Cologne, Germany

In case you’re curious, here’s a little report on our roadtrip to Germany (via a Belgium waffle tour). Our destination was Cologne. Fun fact: in German the city is called Köln. Which reminds me, do you remember that phase, I think it was the early nineties, where hip new startups would add two dots over any random vowel in their company name because those two dots are so darn cool? I’m glad that phase is over, but I still think the two dots are awesome.


For this report, I think I’ll start backwards. The very last thing we did, before we jumped in the van to drive home, was add a lock to the the Hohenzollern bridge, which spans the river Rhine.

From what I understand, the locks are for lovers. They scratch their names into the locks (or have them engraved) and then add the lock to the bridge. But we adapted the tradition for our family, since all the kids wanted in on it too. Ben Blair scratched a B into our little red lock. Then we each took turns holding the lock and making a wish for 2012. Then we attached it to the bridge.

And then, since we’re no good at secrets, on the drive home, every one shared their wishes. : ) We all felt like it was a wonderful way to mark the new year.

Other things we loved about our visit to Cologne:

– Climbing to the top of the Dom Cathedral. 509 steps! Ben Blair and I took turns carrying June. We heard the Dom is the 2nd largest cathedral in Europe, and truly, it was massive. (Does anyone know what the biggest is? Fill us in, please.)

– Buying Cologne in Cologne. Bottles of the “Eau de Cologne No 4711” were sold in every touristy spot. I have no idea if Cologne actually originated in Cologne, but we got a kick out of buying a bottle anyway.

– Seeing lots of Picassos, and one of my favorite cut-paper works by Matisse, at Museum Ludwig. And watching Oscar accurately point out any art that qualified as “cubism”.

– Eating dinner at Früh am Dom, the local touristy beer hall that was just right for our crazy family.

– Touring the Chocolate Museum — which included dipping wafers in their famous chocolate fountain and enjoying mugs of incredible hot cocoa at the museum café.

– Yummy German food! Schnitzel and potatoes at every meal. Hearty breakfasts. Some kind of pastry called Butter Cake that was so yummy we went back to the bakery for more as soon as we’d had one bite. I loved the food. I thought it felt especially perfect for a winter trip.

– Lots of reviews on travel sites said the Cologne Christmas Markets are the best in Europe. Bummer for us, they closed on December 23rd and we didn’t arrive till the 27th, so we missed them. But they were being taken down on the 28th and we got a glimpse of how charming they must be. Made me want to make a goal of spending a future Christmas there.

– People were so friendly and kind — and broke into English as soon as we opened our mouths — very helpful!

– I think the thing I found most charming, is that every where we ate in Germany, we were served drinks in happy little bottles. Water, soda, juice (I assume beer too). I loved that! It made me smile every time the bottles arrived on our table.

Here’s a little slideshow of our adventures in Germany (click prev/next):

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Germany has so much to see and I realize we only had a peek of one (terrific) city, but we sure loved our trip. How about you? Have you ever been to Germany? Which part was your favorite?

93 thoughts on “Cologne, Germany”

  1. The minster in Ulm has the highest church tower in Europe and the world- BUT the minster in Freiburg is the “most beautiful tower in the whole of christianity”. Guess where I’m from ;)
    Butterkuchen is also one of my favorites, it’s most delicious paired with (and dunked in) hot chocolate.

  2. Ulm is the highest I believe. I’ve been to Koeln and I loved it and climbed all those stairs as well. I love that photo of June – too cute. Don’t they have the locks in Paris as well?
    My daughters name has the ‘dots’ on the e – in French they are called tréma and in German it’s the Umlaut. Glad you had a great time.

  3. Of course, Eau de Cologne is from Cologne, that’s why it’s called like this (and sold in Köln).
    Please – find time and visit other german cities swell – because each is different and so interesting (especially Berlin, Hamburg, München…)

  4. Yes, hearty breakfast and how about the coffee and coffee service?!!! Nice pictures. What a wonderful experience to share with your children!

  5. The chocolate museum sounds amazing!! And the cathedral steps sound like a good workout!! Two things I love: chocolate & working out!! :) Thanks for sharing about all your trips. I’d love to do this someday with my future children. :)

  6. Umlauts make me think of Häagen-Dazs. Best summer job ever. ;-)

    I got to visit Germany for a few days years ago when I worked for Special Olympics and Austria hosted our World Games. The people were lovely, as you say. Not a lot of time for sightseeing because it was a work trip, but I loved the architecture. And the duvet on my bed! But my favorite thing from Germany is my husband, who was born in Wiesbaden.

    Your trip looks amazing. You inspire me to work harder so I can get my family of six traveling more.

  7. I am pretty sure I just sent an email to my husband saying I would love to spend a Christmas in Germany. I love Germany and I have always wanted to visit the Christmas markets. You have inspired me to one day make that happen. My other goal is to one day bike a large portion of the Rhine River.

  8. I’ve heard of the lock tradition before, I thought it was only an Italian thing. What an interesting tradition for your family to share in. Looks like everyone had fun.

    I’ve traveled in Bavaria, southern Germany, and really enjoyed that. It’s the land of faiytales and castles. A must see for children of all ages!

  9. I am from Germany, we live in the south in Esslingen, which is close to Stuttgart. Actually, last June we visited Cologne for the first time because we had our Bluelilly shooting with Wendy in the Botanical Garden and we had so much fun with her and visiting Cologne!

  10. Thank you so much for this post! I am visiting Cologne very soon and was anxiously awaiting your recommendations on here! Haha! I have to go to the lock bridge. Necessity.

  11. I think you can’t go wrong with any German city. They are each unique in their own way and each with a story to tell. You’ve got Hamburg and Lubeck in the north. Bremen (complete with a statue of the Bremen Stadt Musikantens) is not too far from you. Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig in the east. And places like Munich, Heidelburg, and many others in the south. You might like Stuttgart too. Lots of industrialized influenced design/architecture. Koblenz and Trier have great history all the way back to the Romans. There is just so much there. I was an exchange student in high school for one year and lived in Hamburg, but the program I went with gave us a 2 week tour of Germany. I loved each place we stopped. Favorite German food to buy on street corners donnerkababs, the nuts, and the very yummy wursts with the spicy ketchup.

  12. oh my word…
    you just brought me back to my childhood in one little photo.
    the picture you took of the cologne no.4711.
    my omi and opi (german for grandma and grandpa) had those bottles in their home.
    i didn’t know it was direct from Koln. (no idea how to put the umlaut on that o)
    that is awesome!
    i’m glad you guys had a wonderful trip.
    i love germany.
    my parents were both born there and i lived there (hamburg specifically) for 3 months in high school.
    i grew up speaking german and english in our home too.
    unfortunately, that tradition has died with my children b/c my husband doesn’t know any german.
    sad… but grim reality!
    hopefully they’ll be able to take it in school one day.
    anyway… thanks for sharing your lovely holiday photos!
    love you blairs… you’re so cute!!! xo

  13. “Butterkuchen” is the best – and really easy to make! It is also called “cup cake”, as you need 1 cup sugar, 1 cup cream and 2 cups of flour + 4 eggs, vanilla and baking powder. Bake for 10 minutes at 200°C. While it bakes, melt 125 g butter and mix with 1 cup of sugar, 200 g flaked almonds, vanilla and 4 tablespoons milk. Spread onto the cake and bake for another 10 minutes. Guten Appetit! :)

  14. Can I just say that I LOOOOVE the way u take your kids to the most amazing places ever and how they r always fill with culture, art, history…. they seem to enjoy it so much! It reminds me my childhood… I have eldery parents, I’m an only child, so they used to like to take me to museums, places with history, and so to entertein me… my favorite tv characters were Lucille de Ball, chaplin, all these kind of series of humor and movies, and I always knew my parents were someway more special than my friend’s…. I see all that magical and specialness (those that word exist?:) )in your family and it make me feel that it’s still possible to have kids and raise them in this beautiful way… Thank Gab, Thank you very much for sharing all these magical moments with us… I’m your fan! Wish I can have a magical family like yours!
    <3

  15. You guys have the coolest family traditions!!! And buying cologne in Cologne? Awesome – truly.

    I’ve only ever been to Schliersee with my husband for a friend’s wedding (pre-motherhood). We hiked in the nearby Black Forest the morning after which was amazing.

    I’d love to go back to Germany with my daughter at Christmas time someday …..

  16. On our honeymoon last summer, my husband and I toured central Europe for three weeks and these locks seem to pop up on bridges everywhere! Real potential for a love-lock-bridge hunt there. :) We didn’t add one anywhere, although I must have taken a million of pictures.
    We really enjoyed Germany on our trip, it was absolutely lovely, but I must say Austria held more surprises for us, somehow. I am certain your family will make wonderful memories there as well, one day.
    Wishing you tons of wonderful discoveries in 2012!

  17. Your post had many parts that touched me: 1) to answer an earlier comment, a bridge near Notre Dame in Paris also has the “Love” locks (was just there and took a similar photo); 2) I lived in Germany for three years–loved skiing in Berchtesgaden; 3) my mom (now gone) used 4711…and I almost bought some of it when I was in UK just to remind me of her the scent. Great photos.

  18. I spent a few months in Kiel, Germany a couple of years ago doing my super specialization in gynecological endoscopy. My wife and I travelled all over during the weekends. Being Indian, it was wonderful to try all the Bavarian food, the beer (we were in Munich for Oktoberfest) and to meet Germans – who were o friendly and welcoming.

    This post brought back all those wonderful memories. We now have a 6 month old daughter and I cannot wait to take her with us.

    P.S. For these travel posts, do you use the iPhone as your primary camera?

    1. Hi Munjaal! My husband shoots with an iPhone and I usually use our Canon 50D. We just got a new lens (we’ve only had one lens for about 3 years, so we’re so excited to play with the new one!). All these photos were taken with the new lens.

  19. Love Cologne. I used to live in Germany and it’s an amazing country. Next time try Trier. That was one of my favorite place up north. Bavaria is a totally different place and if you haven’t been, you should give it try, too.

  20. It’s funny reading about people thinking it funny that Köln writes as Köln in German. At least if you’re German.

    Ok, and here’s the Top 3 of the highest churches in the world:
    Ulm
    Notre Dame de Paris
    Cologne

    If the Sagrada Familia was finished one day, it would be the highest.

  21. On my visit to Europe, I had the opportunity to climb to the top of the cathedral spire in Ulm. 768 steps!! Our legs were shaking so hard on the climb down. Kudos to your kids for such a feat!

  22. What a wonderful-sounding trip!
    We have only ventured into Germany on a short half-day side jaunt on a larger trip to Europe, to find the small town where my husband’s ancestors come from.
    One of our favorite photos now is my husband and son standing under the sign “Barkeystrassen” – or Barkei Street, named after their family.

  23. I am an American citizen but I was born in Frankfurt and have traveled back to Germany a handful of times. You have to visit the Bavarian Alps in Southern Germany with your family. Absolutely stunning. I recommend visiting King Ludwig’s castles, I enjoyed them as a kid, Neuschwanstein is the most famous (Disney castle is designed after it). Konigsee is also a favorite destination within Bavaria.

    1. It’s big! And yes, at first glance it seems mostly filled up. From far away, the bridge sort of shimmers as the locks catch the sunlight. But up close, there is still plenty of room for more locks.

  24. I found your blog recently and have become, well, addicted! As if you hadn’t already won me over with tales of life in Normandy, you rave about your road trip to Deutschland – one of the most seriously underrated destinations in Europe. I’m a bit biased being of German heritage, but I do love it there. Don’t miss Heidelberg, and of course Munich and the Romantic Road. I spent about six weeks in Mainz on business, and the small city outside of Frankfurt won me over. A great launching point for Rhine river trips and heading south on the Wein Strasse. I’ve yet to get to Berlin or Hamburg, but have heard great things about both. Thanks for sharing your adventures and wishing you a fun-filled 2012!

  25. We, too, love Germany and our favorite town is Baden Baden as we love the Roman and modern baths. The little town is wonderful with its restaurants, coffee shops, clothing shops and, of course, the baths. Check out the baths online. We love both the old and the modern baths. We return every other year. We stay at a darling hotel near the baths enjoying our favorite view of Baden Baden. Gabriella, you and Ben would love it! Please consider a visit. You have changed our views of France in many ways.

  26. I used to go to summer camp every year in Germany (Lachenwald), did a summer tour of Germany one year, and spent many fabulous family vacations there. The German Christmas markets are truly wonderful, such amazing sights and sounds. This looked like a GREAT family adventure!

    1. I went to Lachenwald too! I still remember that song ” Lachen, Lachen, Lachen, Lachen, kommst der summer über das velt” I’m sure my spelling is atrocious….

  27. We just came back from taking our kids to Cologne and our favorite thing there was our visit to the floating Noah’s Ark ship. It’s this giant wooden boat that’s a floating museum, built by a Dutch artist. Inside are biblical replicas, real animals and tons of fun stuff for kids. It’s also right across from the Chocolate museum! Here is a link to an article about it:
    http://blog.beliefnet.com/news/2011/08/noahs-ark-floats-into-cologne-germany.php
    Well worth a visit!

  28. I am just starting to plan a trip to Germany for 2013 for my 10th anniv. My husband has been but I never had. Love your post. Gave me some great ideas that I added to my Pinterest board (hope you don’t mind).

  29. What a fabulous trip! We just spent this past spring touring Munich and Bavaria and had a thoroughly marvellous time. One little place you should definitely visit is called Rudesheim-en-Rhein – it is absolutely charming! (just slightly west of Frankfurt). You can do what they call ‘the ring tour’ where you take a cable car up to the highest point in the town (0ver vineyards), walk through a leafy forest at the top, take a chairlift down the other side, and then catch a boat back to the town. It is honestly delightful! When we left to go to Trier, our then two and a half year old said the next morning, I want to go back to Rudesheim! I can also recommend Heidelberg.

  30. Such fun! Love the “Christmas Story” photo. And the photo of June obviously having a “No, mama!” moment. : )

    Looks like a wonderful trip. Thank you for sharing a bit of it with us.

  31. Love the post and the photos! I’ve been to Germany a couple times and just love it — have been trying to replicate some recipes from my travels in my kitchen. Also I especially loved your photo of the love locks. I was just searching today for somewhere to get one stateside for my husband for our anniversary.

  32. I was born in Germany and have always had a fondness for really everything German. Koln is a great city. The Schwartzwald (black forest) is also great! Looks like you had some real fun!

  33. I spent two weeks in Bavaria, very close to Munich, when I was 18. Very few people spoke English but everyone was really nice and helpful. I loved their beer festival (even though I’m not much of a drinker), their perfect roads (the ones on the island I come from are anything but perfect) and especially the countryside. It was breathtakingly beautiful and I remember thinking I could live there. Your family trip looks like so much fun! Have a very happy 2012!

  34. Lovely pictures–and I have to write to say I love seeing your daughter in that Polarn o pyret dress. I think she must have been wearing it for over a year now, yes? I like that it lives on over jeans. A relative gave my daughter the same one, but sized 6-9 months. And at 15 months she’s still wearing it at least once a week. So cute!

  35. I would love to spend Christmas in Germany some day… or *any* time in Germany. My husband lived there and has many relatives there and would love to take me on a tour of his childhood spots.

    I believe the largest cathedral in Europe is St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In fact, I think it’s the largest in the world.

    1. I second that: St Peter’s in Rome is the biggest cathedral in the world.
      We recently spent one afternoon in Koln and we loved the cathedral. Followed by a visit of the Lego store (kids choice) and Muji store. Good memories!

  36. Love Cologne! Looks like you had a great trip. My husbands family is German and we’ve been to Cologne, Dresden, and Munich. You should definitely check out Bavaria. Two summers ago we rented an apartment in Bad Tolz, south of Munich and spent a week riding gondolas to the top of mountains and hiking down. Then we rewarded ourseles with currywurst and fries at the bottom. So much fun!

  37. hi. i just discovered your blog !
    what a nice blog :)

    ok, so i always go to Koln, but didn’t know this place :o LOL

    actually i go there for shopping :)

    nice shots btw :)

  38. What a delightful holiday trip for all of you! I’m so impressed with Germany
    and Germans, and the wonder of their rebuilding completely and beautifully
    after the terrible destruction of WW2. Our forays into Frankfurt and Kiel were
    excellent reminders of the amazing and determined German citizens. So glad
    that you all loved your visit. I loved joining you via the great photos!

    New Years Locks are lovely!

  39. My husband and I were stationed in Germany (Spangdahlem AFB) for almost 3 years, and my favorite place to visit was Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It is a walled medieval city, that also boasts a fantastic Christmas market! It’s not a very big place, but you can walk the wall, take a tour with the night watchman, and see a museum full of medieval torture devices. Something for everyone! :)

  40. so wonderful! i lived in Cologne for four years (my husband is from Cologne) and so funny, even though there are often tourists there, i think of it as home, and forget it can be a lovely tourist spot! so nice that you and your family visited. the Christmas markets are really so so lovely, sorry you missed them. :( Cologne is also very beautiful in the Spring. there are tons of flea markets there in the Spring and Summer (actually year-round but the spring and summer ones are the best), and there is a lovely one that happens every month or so right along the Rhine. Thanks for posting these wonderful pictures!

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