If you think of Germans as beer drinking “bon vivants” in lederhosen, or rule-abiding bureaucrats, you would do well to visit Germany now to witness how the country has grown into one of Europe’s most thriving and creative environments. Germany’s major cities are models of renewable energy, and cutting edge architecture with fabulous restaurants and hotels.The largest city in the most populous region of North Rhine Westphalia, Cologne is a major cultural centre.
With more than thirty museums and 300 galleries, it hosts every year the world’s oldest art fair for modern and contemporary art of the 20th and 21st century, Art Cologne, which attracts 200 international galleries.
However the first thing to see in Cologne is its stunning cathedral, the largest Gothic church in Europe flanked by two spires that give it the most monumental facade of any church in the world. With an average of 20,000 people a day, it is the most visited landmark in Germany. During World War 2, the cathedral survived the severe onslaught of more than 21,000 metric tons of incendiary bombs dropped on Cologne. Some say that the church was spared because it helped guide the bombers during the night. Outside the cathedral, don’t miss a dramatic exhibit of the destruction of the city during world war two with the cathedral holding up ominously in the background.
Go inside and visit the beautiful nave where the shrine of the Three Magi contains the relics of the Three Wise Men that were brought to the city in 1164.
Today young people hang out on the steps of the cathedral, peace advocates protest in the city daily, and many Italian cafes, bars, restaurants and fine boutiques line the streets.
Cologne is also the home of the unique scent created in 1709 by John Maria Farina and called Eau de Cologne and the site of the oldest fragrance company in Europe. Walk down to Obenmarspforten 21 in the city center and visit the beautiful store and museum run by the 8th generation of the Farina family. You can pick flasks of Eau de Cologne in original Vintage styles. For more information, visit http://www.Farina1709.com
For your stay in Cologne, you will find many fine hotels to fit all tastes and budgets. My favorite is one that is considered one of the classic grand hotels of Germany, the Excelsior Hotel Ernst. This five star hotel is worth a visit to Cologne all by itself. Built at the end of the 19th century, it has had a long history of hosting world dignitaries such as Emperor William I and chic travelers like Andy Warhol. Rebuilt after World War two and recently renovated, it boasts unmatched modern comfort and impeccable service with an Old World exoticism.
Upon my arrival, I felt immediately taken by the relaxing atmosphere of the opulent yet simple lobby, created by a deft harmony between fine materials and soft lighting. The doormen were quick to help me while the personnel at the desk were polished, relaxed and cheerful. I enjoyed my beautifully appointed, air-conditioned suite with a little salon equipped with a mini bar, a couple of comfortable arm chairs, a desk, table and safe. A stunning new marble bathroom with luxury amenities included a make up and large size mirrors, immaculate bath, sink and shelves, bathrobe and slippers. The hotel is large yet every room is perfectly insulated. You will also find a well – equipped fitness center on the sixth floor.
For dinner, walk down the lobby, past tastefully decorated hallways with original art and antiques into the restaurant Hanse Stube. Since the weather was so inviting, I sat outside and enjoyed a delicious salad and fish entrée accompanied by a dry local German Riesling. The setting is superb, quiet and softly lit while the night falls. The service was gracious and discreet. You can also try Taku, a one star Michelin star Asian restaurant.
In the morning, I feasted on a generous breakfast with a variety of fresh juices, kombucha, crisp breads, croissants, cold cuts, smoked salmon, cheeses, yogurts and müesli, fruit in the beautifully furnished inside restaurant.
What makes this hotel special is the sense of “mindfulness” produced by a perfectly functional environment, soothing colors and a warm never indifferent staff. People employed in the hotel seem to enjoy their work and their good spirits are infectious.
There is plenty of luxury shopping nearby, coffee and ice cream terraces, and night clubs to enjoy, and you can also take a boat ride on the Rhine River. As the largest business area in Germany and the heart of its economic center, North Rhine Westphalia is a populous region with many resources and a rich cultural life. Come see if for yourself! You will be amazed.
For more information on the Excelsior Hotel Ernst and Cologne, visit http://www.excelsiorhotelernst.com and the Cologne Tourism Bureau at http://www.koelntourismus.de
Pictures: courtesy Cologne Tourism Bureau and the Excelsior Hotel Ernst