Despite being Germany”s fourth largest city, Cologne is nonetheless surprisingly easy to navigate, with its comprehensive network of public transport also coming in at genuinely affordable cost.
The business traveller arriving by air will find the airport easy to pass through, while for onward connections, its heritage as the nearest departing site for the former capital of nearby Bonn, ensures that a wide variety of international connections are available. And if they”re not, D”sseldorf is a reasonably short drive or train journey away.
A fast and direct train service links the airport to downtown Cologne and on arriving at the station, the first time visitor can”t help but be impressed by the vast ” and classically German ” railway station.
Enormous arches spread over the wide platforms, while the eye is drawn to the huge expanse of glass at the station ” this is a railway station ” hauptbahnhof ” of monumental proportions.
What is a genuine shame however, is that the railway authorities ” for whatever reason ” have decided to remove the stunning mural that adorned the station entrance roof and which celebrated Germany”s hosting of last year”s hugely successful World Cup. Featuring German football luminaries such as Michael Ballack, the mural was a mightily impressive work of art, not to mention a genuine point of interest ” how many railway stations have artwork like that?
It has been replaced with a bland mosaic ” and more amazingly ” seems to have provoked little debate among the citizens of Cologne. Surely if that was the UK, there would have been a hue and cry that something so original should be dismantled.
Talking of the World Cup in 2006, the event put Germany firmly back in global eyes and it marked the point at which the country could feel positive once more about singing national songs, waving flags and generally engaging in the sort of patriotic fervour that so characterises most other footballing countries.
And who could forget either, the extraordinary spectacle of 30,000 English fans descending on Cologne for the match with Sweden and streaming across the bridges back into the city. The town had laid on a vast outdoor area by the river at Deutzer Werft, for the thousands who arrived without tickets and by all accounts, everything passed off peacefully; Cologne residents spoke of the genuine warmth shown between English and Germans ” long may that continue.
In common with many German cities, Cologne is clearly a mixture of old and new ” mainly new actually, as a staggering 93% of the city was destroyed by wave after wave of allied bombing raids during WWII. The iconic picture of Cologne”s strikingly impressive Dom Cathedral almost intact as virtually every other building around it was reduced to rubble, is as noteworthy as that of St Paul”s Cathedral in London bathed in searchlights as the area around it burns from German bombing.
It”s also a major University town and the tens of thousands of students certainly give the place a buzz during term time. One piece of advice for non-Germans however. Perhaps due to the number of students ” or indeed a German mentality ” this is a bicycle culture and the uninitiated visitor needs to be wary of being constantly mowed down by those on two wheels.
Pavements are clearly marked with bike signs, but it is also too easy for the novice traveller to be swerved around constantly by cyclists who, quite understandably, view their mode of transport as taking precedence over two legs.
Accommodation is plentiful and ranges from top of the range ” Dom ” by the cathedral to those whose budgets are tighter. Trams, buses and taxis are everywhere ” again a first-timer needs to keep a watchful eye for the trams that glide everywhere.
Cologne is also a city that hosts innumerable fairs ” messe ” and exhibitions ” notable among which is the food and drink show, Anuga, that spreads across an impressive 13 halls and that requires a bus just to hop around its vast area.
Simon Warburton stayed at the Holiday Inn Cologne ” Am Stadtwald. Prices start from ”65 for a double room, inclusive of VAT. For more information, visit www.holidayinn.co.uk (http://koeln-am-stadtwald-holiday-inn.com).