Cologne vs. Frankfurt: Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Cologne vs. Frankfurt

Germany is always a fun place to visit at any time of year, but I must admit that my summer trip to both Cologne and Frankfurt was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. I’d also like to put to bed any suspicions that Germany has awful weather, is only good for the Christmas markets and is expensive to get to.

These suspicions are all based on apparently popular assumptions. I returned to find people aghast that I could afford to go and horrified that I had chosen it as my summer holiday destination; they were astounded that the weather could be anything other than appalling. Others were utterly dumbfounded that there was anything at all to do in the absence of perusing endless gingerbread stalls and sausage stands.

Yes, visiting Germany is very expensive during the pre-Christmas winter months, particularly if the trip is booked at the last minute. Prices rocket to make the most of the tourism that the markets attract. But no, it isn’t any more expensive than you’d expect throughout the rest of the year and surprisingly, there’s plenty to do regardless of when you visit.

My partner and I got one-way flights from Stansted to Cologne for £10 each. Obviously we flew with Ryanair. You may well laugh, but when you’re skint, they’re the best option. We got there in just over an hour, totally hassle free. Now who’s laughing?

Cologne Cathedral is an imposing and impressive Gothic structure (Photographer: Christopher Eliot; Flickr)

Cologne Cathedral is an imposing and impressive Gothic structure (Photographer: Christopher Eliot; Flickr)

The weather was spectacular for the majority of our stay, although we arrived in Cologne to find it rainy and dismal. This was improved, however, by the fact that the city is so easy to walk around and that the cathedral looks incredible in all weathers, almost spooky on a dim day. But the next day the banks of the Rhein were lined with sunbathers, dog walkers, picnickers and tourists queuing for boat trips. Better still, our apartment was within a 30-second walk of Rudolfplatz, a nighttime hotspot. Expect rows and rows of restaurants and bars, open until all hours and priced very reasonably. We ventured into ‘Casa Cuba’ as it had a sign advertising happy hour, and from experience the Germans do these well. I asked about times and sure enough, “Ahh, it is ALWAYS happy hour here!” came the reply. Brilliant. We also found a restaurant with a different offer each evening, and indulged in Wednesday’s ‘Schnitzel Tag’. We paid €6,90 for a plate each, and the portions were seriously generous. An enormous slab of crisp, juicy Schnitzel stared up at us amidst large helpings of salad and lightly crusted fried potatoes, and we couldn’t resist a mojito each either. The whole experience came to less than €22, and with the restaurant doors thrown open were able to enjoy it with the midnight summer air flowing freely around us.

Surely a trip to Germany is incomplete without a delicious slab of steaming Schnitzel? (Photographer: Kobako; Wikipedia)

Surely a trip to Germany is incomplete without a delicious slab of steaming Schnitzel? (Photographer: Kobako; Wikipedia)

The following day we wandered to nearby Neumarkt to see the ‘Dropped Cone’, a super-sized upside down ice cream balanced on the roof of the shopping centre. It’s allegedly supposed to comment on consumerism, but is predominantly an art installation to celebrate the German love for ice cream. Beneath it are all the standard chain stores you’d expect, but also an array of bakeries where we got waffles for €1,50 each, freshly cooked before our eyes.

Cologne Cathedral is even more beautiful than you can imagine. Its shadowy interior evokes disturbing images of Joseph K. entering the cathedral in the penultimate chapter of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ — scenes which were written with Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral in mind. Walking around Cologne’s cathedral is a truly other-worldly experience, even on a sunny day; it is both uncomfortable and exhilarating. We watched the warm sunset cast a silhouette of its spires across the fiery sky, sipping red wine and loving Germany.

For those with an interest in Surrealism, the nearby suburb of Brühl is home to the Max Ernst Museum, which I would absolutely recommend. It’s wonderful to see a museum dedicated to one artist alone; it allows you to get a greater feel for the artist’s background and the story their work tells. Bask in the surreal glow of his colour work, and marvel at the mesmerising ‘D’ paintings. The paintings are bizarre, rich in colour and almost hypnotic, each containing somewhere the letter ‘D’, dedicated to his second wife Dorothea Tanning.

The Max Ernst Museum (Photographer: Thomas Robbin; Wikipedia)

The Max Ernst Museum (Photographer: Thomas Robbin; Wikipedia)

Tempted to travel on towards Bonn but deciding to spend more time in Cologne, we headed back to the city to enjoy another night of cheap cocktails surrounded by beautiful architecture. Eventually, we concluded that visiting Cologne’s Mustard Museum wasn’t optional so we whiled away some time tantalising our palettes with a generous range of sumptuous flavours, complete with a bratwurst to munch on with our two favourites to aid a final decision. We chose the beer mustard, which is made with Cologne’s local beer, Kölsch. The dinky wooden mustard spoons at €1 each were too cute to pass up, so we ended up with one of those too.

Finally, after three nights in our lovely apartment, we headed to Frankfurt. We paid next to nothing travelling with Flixbus, and the journey only amounted to a couple of hours. As we swept into the city we passed the enormous blue circular vision that is Frankfurt’s Radisson Blu hotel, which we’d booked a few weeks before as a treat for our first night in the city. As recent graduates strapped for cash, we were thrilled to be treated like royalty by the hotel receptionist rather than like two members of the great unwashed, and even more excited at discovering that our room was on the 16th floor. We shot upwards in the lift, which took just 20 seconds to catapult us to our floor. On entering the room we were captivated by the floor-to-ceiling window and the décor which was tinged with a postmodern vibe, all mismatched patterns and clashing colours. We were equally excited to discover the sneaky window which connected the bathroom with our bedroom. The blinds were controlled from the bedroom side — perfect for a bit of mischief when one person is in the bathroom and the other is pottering around unpacking! For me, this epitomised the relaxed German attitude towards nudity, even more so than the miniature model of a nudist beach in Berlin’s DDR Museum.

Naturally we didn’t have a city view as such (at least not of the city centre) as we had used Trivago to secure a great deal and rooms sold at a reduced rate rarely have the best views. It didn’t matter. As night fell, I stood at the vast, barely-there window and took it all in. From the height of the 16th floor looking down at much smaller buildings, it appeared as though the sky had been turned upside down, as if I were looking down at a pitch black sky scattered with stars. A slight regret however is not spending enough time in the hotel. We couldn’t afford breakfast or room service, but we should certainly have used the pool as it was free for guests. Rather than spending the entire evening basking in the luxury of our hotel room though, we went out to explore and what we found was unusual to say the least.


Cologne vs. Frankfurt: Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Cologne vs. Frankfurt

Frankfurt is a weird place. Touristy Sachsenhausen reminded me of Berlin’s Warschauerstrasse and Alexanderplatz — absolutely jam-packed with under 30s drinking themselves into oblivion and donning hen and stag party gear. The latter is not my thing, but we were certainly searching for a drink. We enjoyed a bottle of pricey but good wine at a bar on the south side of Eisener Steg, one of the bridges that connects Sachsenhausen with the Altstadt. With a view of the brightly lit skyscrapers spiking upwards and away from the Römerberg, which has stood for centuries, we marvelled at the alarming architectural clashes that fill the city. Walking around, we felt as though we’d stepped into a strange alternate reality. It was hard to shake the feeling that we were in the centre of Batman’s Gotham City, but only steps away from encountering Hansel and Gretel with the witch in her gingerbread house. I’ve never taken so many photographs of the same buildings before, but I just couldn’t grasp where I was. Commerzbank Tower at night is a sight to behold, and it’s easy to imagine a suited and booted bariatric villain reclining at its peak in a swivel chair, sipping expensive brandy and watching over his kingdom.

The Eisener Steg bridge with the Commerzbank Tower reaching for the sky. (Photographer:; Wikimedia)

Cologne feels like Germany, Frankfurt on the other hand… doesn’t quite. I kept reminding myself I was only a couple of hours away from Cologne, and even in Europe. The mass of skyscrapers made me feel like I was in Chicago, Shanghai or another far-flung city I haven’t yet been able to afford visiting. We joined the endless streams of people reclined on the grassy banks of the River Main, watching oversized inflatable barbecue boats float by and hoping to get a light tan. In all honesty we didn’t really do anything quintessentially German in Frankfurt that wasn’t centred around food. We grabbed some currywurst and ate it on a bench near the Commerzbank Tower — just as we were discussing for the umpteenth time how weird Frankfurt’s architecture is, a vole with eyes and ears of cartoon-like proportions scampered out of the bushes. That was it, we were propelled straight back to Hansel and Gretel’s fairytale woodland. Bizarre.

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