The Kölner Dom, also known as the Cologne Cathedral, is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. In the 19th century, it was the tallest building in the world. Amazingly, it would take 632 years to complete.
Begun in 1248, the Kölner Dom was commissioned as a suitable place to house the relics of the Three Kings, acquired and delivered by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Construction was predictably slow, beginning with the east wing. At some point in 1473, construction came to a stop and it remained at rest for four centuries, marked by a crane that loomed over the south tower; until 1842, when a civic organization raised the bulk of the money to finish construction. In today’s dollars, the cost for finishing Kölner Dom would be over a billion dollars. Finally, in 1880, Germany’s largest cathedral was completed.
The waters of the mighty Rhine split Cologne in half, and the city is united across a series of seven bridges, with none more splendid than the spans of the Hohenzollernbrücke, which stretch 1,342 feet (410 meters) across the river in three great steel arches.
This spectacular city landmark is almost as famous as Cologne’s twin-spired Gothic cathedral – the largest in Europe – and was completed in 1911, with four railway lines joining Cologne to cities across Europe. German troops destroyed the bridge at the end of World War II in the face of advancing Allied soldiers but it rose phoenix-like once more in 1948. Today it is both a pedestrian and rail bridge with around 1,200 trains passing over it daily and pairs of equestrian bronzes punctuating both ends.
A curious tradition has recently grown up around the Hohenzollernbrücke; lovers affix padlocks to its sides and throw the key into the Rhine in exchange for eternal love.
Hans Imhoff, a chocolatier and businessman from Cologne, opened the Schokoladenmuseum in 1993, after retiring from the confectionary business in 1992. The museum that bears the late industrialist's name is a paen to the product of the cacao bean, from its development and primitive processing in the New World by the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs, to modern production methods and innovations. The program discusses the role of chocolate in later South American societies and among European elite. The museum sits inside a glass-and-steel structure shaped like a ship. Inside, the tour takes visitors through the process of chocolate production from the farm to the candy store, continuing through a greenhouse where two species of cacao trees are grown and then on through the industrialization of chocolate production, including vintage advertising campaigns. Miniature machinery allow guests a closer look at the production process, and the chocolate produced by these machines can be sampled.
Old Town is in many ways, the heart and soul of the city. It's near the Köln Dom, surrounded by "the Ring," a ring of streets, botanical space, and promenades following the path of the old city's walls. Inside the ring and along the Rhine is a vibrant scene of bars, pubs, and restaurants. While it can get crowded, Old Town is known for its hustle and overall friendly vibe.
Tours of Old Town include tours of the Cathedral, a brewpub tour (expect to drink a lot of Kölsch), or a cruise on the Rhine. However, the best way to experience Old Town is on foot. Confident travelers may want to practice their German in this area; if you do, pay attention to speakers - Kölsch is a beer, but it's also an accent, both of which being native to Cologne. In Alter Markt Square, you'll find plenty of both, as brew pubs and bars are plentiful.
Beyond the rhythm of the bars and shops are seemingly innumerable small streets and alleys that wind through the old buildings.
Part antiquities collection, part archeological dig, the Roman-Germanic museum (or Römisch-Germanische Museum) sits atop the last vestiges of the Roman town villa. In the museum's basement is a well-known Dionysus mosaic, undisturbed from its original installation.
Remnants of Roman architecture, inscriptions, portraits of Caesar Augustus and his ceramics and more piece together the story of Cologne's development from a Germanic tribal settlement (the Ubii), to the Roman Cologne, to the capital of the Lower Germania.
Other highlights of the museum are the 15 meters (50 foot) high sarcophagus of Poblicius, a legionnaire from the first century AD. Like the mosaic and the Roman road outside, this funereal monument was uncovered during excavations in the city. The collection also contains the largest collection of Roman glass, more mosaics and ceramics, as well as the stone, clay and bronze idols specific to various Roman cults.
In 1934, a jeweler by the name of Leonard Dahlen rented his shop to the National Socialist Party, better known as the Nazis. Officially, the building was repurposed as the Nazi Documentation Center, but the Nazis soon set up the shop as the headquarters of the Gestapo, the party’s secret police. Its basement made room for cells and torture stations, where a parade of the regime’s victims - Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other political enemies - were imprisoned and treated savagely for the better part of a decade. Miraculously, when most of Cologne was destroyed during the Allies’ bombardment, the EL-DE Haus remained completely intact.
Today, the building is a memorial to the victims of the Nazi’s fascist regime.
In 1981, the government opened the basement to the public and in 1987, the Nazi Documentation Center was also opened, permanently featuring an exhibit detailing life in Cologne under the National Socialist government.
Since the 1980s young travelers have been collecting iconic Hard Rock Café t-shirts from far reaches of the globe. In April of 2003, another opportunity to secure serious Hard Rock swag opened in historic Cologne. Tucked into the landscape of one of the oldest cities in Germany—near the Gothic spires of St Peter and Mary’s cathedral—this American staple serves up traditional comfort food and some pretty incredible live music, too.
Travelers can pop in for one of the Hard Rock Café’s famous live performances, or tuck into a juicy burger with an ice cold beer while taking in a truly spectacular collection of music memorabilia. From Eric Clapton’s hallow body electric guitar to Sting’s autographed Fender and Bob Dylan’s black leather Harley vest, Hard Rock Café Cologne showcases some of the best of American food and international music, too.