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Cologne, long overshadowed by larger cultural capitals such as Paris, Berlin, Rome and London, is a major center of cultural treasures and diversity. Founded by the Romans about 2,000 years ago, the city’s skyline is punctuated with the spires of its cathedral and of the highest concentration of Romanesque churches in Europe. It is a visitor’s dream with its Museums, Galleries, shopping, food and sightseeing all at close range
By Carole Kotkin
The city is dominated by the striking towers of its Gothic cathedral, which is ranked among the most important churches in the world. Known as the Dom, it is one of the few remaining historic buildings in the city that was not wiped out in the Second World War. The cathedral construction was started in 1248 and completed in 1880. Towering high above the city, the great cathedral was intended as the coronation cathedral for a medieval German empire, which never quite came together until the latter half of the 19th century. The cathedral houses the relics of the Three Magi. Each year it attracts several million of the 20 million visiting Cologne, and is the most important seat of an archbishop in Germany and the center of religious life for German Catholics.
The Dom is by no means Cologne's only church of note. Cologne's skyline is punctuated with the spires of a dozen Romanesque cathedrals, the highest concentration of Romanesque churches in Europe.
Cologne's cathedrals are not the only example of architecture as symbolism. Salzgasse is a street of historic buildings deconstructed from other cities along the Rhineland in the 1930s and rebuilt in the old town to create an idealized version of a street in a medieval German city.
Cologne was founded as a Roman outpost on the Rhine River, and the Roman-German Museum next to the Cathedral is an impressive collection of everyday items of classical culture on the Rhine frontier. The main attraction of the museum is the world famous Dionysos Mosaic, an 80-square-yard mosaic from the Roman Empire discovered during a dig to build an air raid shelter.
For an avid art lover, Cologne has more than thirty fine museums. The Wallraf-Richartz Museum has an impressive collection of medieval art, as well as Dutch and Flemish masters and early modern German and French works. The Museum Ludwig focuses on contemporary art, from Expressionism to Pop Art. There is also the the Applied Arts and Crafts Museum, the Municipal Museum, the Schnutgen Museum with its astonishing medieval collection, and the Museum for East Asian Art. The Imhoff-Stollwerk Chocolate Museum, a 15-minute walk along the Rhine from the Cathedral, provides an exhaustive and detailed look at every step in the process of making chocolate and an impressive collection of historical and artistic artifacts relating to chocolate from pre-Columbian America to the medicinal uses for chocolate.
In addition there are hundreds of art galleries. Every year, Art Cologne at the exhibition center transforms the city into one of the largest art markets in Europe where collectors and connoisseurs can purchase works and see the latest movements and trends.
Cologne is also known for its pedestrian shopping zones, particularly the Hohe Strasse and the Schildergasse, both of which start near the Cathedral. Here you will find trendy boutiques, exclusive designer shops and shopping arcades. At the beginning of the 18th century, Italian expatriate Johann Maria Farina created a new fragrance and named it after his new home: Eau de Cologne (Water from Cologne). Eau de Cologne made Cologne world-famous as a city of perfume in the 18th and 19th century. Today, original Eau de Cologne still is produced in Cologne by both the Farina family, currently in the eighth generation, and by Procter & Gamble who took over in 2003. The Museum of fragrances is located in the Farina House at Obenmarspforten 21. 0221-3-99 89 94.
Gastronomy and Beer
The culinary palette is broad and international. Top chefs are just as likely to be found in Cologne's hotels and restaurants as experts for “hammche”, or boiled pork knuckle. No doubt the cathedral is the primary tourist attraction, but the city does have many other assets - not to mention its unique Kolsch beer.
Any walking tour of Cologne should include the river walk along the west bank of the Rhine.As you walk through the cobbled streets you come across brauhaus after brauhaus, with many bars brewing their own type of local beer called Kolsch. And with a total of 22 breweries there is a lot to choose from.
And for those seeking a break from the bustle of the city, regular boat trips take people along the River Rhine and into the countryside. It’s possible to do an hour-long or day-long tour from the city. Koln-Dusseldorfer Rheinschiffsfahrt, Franenwerft 35, 0221- 20 88 318
For more information, call The German National Tourist Office at (212) 661-7200, or contact a travel agent.
Excelsior Hotel Ernst, 011 49 221 2701, www.excelsiorhotelernst.de/ It’s perfectly located, just five minutes walk to the Dom or to the heart of the city. Here you can experience 140 years of tradition and elegance.
Two of Cologne’s best restaurants are in the Excelsior Hotel Ernst:
Enjoy Asian inspired dishes like sashimi of kingfish with ponzu sauce, iced watermelon-tomato soup, fried sale of rabbit with shallot salad and five spices pudding with lychee and saffron sauce at Taku.
For modern German cuisine Hanse Stube serves half Atlantic lobster marinatedwith asparagus, herb cream and caviar; oxtail soup with stuffed morels, breast of Barbary duck with ginger carrots and baked leeks, and tulip parfait in strawberry soup with pistachio-nut mousseline.
Haxenhaus zum Rheingarten is located in the heart of the old town in a house that dates back to 1231 and miraculously spared during World War II. Pork or lamb knuckles and home-made sausages are the specialities. The pork knuckle is moist and luscious, served, of course, with red cabbage and boiled potatoes and washed down with plenty of Kolsch beer.