The night before my flight to Cologne for my solo and first visit to Germany I had a little wobble.
“I have to get the S13 from the airport, what’s an S13?” I whinnied at my boyfriend.
“The S is short for S-Bahn, a train, and U is short for underground. It’s all very clear and easy to navigate, you’ll be fine,” my boyfriend, who has been to Germany before, patiently explained.
And he was right.
I flew out of Gatwick with Easyjet on the first flight on Monday morning and arrived in Cologne just over an hour later. The S-Bahn is right next to the airport terminal and runs into Cologne city centre every 20 minutes. At less than 3 Euros a ticket it is a fraction of the price and twice as fast than the equivalent from London’s airports. I had a minor blip when I hopped on the wrong Underground train to my hotel but I am a whizz on public transport now. (I think.)
I’m staying at Hotel Chelsea in the heart of the Belgian Quarter ( Belgisches Viertel in German) so it didn’t take me long to get out and explore this area. With its range of retro-style cafes and independent boutiques the area feels a little like Shoreditch – but with less of the pretension. Some of the places stood out for me even more than the rest: there was RockOn which was a laundrette and clothes store in one, a candle-lit cushion-strewn café called Caveedel and Herr Pimock where I devoured a scrumptious burger with cranberries and brie. The area is also lightly sprinkled with some eye-catching street art – the main square in the area, Brüsseler Platz, is watched over by two men in boiler suits!
After that I took some time to get to know the sight which dominates the Cologne skyline – the Köln Dom. The gothic cathedral is one of the city’s most popular tourist spots, and rightfully so. The stained glass inside is some of the most gloriously colourful artwork I have ever seen in a church.
Thanks to Adam from Travels With Adam, who was in Cologne last week, I spent my second day in Cologne getting to know the area of Ehrenfeld. I fell for this bunting-laced, pastel-housed neighbourhood almost as hard as I did for the Belgian Quarter. This area, particularly around Körnerstrasse, felt a bit more upmarket than the Belgian Quarter – it reminded me of Notting Hill, but cooler. My first introduction to the cool vibe of this neighbourhood was the graffiti, shiny tiles and chandelier that decorates the tube station. Piusstrabe is one of the best Underground stops I’ve ever been to.
The vintage stores of Kitsch Deluxe and Garderobe were great for a rummage but it was a store named Utensil that really impressed me. Anna, the young German designer behind Utensil, has taken industrial items we would recognise from the work place and turned them into fashionable household goods. Flasks more familiar to the science lab, for example, have been turned into wine decanters and chairs from the train station are now garden furniture.
I immediately thought of my coffee-fanatic Melburnian boyfriend when I found Van Dyck. I could smell the coffee before I even entered the store because, I discovered, they were bio-roasting the beans at the back of the shop. This laboratory style, cream-coloured café takes pride in the coffee they serve, and even holds barista classes to help customers with their latte art and brews.
During the last couple of days I have learnt that in Cologne they like coffee and beef and make beautiful churches. I could see myself being quite happy to call either the Belgian Quarter or Ehrenfeld home. Just like the couples who leave their locks on the city’s bridge, I’ve fallen in love with this city. It’s been great fun getting to know Cologne but, alas, I must go. My mission to find the Youth Hotspots of Germany continues and tomorrow I shall take the train to Muenster. Just as long as I get on the right one….
For more information on any other the hotspots mentioned check out my profile on the germany.travel/youth website. You can follow my adventures live on Facebook, twitter and Instagram. This project is sponsored by the German National Tourism Board but all opinions, discoveries and navigational errors remain, as always, my own.