I took German classes for five years, so to say I was excited about finally getting to go to Cologne (Germany’s fourth largest city) for a day is an understatement. I was stoked to get to witness the greatness of the Cologne Cathedral I had seen so many PowerPoint slides of, walk on the “Love Lock Bridge”, and test out my rusty German skills.
The train ride was only 2.5 hours, making a day trip viable. As soon as I stepped out of the train station upon arrival, I was floored by the behemoth structure that is the Kölner Dom. I knew it was near the train station, but I did not expect to be visually assaulted by its gothic beauty. Never having been this in awe of a piece of architecture, I started tearing up which quickly turned into actual crying. The cathedral (which dates back to the year 1248) is magical, but not in a “pretty” way, per se. In a way that reminds you just how small you really are. The weather forecast predicted high chances of rain, so I chose not to bring my camera, which made me feel slightly naked as a tourist. I felt that it was almost unfair of me to take iPhone quality photos of this amazing building, because they simply cannot do it justice. We walked inside, remaining in a quiet state of awe as we admired the stained glass windows, tributes to Catholic saints and artwork. I took a few minutes to say a prayer and light a candle for my late grandmother, which was a sacred moment for me. After wandering around independently, our group of six met up in the pews because it looked as if an all-women’s choir was about to sing. Turns out they weren’t on for another 40 minutes, but when would we get an opportunity like this again? So in the mean time, we sat in expectancy and reverence. Right as the choir began to sing, two women came rushing in and asked in Irish-accented English if they could sit next to me, explaining that they had come from Galway to surprise their friends in the choir and hear them sing. They told me how the women in this Irish choir (now all middle-aged) used to sing together when they were nine and ten years old, and have now reconvened to perform and worship in Germany this weekend. To my surprise, I knew several of the worship songs they sang in English. The acoustics were topnotch, as you can imagine. Live choral music in a centuries-old cathedral is something that I hope everyone reading this gets to witness one day.
After this holy experience, food was our next mission. Soliciting the help of Yelp, we decided on an authentic German restaurant which happened to be literally yards away, called Früh. Once we finally decided what we wanted (thank goodness for translated menus) and were ordering, a waiter walked by and bumped into a chair, causing him to spill a tray of eight miniature salads with tasty-but-runny dressing all over one of the girls I was with. The dressing went down her back and in her hair. It was one of those, “Did that actually just happen?” moments. The manager rushed over and took care of it, insisting that she order the most expensive entree (Weinerschnitzel) on the house, and bringing us free salads and later a free apple strudel to share. The sausage-and-potato-heavy meal ended up being delicious, even with the tumultuous beginning.
As we were eating, the rain we were promised arrived. We made our way to the nearby Hohenzollern Bridge, which is covered in thousands and thousands of inscribed locks. Lovers are supposed to put a personalized padlock on the bridge and throw the key into the Rhine river below, symbolizing everlasting love. We walked the length of the structure and the oldest lock we saw was from 1975. The bridge is a reminder that even in a dark and hurting world, love still abounds.
On the way to our next excursion, the Old Town, we stopped on a huge set of steps leading down to the river and laid on the concrete, soaking up both the reality that we are 20-somethings in Europe and the light rain drops. We listened to Corey Kilgannon’s song Köln (the German spelling on Cologne), because what could be more fitting?
Once we made it across the bridge adjacent to the Hohenzollern, it suddenly dawned on me that I needed to try Spaghettieis, a German ice-cream dish that is made to look like spaghetti with marinara sauce. I’d had a counterfeit version before when we played café in high school German, but I wanted to taste the real thing. Fortunately, Europe has gelato places on every corner, so I popped into one and asked (in German) if they had this delicacy, to which the man replied (in English), “I can make it for you.” Cover blown. It met my expectations and now I can say I’ve had it! We walked around the Old Town, past colorful houses-turned-businesses and through cobblestone streets. We turned down aggressive restaurant employees who asked if we wanted to eat at their establishment while shoving menus in our faces. Then we made our way to Museum Ludwig to look at modern art for a couple of hours, including pieces by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Marcel Duchamp. By this point my feet were hurting a lot, but at least my feet were hurting in Europe. I needed some fresh air so I stepped out onto an ivy-clad balcony of sorts, and with the cool rush of air came the harmonic rush of voices. An orchestral choir was performing outside of the Cathedral, and could be heard from stories up. Turns out my favorite part of the museum wasn’t within its walls.
The day wound down with coffee and pastries (specifically Berliners, a.k.a jelly donuts) from a less-than-local bakery. After a quick stop to smell the city’s namesake: the 4117 Eau de Cologne (not a huge fan), we felt content enough with all we had done to take an earlier-than-planned train out. The day was pleasing to the senses and good for the soul.
Cologne, I’ll be back again someday.