Kölsch beer, carnival and the Cologne Cathedral: these are often the first keywords that come to mind about the 2,000-year-old city on the Rhine. They are by no means unfounded! Cologne sparkles with joie de vivre and the cathedral enjoys worldwide fame. In this article, however, we would like to introduce you to another side of Cologne, an urban, creative side that is a real joy to discover.  

What all does Cologne have to offer? Shopping 2.0, exciting architecture and regular events where creative people can really let off steam. To help you find your way through the abundance of offerings, we've put together a Cologne guide for you. With a little architecture, a lot of culture and one or two creative concepts that will make you wonder why you didn't come up with the idea yourself. 


Unexpected beauties - Cologne's architecture

The Rheinauhafen is an exciting mix of modern buildings, historic structures and the over 60 meter high crane houses
Rheinauhafen is an exciting mix of modern buildings and historic structures © AdobeStock/Martina Schikore

From inconspicuously plain to colorfully glazed to scaly - Cologne's facades are versatile. And what is hidden behind them is often unexpected. For example, the façade of the P22a not a hotel, but the parking garage of Koelnmesse. And Niehl II - a single-story, elongated building with a continuous glass façade built on a concrete base - could also be more extravagant than a high-water pumping station.

The Rheinauhafen, Cologne's youngest district, is particularly exciting for architecture fans. The former area of the customs port and the Agrippina shipyard lay dormant for many years and has become the new "place to be" thanks to a major construction project. The neighborhood is a great mix of modern and historic buildings, old rail tracks, restored harbor cranes and the crane houses, which are over 60 meters high. The quarter was opened in 2014 and houses creative agencies, companies, hotels, restaurants and culture.

Particularly rewarding - even for atheists - is a visit to some of the sacred buildings. Cologne's central mosque in the Ehrenfeld district, for example, is a futuristic-looking building with a concrete and glass dome over 36 meters high. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, you can visit the mosque on a public guided tour. 
Also worth seeing, and almost unrecognizable as such from the outside, is the Immanuel Church in the north of Cologne. The sacred building is a purely wooden construction. Bright and modern and - apart from the altar back wall decorated with 2,700 colored wooden strips and illuminated by natural light - wonderfully simple.  
Learn more about Cologne's architectural highlights here.


Museums and theaters

The third largest Picasso collection in the world hangs just a stone's throw from Cologne Cathedral. It is on display in the Museum Ludwig alongside large-format Pop Art silkscreens by Roy Lichtenstein, works by Andy Warhol and the Russian avant-garde. If you are a fan of 20th century modern art, this is the place for you.

The building complex, which is also mentioned in the architectural guide, is shared by the Ludwig Museum and the Cologne Philharmonic Hall. The two house orchestras, the Gürzenich Orchestra and the WDR Symphony Orchestra, share their stage with artists from Germany and all over the world and have already enchanted more than 18 million visitors since opening more than 30 years ago.

The Chocolate Museum is Cologne's most successful museum and also one of the ten most visited in Germany. Here you can learn everything about the history of the exotic sweet, from its cultivation and ancient American cultures to its marketing. And of course you can also taste it, on small wafers, for example, which you can dip in a giant chocolate fountain.

A particularly exciting place for design fans is the MAKK - Museum of Applied Arts Cologne. The rooms of the city's second-oldest museum display, among other things, furniture, ceramics, textiles, fashion and jewelry from the period from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. In addition to special exhibitions with current design themes, the MAKK also presents the winners of the annually awarded Cologne Design Award is presented. Prizes will be awarded for special final projects by design graduates from Cologne universities.

And of course, a bit of theater is not to be missed. If you're looking for a hearty dose of Cologne, you'll find it in the Mustard pot theater in the heart of the old town is just right. Political cabaret, comedy and chanson evenings are presented here, varied, sometimes shrill and always endearing.


Gastronomy with a difference

Serving up the perfect mix of fancy and laid-back are David and Christian of Vibe & Wine in their pop-up kiosk "Picnic x Pinsa" in the Belgian Quarter. From Wednesday to Sunday, fine wines and homemade pinsa - a pizza whose dough has been allowed to rest for 72 hours before baking - are sold from a small, brightly painted bar. What's special: You can rent a picnic set to go with the goodies. In addition to pinsa and wine, in a glass with a screw cap or a bottle, you get a picnic blanket, two bottles of water, knives, a cooler and even a Bluetooth speaker. According to current plans (as of June 4, 2021), the pop-up will only be open until September 21, so don't miss it.

And Leonie from "à la french". Literally, because in her picnic baskets filled with French delicacies, she adds (on request) a Polaroid camera. So you can capture the beautiful picnic experience directly.

And "Alitarde Catering" and "Bock for breakfast" seem to have listened to our most secret wishes - they deliver breakfast and brunch directly to your home. Aline from Alitarde Catering specializes in vegetarian and vegan dishes and puts together a huge package with treats like burrata with orange-fennel topping or coconut rice pudding with compote and nuts. "Bock auf Frühstück" is a delivery service that brings you breakfast from Cologne's cafés.

And since it's finally getting so nice and warm: The entrance of the elegant "The Grid Bar" on Friesenstraße has been transformed into an ice cream parlor in recent months. Instead of sophisticated drinks like the Blue Monday (gin, coconut, pineapple) or the Windsor Punk (Helbing Aquavit, apple, champagne), you can currently get delicious ice cream flavors like chocolate, hazelnut, peach-lavender or poppy seed here - all with a homemade wafer in a filigree leaf shape.


Street Art - Cologne's colorful side

Expressions of love and protests, band names and profanities - Cologne is paved with them, the small and large messages in the public domain. It can be wonderfully summarized under the collective term street art, the street art in the form of stickers, stencils (motifs that are dabbed or sprayed through a stencil), graffiti and posters. 
As with every art form, there are also outstanding artists and collectives in street art that make the world more colorful and exciting. And Cologne, along with Berlin, is one of the street art spots in Germany. 

If you like large-scale murals, you should definitely take a walk through the Ehrenfeld district. As part of the biennial CityLeaks Urban Art Festivals the artists' collective Guapo Sapo (at Heliosstraße 2) and AEC Interesni Kazki (at Vogelsanger Str. 197), among others, have immortalized themselves here. 

Of course, you will also find works by Cologne originals in the city. "Mr. Trash", for example, has decorated the house on the corner of Marienstraße and Hackländer Straße with the painting "Fallen Angel". And the Cologne collective Captain Borderline has also left numerous works in Ehrenfeld (e.g. on the corner of Venloer Straße and Schönsteinstraße).

You can find small-format art in the Belgian Quarter - on almost everything that has a surface. There are now also several galleries there that exhibit street art. 30works for example, combines street art and pop art. The Cologne artist Thomas Baumgärtel, also known under the pseudonym Bananensprayer, has already exhibited his works here. Also worth a visit are ART&So with a focus on light art and the street art restaurant Art brother
Here you can find a walking route through Cologne's street art scene.


Shopping 2.0 - Beautiful things from Cologne

Crazy, brave, elegant, cheerful - however you feel, there is the right piece of clothing for it. But every now and then, clothes shopping unfortunately goes wrong and the one or other fashion sin disappears unworn in the depths of the closet. That's not sustainable, and it costs money, too. Fortunately there are the Dress shop in Ehrenfeld - a large, shared closet for everyone. Similar to a library, members can borrow up to four items here, swap them out as often as they like and, if they particularly like an item, buy it at a discount. On offer are second-hand clothes and collections from fair fashion brands.

_blaenk is laid out like an apartment. The shopping path leads through an equipped kitchen, the living area, is briefly interrupted by the so-called start-up zone with regional labels and then continues through the bathroom and bedroom. 
Products matching the living areas are displayed everywhere: minimalist, on black shelves in front of white walls, exclusively lifestyle products, innovative and sustainable. Customers can learn more about the goods via a QR code or add them directly to their virtual shopping cart. Payment is made via cell phone - one's own or that of an employee - or at a checkout. On the same day, the products are put together for pickup or delivered to the customer's home.

Handmade and tough - at Irma & Heidi there are pretty ceramics that you can put in the dishwasher without worrying. For the production of the goods, from cups to plant pots, the two founders Irina and Seynab use different types of stoneware clay from the Westerwald. You can find their store and workshop in Cologne Sülz.

By train comfortably and without traffic jams to Cologne: Plan arrival.

Cover photo: Design and architecture: Cologne's Rheinauhafen is a hotspot for creative minds © AdobeStock/Denis

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