upon the fact that I had absolutely NO idea what to expect. How often do we travel to a UNESCO site knowing kind of what to expect, because we’ve seen photos online. This caught us both with no preconceptions and I honestly can’t remember seeing anything so beautiful in all my life. Sadly no photos were allowed – and actually would never have done the place any justice whatsoever, but to try and wet your appetite I’ve found some photos online of what you can expect.

We spent a good few hours here exploring the baroque gardens and parkland and also the hunting lodge also on the estate. Mozart stayed here!

We really REALLY enjoyed our visit here and would love to return one day to watch a baroque concert here. This place alone is worth a flight to Cologne- there aren’t enough superlatives to describe quite how much we enjoyed our visit here.

Late afternoon looked and we decided to make our way back to Cologne. We popped back to the Fruhl brewery and beer hall for a bite to eat, ad another wander along the river front stopping for one last beer, before catching our train back to the airport. We had had the most exceptional weekend.

We absolutely recommend a trip to Cologne for a long weekend – hand luggage only and no cars needed. A perfect mini adventure!

Until next time

Lx