As a townie who grew up in a small village, I must admit that it took me a while to settle into life in Cologne, but I now consider myself to be very much a Wahlkölner – a Colognian by choice. There are very few cities in Germany that allow you to chase away the grey dreariness of urban life as quickly as Cologne does. With its charm, zest for life, green spaces aplenty and a wealth of cultural diversity – not to mention the unique character of the locals – Cologne is a very special place indeed.
If the sun is shining on my day off, I tend to hop on my bike and make the most of the city. Although it must be said that Cologne is not exactly the most bicycle-friendly city in the world, the most fun way to explore it is still on two wheels.
My first stop is Ehrenfeld, where I enjoy weaving my way through the side streets, taking in the vibrant colours, wild statements and stylish graphics of the local street art scene. Whether Planet Selfie, Cuts and Pieces, Sweetsnini or the rest of the No Hate Family, each of these artists, who work their magic after dark, adds a touch of colour and flair to everyday life in the city.
Hunger will no doubt strike at some point as well. Depending on the time of day, there are three options for me in Ehrenfeld: coffee and pastries at Mehlwerkstatt, an Adana doner sandwich at Kebapland or Austrian cuisine with wine and friendly service at Essers Gasthaus.
Now that I have kids, there is less room in my life for street art, partying and eating out but I have found ways to keep the whole gang happy. The lovely Agnesviertel district is the perfect spot for our short family excursions. Here, we take a relaxed walk from the Lentpark swimming pool and ice-skating rink through the Rosengarten all the way to Fort X, an old Prussian fort situated on the green belt. There are cool playgrounds for the kids, while the older folk can relax on the grass, lose themselves in the rhythmic sway of the trees or chase their children across the climbing frame. Once we are all worn out (or chilled out!), it’s time to make our way to Neusser Platz for an ice cream at Keiserlich near the Agneskirche church. This is followed by one or two quick glasses of Kölsch at nearby Balthasar and – if we were organised enough to reserve a table beforehand – dinner at Metzger & Marie. You instantly feel at home here – and what could be better than tucking into tasty food with your loved ones?
Fond as I am of Cologne and its concrete charm, I still need to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city every now and then and surround myself with nature. Walks through the woods at Königsforst and up Monte Troodelöh – the highest point in the city at 118 metres – or a trip to Brücker Wildpark are the perfect antidote to stressful city life. And if you get peckish, I can heartily recommend the Päffgen brewhouse at Kauler Hof in nearby Bergisch Gladbach. The gruff waiters – Köbese – are authentic, the food is fun and there is freshly brewed Päffgen Kölsch on tap. Just the thing for replenishing your energy after a long walk! And best of all, you don’t even need a car to get there: tipsy or not, the number 1 tram line will take you safely back into the heart of Cologne.
There are so many different sides of Cologne that there is something for everyone. So be sure to keep your eyes open and make the most of everything the city has to offer.