If I’m not lucky enough to have poppyseed bread rolls from the Merzenich bakery when I get out of bed, I like to start my day by whisking myself away to the majestic coffeehouse culture of the 1950s. At Café Wahlen on Hohenzollernring, the walls are still covered in silk, chandeliers hang from the ceiling and the menu offers vintage culinary delights such as the maraschino cake.
And because I’m already in the city centre, it’s an ideal opportunity to pay a visit to the Kolumba. Originally built in the year 980 (!), this church was redesigned with a modern façade by architect Peter Zumthor and is now a museum, church and architectural masterpiece all in one. If you’re there, be sure to visit the wood-panelled reading room on the second floor!
And because I’m in Cologne, I can’t not pay my respects to the cathedral. However, rather than climbing the many steps up to the spire, I prefer to go to the underground car park beneath it. Here, you get to experience a typical Cologne moment: there is so much history here that no one knows what to do with it all. In Cologne, the remains of a Roman settlement and the old fountain from the original cathedral structure are on display in this public parking garage. If it were anywhere else, there would be bulletproof glass around it and an admission fee of at least € 7.50.
I have already spent half a day in Cologne without having drunk a single beer – so it’s off to the Brauhaus I go! My absolute favourite brewery pub is Johann Schäfer in the south of the city. This has quite a lot to do with the fact that the chef is a fellow Bavarian and serves up a wonderful cheese spread called Obatzda and fantastic cheese spaetzle – just the ticket when I’m homesick for Munich. I was born there and never thought I would end up in the Rhineland – which, I hasten to add, I have really grown to love!
Having already polished off some cream cake and visited a museum, it’s now time for some fresh air and exercise. There are not many decisions to make: do I walk along the right or the left bank of the Rhine? And should I head upstream or downstream? In Cologne, you walk by the Rhine – that much is a given.
Should I decide to head south, I will walk as far as Rodenkirchen and then board the Alte Liebe restaurant boat, rocking to and fro while watching the river cruise ships and barges go by. And if I go north, my destination will be the Schwimmbad beer garden in Riehl. It was built on the site of a former swimming pool (hence the name) and is still painted in a blue wash, with a Balkan-style landscape backdrop and an atmosphere that evokes long summer days and balmy nights. But now that it’s starting to get dark, it’s time to plan some evening activities. This is where Cologne really comes into its own. Should I cross the Zoobrücke bridge and watch a film at the Lichtspiele cinema in Kalk? Or take in a play at the Schauspiel theatre in Mülheim? Or should I stay on this side of the Rhine and stroll over to Clubheim Olympia, where – weather permitting – you can dance outside in the open air under strings of coloured lights? But if all of that isn’t possible at this time of year, I return to the Südstadt and play a round of indoor boules at Hardy Kugel. As months with an ‘r’ in their name are said to be best for mussels, you can’t go wrong in the winter – so I also treat myself to a steaming clay pot of moules-frites there, accompanied by a glass of perfect rosé. Glorious.