Cologne: culture and… cologne
The fourth largest city in Germany, Cologne has cultural appetites that flow inexorably forward, just like the legendary Rhine river, which defines and divides it.
It looks pretty rough at first. Almost entirely destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt on the fly, Cologne is filled with charmless, improvised buildings and follows no discernible urban plan. But don't let that slow you down. Cologne can be tamed. Just jump on a bike and pedal down one of its marvellous bike paths. Suddenly, everything appears in a different light, full of life and vitality. Regulars know this well those who come every year to Art Cologne, the prestigious international art fair, and Design Fair, the most important design show after Milan. Just take a stroll through the Belgian area, the Belgisches Viertel, to get a sense of the city's creative energy. Taschen, the world-famous publisher and the democratiser of the art book, was born here.
The city is ceaselessly inventing its future, currently by reimagining its long-abandoned riverbanks. The docks that have been rehabilitated now offer nice walks along the Rhine unless you prefer to do it by boat. The Eau de Cologne, still based on its original recipe, was launched here in 1709 and continues to get daubed on wrists and necks the world over. Another gold-coloured liquid, beer, runs freely here, too, especially when accompanying wursts (sausages).
But don't think its all just fun and suds here, even though the city's festive aspect is reinforced by the city's large number of students Cologne is home to the third largest university in Germany. The Rhenish capital is also a trove for art lovers. The ancient Roman colony (Colonia) has left many traces. And if the cathedral symbolises the city, so do its fabulous museums, where you get a true sense of the spirit of this place and the rich merchants who donated their collections. Finally, escape into the heart of the industrial Ruhr to better understand Cologne's cultural heritage. Here again, art triumphs over ruins.