Plunge Into Cologne’s Contradictions: 5 Things You Should Not Miss

Dark and daring, gloomy but vibrant. Cologne is a center of contradictions that render the city one of the most fascinating spots in Germany. It houses both the biggest catholic church and the largest gay community in the country. Discover the city’s best kept secrets, as you walk among the scent of Cologne’s unique fragrance.

1. Have a drink of Kolsh. Kölsch beer is as much a part of Cologne as the Rhine river. The city is dotted with hundreds of brewhouses, where a lively and friendly atmosphere invites tourists to delve into one of the most important German traditions. You can take a seat alongside with locals on large wooden tables and embrace Kolner’s endearing traditions: waiters will continue to place Kölsch beer without you ordering, just until you place a beer mat over your glass to indicate that you have had enough.

2. Discover the history behind the fragrance
. Have you ever wondered where does the famous ‘Eau de Cologne’ comes from? When visiting this beating city, you cannot miss the world’s oldest fragrance factory, as you discover the history behind the perfume. The original fragrance was launched in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina, an Italian perfume maker from Santa Maria Maggiore Valle Vigezzo. As he came up with the delicious fragrance, Farina wrote to his brother: “it reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain”. so don’t miss a visit to the Fragance Museum Farina Haus, where the formula that to this day remains a secret is produced since 1709.

3. Enjoy Carnival’s capital. The “fifth season of the year” as Carnival is called, begins on November 11 exactly at 11:11 AM. But the real crazy days of Germany’s most vibrant carnival celebration do not start before the so-called Weiberfastnacht (Shrove Thursday), when streets are invaded by paraders in disguise who party in the open air, in public squares and in pubs. No rules are observed during these days, and even workers take the fun to their offices. Closing times for pubs and bars are suspended for the whole duration of the festival, just as trains, banks and supermarkets are filled with costumed customers.

But if you miss carnival season, you can still get a taste of the most exhilarating German celebrating at the Cologne Carnival Museum, where you can take a journey through the ages and enjoy some of its highlights, such as “the Fool”, “Lent and Shrovetide”, “Commedia dell’Arte”, “Carnival in Crisis” and “Carnival during Germany’s Economic Miracle”. The exhibition offers a fascinating insight into the different facets of carnival in the Rhineland, ranging from carnival “Sitzungen” (sessions) to Cologne’s parades.

4. Delve into the legend of the Three Magi. Just as you visit Kolner Dom, the largest church in Germany and one of the most exquisite examples of gothic arquitecture, you will discover the Shrine of the Three Wise Men, places above and behind the altar. The Shrine is a reliquary said to contain the bones of the Biblical Magi, also known as the Three Kings or the Magi, who are believed to have visited Jesuss after his birth, beargin gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The shrine is a large gilded and decorated triple sarcophagus, considered one of the highest examples of Mosan art and the largest reliquary in the western world.
5. Join Gay Pride. Not to miss if you are visiting in June is Cologne’s Gay Pride, the largest gay and lesbian organized event in Germany and one of the biggest in Europe. It consists of a large city Gay pride parade, and a week of festivals, parties and political forums that gather over one million people who celebrate diversity. Its orgins date back to the 1980s, as a small Christopher Street Day named for the Stonewall riots on Christopher Street in New York City. Within a liberal political culture in former West Germany, Christopher Street Day grew into one of the biggest celebration events in Germany.

This article was originally published on April 5 2011 at Trifter.

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