The Rhine is the ideal place to explore Cologne by bike
Cycling in Cologne isn’t always the most pleasurable of activities. But there are certain aspects that make it an ideal biking town: its mild climate, lack of steep climbs and manageable size. However, the bicycle paths still have plenty of potential for improvement — and that’s putting it mildly. But fortunately, there are exceptions — like along the Rhine, for example.
Our tour begins on the left side of the Rhine under the Hohenzollern Bridge. The trains taking soldiers to the frontline during two world wars departed from here. Today the bridge is known mainly because of its many “love locks”, an Italian custom where lovers express their affection by attaching heart-shaped padlocks to the bridge — meanwhile available from every tourist shop.
Only a few metres away is the first short stop. Close to the flood marker, the words “Totgeschlagen — Totgeschwiegen” (Beaten to death — Silenced to death) are inscribed on the memorial to gay and lesbian victims of National Socialism, marked out by the “Rosa Winkel” (pink triangle) that homosexuals were forced to wear in the concentration camps.
The route takes you along the colourful houses of the Altstadt, the Old Town, which most people think date back to the Middle Ages but were actually mostly built during the 20th century and intended to convey historical authenticity. Cycling on southwards, you will spot the striking crane buildings, symbols of Cologne’s more contemporary side.
A short detour over to the other side of the road to the Church of St. Maria Lyskirchen is worthwhile: it’s the smallest of the city’s twelve Romanesque churches. A detail above the portal is particularly interesting: “Rheinhöhe 28. Febr. 1784” shows how high the level of the Rhine was on that date, a reminder of the worst flood in the city’s history in which more than 60 people died.
The small swing bridge at the Prussian Malakoffturm Tower takes you to the
Rheinauhafen, a former industrial harbour, where today companies like Microsoft have set up their offices. Traces of the past can still be found here next to the old granary — affectionately called “Siebengebirge” (Seven Summits) due to its pointed gables and the “Dicker Hercules” (Fat Hercules) is particularly striking: a pivoting crane, whose most important role was the safe unloading of the cathedral bell “Dicker Pitter” (Fat Peter) from Thuringia to Cologne in the year 1924.
At the end of the Rheinauhafen, a few metres from the Südbrücke (South Bridge), the Kap 686 skate park adds a touch of urban flair. Originally built to keep pesky skateboarders away from the Cathedral, it is now really popular, and also a hive of creativity: when the Rhine burst its banks in early 2018, the skaters spontaneously built a provisional wakeboard circuit here. Behind the South Bridge, it’s worth taking a look at the architecturally appealing Pumpwerk (pump station) before freewheeling down along the Rhine on the broad path toward Rodenkirchen.
The best view of Cologne’s skyline is from the Cologne Riviera in Rodenkirchen
After the eponymous bridge painted in Cologne’s typical Adenauer-green, you will leave the urban section of the city behind you. But it’s still crowded: it can get really packed here, especially in the summer, and cyclists often have no choice but to slow down to walking pace. If you’re getting thirsty or hungry, you could recharge at the striking red and white Alte Liebe, a long-term survivor among Cologne’s houseboat restaurants. It has already recovered from two major fires and three collisions with ships — and is still standing, or rather floating.
The stretches of beach known as the Cologne Riviera are without doubt a main attraction of Rodenkirchen. Be sure to stop when you reach the campsite — from here you have a great view of Cologne’s skyline and, in the summer, you can enjoy the evening sun until late. But due to the unpredictable currents, swimming in the Rhine is not recommended on most stretches.
Continuing onward, the route varies, at times passing directly along the river, and sometimes through cooler shady forest areas and horse paddocks. Along the Weißer Bogen the route takes you to the Weiß district — to the ferry across the Rhine to Zündorf (which runs from 1 March to 31 October and costs 2 euros per person).
For a short break before the crossing, you could stop off at the Rhine terrace of St. Georg, a short distance beyond the ferry. Just follow the stairs up under the canopy with the white pillars. The terrace offers a great view, plenty of sunshine — and no pressure to buy food or drinks, unlike many of the other terraces on the way.
The ‘Schäl Sick’ was once the less appealing side of Cologne, but now offers the best sunsets
With one of the two ferries, Krokodil and Krokolino, you’ll be transported safely over to the other side of the Rhine. To this day, the ‘Schäl Sick’ (the ’wrong side’) gets a bad rap in Cologne. For the Romans it was a land of barbarians, for the inhabitants of the holy city of Cologne it was where the pagans lived, and even Cologne’s erstwhile mayor, Konrad Adenauer, who later went on to become German Chancellor, reportedly said that was where Bolshevism began.
After leaving the ferry, take a wander around Zündorf, an idyllic spot. De Groov is a former island that was connected to the river by a dam in the 19th century and expanded in the 1970s into a recreational park with beautiful old trees and sandy beaches. There’s plenty to do here, especially for kids: pedalo rides, ice cream and mini golf.
Stop by the marina for Cologne’s answer to St. Tropez, before heading back in the direction of the city centre. Along the Rhine, past the Rodenkirchener Bridge and the campsite, you will reach the Poller Wiesen (Poll meadows). In the summer you’ll pass people enjoying a game of football, while kite flyers abound here in the autumn, before keeping right, over the art nouveau style swing bridge to take a left again onto a paved road along the river.
Under the Deutzer Bridge, the end of the tour is in sight — the Rhine boulevard completed in 2016. Surrounded by young people smoking shishas, couples holding hands and amateur photographers, you can enjoy a well-earned beer and contemplate the fact that Cologne isn’t such a bad city for cyclists after all.
(by Christian Steigels)