Monday, October 17, 2016

Cologne, Germany

We hadn't been anywhere on the weekends in Munster until we went to Cologne. When we'd make plans for our weekends we were always saying things like "Let's go to that part of town by that one bakery" and "What if we just don't go anywhere?" But we really want to see as much as we can while we're in Europe, so we thought we might get started on traveling from Munster! We decided that since Cologne is a short train ride (two hours) away, we might as well make a day of it!

A group of Fulbrighters came into town for a food truck festival the Friday evening before, and our friend Ben was among them. We got to show him around Munster, and then he spent the night at our apartment and took the train with us to Cologne, where he played tour guide. It was a good set up, and fun to see an "old friend" (it's funny how we met these people in August and we already miss them. I was not expecting that!). 

We really liked Cologne! Its population is a little over three times the size of Munster, at just over a million people, and it's definitely much more of a touristy place. We didn't really venture outside of the Altstadt there so I can't speak for the whole thing, but it was really bustling! 

I really liked these stairs we encountered walking out of the train station.

The first thing you see when you leave the Hauptbahnhof is this massive cathedral. Pictures don't do its size justice. It's incredibly detailed and just a magnificent place.

Seventy percent of the city was bombed in WWII by the Allied troops, including a significant portion of the Altstadt. It was explained to us that the Germans would store artwork and other valuables inside the church in hopes that bombers would spare it and therefore spare significant masterpieces. I guess this was a widely known thing, and the church WAS spared, though all the windows were shattered. A signboard outside the church had pictures of the city from 70 years ago. The Altstadt has been rebuilt to resemble its former glory, and the windows in the church were replaced as well. I guess Cologne was bombed heavily because it was an industrial city, and that part of the city was not rebuilt. Ben said that the main industries in Cologne were probably tourism/retail and university. 

We stopped by a bakery for something to snack on while we found a place for lunch (this, I've found is the best part about traveling with guys - lots of eating and snacking even if you're on your way to lunch). I had an apple Berliner for the first time and now that's the only pastry I ever want. 

We settled on a quiet pizza place overlooking a little square. There was good people watching outside that window - several couples taking wedding pictures, a band, a demonstration group, and a group of about 50 men dressed alike in navy blue tuxedos. I don't know what that's about, so if you do, fill me in!

Cologne's history goes back really really far - it was established by the Romans in the first century. My first century history buff was all over this, of course. Carson's eagle eyes spotted the Roman Praetorium Archeological Museum so that's where we went next. It was only 3.50 (3 euro for Carson and Ben because they have student ids). Along with artifacts, they had small scale models of buildings that have been excavated here, the site of the praetorium, and some aqueducts that used to run under the city (I would guess that they probably still do?). It was a small museum but one of the better and more interesting museums I've visited. 

Probably one of the coolest things about it was that the building sits right on top of the praetorium so you can walk down and see the ruins of the building itself. They have a sort of elevated boardwalk all the way around with signs and plaques and maps that showed you what this might have looked like in the first century. Carson kept his cool, but you could tell he was pretty pumped about the whole thing.

You can also walk in a section of the aqueduct. It was a little creepy, and definitely not for the claustrophobic, but really neat to walk around down there. 

There's a famous brewery in Cologne that was going to be our next stop, but the wait was long so we went to Starbucks instead. 

We decided to cross the river next and to take the S-Bahn to get there, so we walked through busy streets filled with interesting things like a family dressed up like cattle promoting veganism and a building with an ice cream cone on top. 

Over the river there was definitely a slower pace. It was peaceful and it did feel like a different city. 

We walked a lot that day, so we took advantage of the nice wide ledge overlooking the Rhine and rested our feet. We saw three wedding parties taking pictures. We also met a neuroscientist from Chicago who had moved to Cologne a week prior. We discussed the election, which is pretty much all anyone discusses when they see other Americans.

We took the train back over instead of walking back, and Ben left us for about an hour to run an errand. We decided to take that time and walk inside the cathedral. The lines were so long when we'd arrived in the morning that we decided to hold off. 

We browsed a bookstore, went to Media Markt to see if they possibly carried a crockpot (negative. haven't found a store that sells them other than amazon).

We also went into another church, this one fairly large, but tiny in comparison with the huge Dom. 

Carson believes this is a part of the aqueduct. 

This may be a "yeah, duh" thing for you, but I hadn't associated the city Cologne with cologne-cologne before. I don't know if it actually has a history that stems from this city or if it just capitalizes on tourists. but there were several cologne shops and tourist shops selling little bottles of "original" cologne. I found a tiny one for cheap and bought it for Carson, being the good tourist that I am.

Here's a super great quality shot of us with the Dom while we waited to meet up with Ben. Woohoo!

Carson found a highly rated cheap Italian restaurant for dinner, so we navigated to the UBahn to get there and then discovered that it would take the same amount of time to walk, so we did that.

This place, whose name alludes me, was fantastic. I'd return every day for this mushroom pasta. I asked Carson if we could move here instead for this place but he said something about needing to do research in Munster so we couldn't... rude!

This little guy is all over the place in Germany - he's from a German cartoon called Die Sendung mit der Maus (the program with the mouse). Here's a YouTube clip of it: Die Sendung mit der Maus

We walked by the cathedral once more at night. It looked magical, but was hard to capture.

We'd love to come back and explore more! Ben told us that some people say Cologne isn't a great German city because of the way it's laid out, but as outsiders, we really liked it! It would be a fun place to live!

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