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Photography by Manfred Wegener

Good to know

created by Bernd Wilberg | |   good to know

Cologne’s population has been known to fall below the million mark on several occasions since the 1970s, but for the last ten years or so it has been enjoying steady growth again, a testament to its wide appeal and open mentality.

Cologne and its districts

Nonetheless, many people see Cologne as one big village — this is mainly because it consists of a great many districts, each with its own distinct character. The Belgian Quarter and Ehrenfeld are home to many artists and creative companies — not to mention a whole host of trendy bars and restaurants. Lindenthal and Rodenkirchen, by contrast, have always had a rather bourgeois and upmarket reputation, while the Südstadt — the scene of social movements in the 1980s — appears to be living the multicultural dream. On the other side of the Rhine, Kalk and Mülheim have attracted a constant stream of pioneers who started up gastronomy and cultural projects. Mülheim, known throughout Germany for its vibrant Keupstrasse street with its array of Turkish shops and restaurants, is currently undergoing a facelift. However, investors and politicians alike are more than aware of how vehemently the locals will object to any changes that threaten the character of their district.

Kiosks

You would be forgiven for thinking that there is a kiosk on every corner in Cologne. Many of these remain open past midnight, selling drinks, snacks, newspapers and even a small range of basic food items. They often also sell coffee to go, although many customers prefer to stay and chat for a while. Kiosks are a vital part of Cologne life and a viable alternative to a trip to the nearest supermarket, particularly since they’re also open on Sundays. Which explains the just-got-out-of-bed-look sported by the occasional early-morning customer nipping out to stock up on emergency bread and butter for their breakfast. With fridges liberally stocked with Kölsch, local people often stop by a kiosk to pick up a beer to drink en route to a party, concert or one of the many other events that take place in the evening. Kiosks are found in many different locations in the various districts, but the local residents will always assure you that theirs is the best.

Getting around

Even though, at 405 square kilometres (or 156 square miles), Cologne isn’t even half the size of Berlin, it is still the third-largest city in Germany. However, the distances in downtown Cologne are so short that the quickest option is often to walk or use a rental bike — always a good way to get to know the city and its various  ‘Veedel’, or districts. The easiest way to get around the city is on public transport. Attractively priced weekly or monthly tickets are available, meaning you don’t need to purchase and validate separate tickets for each individual journey. Please bear in mind that some ticket machines do not accept cards or banknotes. However, Cologne’s public transport operator KVB does offer a competitively priced ‘Handy-Ticket’ that allows passengers to pay for tickets with their smartphones. Find further details online at kvb.koeln/en and at the KVB ticket offices in the main train station and large stations such as Neumarkt. Maps of the KVB network are also available free of charge. There may well be good bus connections, but even people who have been living in Cologne for years have barely a nodding acquaintance with the buses, which — it must be said — don’t run as frequently as the trams in the evenings.

Useful tip: the KölnCard

The KölnCard is ideal for city travellers. Costing just 9 euros for 24 hours, the card allows holders to make full use of all buses, trams and underground trains in the Cologne area, as well as entitling them to discounts of up to 50 percent on city tours, at museums and even at selected restaurants. 48-hour tickets and group tickets are also available. All the information you need is available online at koelntourismus.de and cologne-tourism.com. Alternatively, you can call +49 (0) 221 34 64 30, or pop into the KölnTourismus office right across from Cologne Cathedral (Kardinal-Höffner-­Platz 1, 50667 Cologne).

Tipping

In Germany, it is usual to tip between ten and fifteen percent, but this is still very much down to the individual guest, the size of the tip often reflecting how happy you were with the service provided. However, you should bear in mind that, especially in many small bistros and cafés, waiting staff often rely on tips to make up a decent hourly wage. It is also still customary to tip in notes or coins, handing them to the server directly rather than leaving them on the table.

Book ahead Even though more and more bicycle couriers can be seen delivering food around Cologne, most of the city’s restaurants are still full, even during the week. This is clearly because eating is very much a social occasion in Cologne, where it’s not unheard of to strike up a conversation with the people at the next table. However, this also means that it is best to call up and reserve a table in advance, unless you’re only planning to drop in for a couple of Kölsch at the bar. Of course, you can always try your luck by simply turning up at a restaurant without a reservation — and even if you’re asked to wait for a short while at the bar until a table is free, it won’t be long before you end
up chatting with other guests or the bar staff.

Cash is king

Germans love paying for things in cash — in fact, when the option of paying by card was first introduced, many people initially viewed it with great scepticism. Although those days are long gone, it’s still always a good idea to have notes and coins in your wallet — particularly since not all places accept cards. Most taxis don’t, and it’s not always possible on public transport either. However, debit cards (and often credit cards) can be used to pay for even small amounts in department stores, drugstores and supermarkets. Similarly, you can pay by card in upmarket bars and in most restaurants, but rarely in small cafés, pubs or kiosks. So it’s always a good idea to carry a little cash on you. Particularly since it’s still customary in Cologne to leave tips in cash.

Back in the saddle

Cologne wants to make its mobility policies more environmentally friendly, ideally reducing the number of cars on the road so they make up less than one third of overall transportation. The city has already begun introducing cycle lanes on roads and building separate cycle paths. As well as having their own bicycles, many Cologne locals also make use of the wide range of rental bikes available. These are also an ideal way for tourists to get from A to B, while exploring the city at the same time. The rental bikes are made available by public transport provider KVB through its ‘Nextbike’ (nextbike.net/en) and by Deutsche Bahn with ‘Call a Bike’(callabike-interaktiv.de/en/cities/koln). The bike station at Breslauer Platz behind the main train station also rents out bicycles (radstationkoeln.de/en) — and there is even a repair shop there as well.

(by Bernd Wilberg)

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