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Photography by Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 3.0

Culinary walking tours of Cologne

created by Jan Lüke | |   Tips % Tours

An excellent way to discover a city is to go for a walk and take in the many restaurants, bars and brewhouses along the way

Cologne is the fourth-largest city in Germany, home to over a million people and counting. Even so, the distances are so short that it is even possible to explore the city on foot. This means that, even though it is well equipped with public transport and bicycle lanes, anyone who wants to go on a culinary tour of Cologne can easily walk from A to B.

(by Jan Lüke)

Tour 1 — along the river

Just a few years ago, Cologne’s newest landmark, the Rheinauhafen waterfront complex, emerged in the south of the city centre. The three “Kranhäuser” (literally “crane buildings”, in the shape of an upside-down “L” reminiscent of the harbour cranes) on the former port facility, which these days is only used for docking ships at night, were completed between 2008 and 2010 and are now an integral part of the city’s skyline. Two of the three standalone buildings, which measure 40 metres in height, are used for office space, while the northernmost one — the closest to the city centre — was designed for residential use. For Cologne locals, this waterfront area has become a popular place to meet friends, to go jogging, walking or skating, or to sit on the plentiful benches or steps and soak up the sunshine. And wherever there are lots of people, there is always bound to be plenty of food on offer.

From the Malakoffturm — a surviving 19th-­­century Prussian guard tower on the banks of the Rhine, now home to a beer garden — you will cross a swing bridge into the Rheinauhafen dockland. This is where the culinary walking tour might well come for dessert: the Chocolate Museum (Am Schokoladenmuseum 1a). Chocolate has long been a part of Cologne’s history — in 1839, Franz Stollwerck founded a company not far from this spot that also devoted itself to producing chocolate in the course of the 19th century. His company ran into financial difficulties in the following century and was eventually taken over by Cologne businessman Hans Imhoff in 1972. Although Stollwerck moved away from the Severinsviertel district soon afterwards — and no longer produced in Cologne at all after the turn of the millennium — Imhoff still bequeathed the city his own personal chocolate monument: the Chocolate Museum, built in 1993. Located in the former Prussian customs office, it is one of the most successful museums in the whole of Germany. As well as a varied programme that includes tours, chocolate-­making courses and tastings, there is a café overlooking the Rhine and a shop that sells chocolate souvenirs from all over the world. And, inside its glass walls, a chocolate fountain that is three metres high.

Heading south, you will soon be looking up at the impressive columns of the crane buildings. This unique location is home to one of the city’s most famous dining establishments: back in 2010, Daniel Gottschlich opened his Ox & Klee restaurant in the Belgian Quarter and was awarded a Michelin star soon afterwards. Six years later, he packed up his kitchen and his accolades and moved into the middle “Kranhaus” in the Rheinauhafen, operating under the same name and also opening his prestigious Bayleaf bar on the ground floor (Im Zollhafen 18). Gottschlich, who was awarded a second Michelin star in 2019, is one of a generation of young Cologne chefs who have set out to modernise traditional haute cuisine. He casts aside the rigid rules of star-studded cuisine in favour of unbridled creativity — incidentally, this is also true of his Bayleaf bar, which serves “food pairings”, i.e. fine cuisine paired with cocktails designed to provide an aromatic match. For instance, ox cheeks and baby turnip are accompanied by an asparagus margarita consisting of asparagus tequila, sorrel and cucumber. In their restaurant-bar, Gottschlich and his bar manager Michael Elter aim to coax guests out of their culinary comfort zones, to arouse their curiosity and take them by surprise. At the end of the Rheinauhafen, cuisine of a more classic variety holds sway. Joseph’s (Agrippinawerft 22) offers its customers hearty traditional dishes from Austria. A former dockside warehouse, this spectacular restaurant boasts what may well be one of the most enviable terraces in the city, where Backhendl and Tafelspitz — fried chicken and boiled beef respectively — are served overlooking the Rhine promenade.

Tour 2 — through Nippes

A wholly different side of Cologne can be found in the north of the city centre. Many Cologne districts have their own main street that features prominently in the lives of the local people. In Nippes, one of the city’s most popular districts, this street is Neusser Strasse, a busy shopping street and meeting place, where traditional elegance rubs shoulders with modern tat, and magnificent buildings throw into sharp relief the architectural blunders of the post-war period. With a healthy cross-section of local people from all walks of life, it is an authentic picture of life in the city. There are plenty of culinary contrasts to be found amid the hustle and bustle of Neusser Strasse. Em Golde Kappes (Neusser Str. 295) is a typical local brewhouse restaurant of the kind that can be found in virtually any district. The golden letters above its entrance can be seen from afar, and the tables on its forecourt are always packed in the summer. Opened by local proprietor Matthias Becker back in 1913, the wood-panelled rooms and colourful windows of this listed building convey a welcome impression of early 20th-century Cologne. Even though this establishment has never brewed its own Kölsch,
it serves up brewhouse classics such as marinated pot roast and Himmel un Ääd, i.e. mashed potatoes with apple sauce and the local black pudding known
as Flönz.

Just a few steps away is French patisserie Törtchen Törtchen (Neusser Str. 325), where Elmar Schumacher-Wahls and star pâtissier Matthias Ludwigs set up shop almost 15 years ago. Bucking the general trend in their sector, they are eager to keep hands-on skills alive in bakeries. Serving tarts, macarons, chocolates and petits fours over its pink counter, the little café is paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth. Many of their creations break with the traditional confines of patisserie, such as the “Milchbubi” tartlet — rice pudding mousse on a bed of spices, topped with stewed quince and a cinnamon macaron. A little further down Neusser Strasse, you will find the same culinary perfectionism but with food from the other side of the world: Shibuya Sushi (Neusser Str. 332) is one of the most popular Japanese restaurants in Cologne. In its bar-like surroundings, it serves up modern sushi creations such as “Torched Philly Roll” rather than the traditional makis. The list of ingredients is long: deep-fried soft-shell crabs, tempura, peppers, lettuce, cream cheese, avocado, roe and spicy mayonnaise. A little further along Wilhelmplatz with its popular daily market is just the place for a coffee in the sunshine.

Tour 3 — along Aachener Strasse

The distances between eating establishments are even shorter in downtown Cologne, where bars and restaurants are everywhere you look — it is here that culinary trends take root first in the city. Where Aachener Strasse begins at Rudolfplatz, you will find a café beside an ice cream parlour and a burrito bar next door to a Vietnamese restaurant. And although the options seem to be endless, it is still by no means easy to find a table on the spur of the moment. The same can be said of Beef Brothers (Aachener Str. 12). Of the many burger joints the city has to offer, this small chain ranks among the best — take for instance its “Ol’Dirty Bastard” with gherkins, gorgonzola, bacon, Tyrrells crisps and homemade dill cream. A few steps further along is Salon Schmitz (Aachener Str. 28), one of the original players in the still-trendy Belgian Quarter. Adjoining the café are a small restaurant and bar named “Metzgerei Schmitz” and “Bar Schmitz” respectively. This “Schmitz universe”, which still retains the tasteful bar atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s, caters for its guests around the clock — from morning coffee to lunchtime snacks and from sublime ice cream (their sorbets are famous throughout the city!) to a nightcap at closing time. This is the right place to be at any time of the day or night. If the sun makes an appearance, you could do worse than heading down Aachener Strasse and paying a visit to the Biergarten am Aachener Weiher (Richard-Wagner-­Strasse) for a beer or two.

It is thanks to one of the great visionaries in its history, Konrad Adenauer, that Cologne has a green oasis in the middle of its city centre. In his time as Mayor of Cologne (1917–1933), Adenauer — who would go on to be the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany — took steps to ensure that the city’s green
belt would be preserved. And what better surroundings for an after-dinner walk on a balmy summer’s evening?