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.