Cologne: Metropolitan village with a famous cathedral

Cologne is world-famous for its cathedral and Carnival. In addition to a vibrant media sector, the city is a centre of the automobile manufacturing industry. It’s also where many different people and cultures meet. Life in Cologne has a very special feel. Despite its size, you never feel like a number.

by Rahel Klein

Cologne Cathedral and Hohenzollern Bridge © Klein/DAAD
Cologne Cathedral and Hohenzollern Bridge . © Klein/DAAD

Facts & Figures

Monthly rent:
375 €
Discover the Belgian Quarter!

Welcome to Cologne

Cologne is the home of the Cologne Cathedral and Carnival. With just over one million inhabitants, it’s the fourth largest city in Germany. The metropolis, located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is colourful, cosmopolitan and flashy. Cologne is a huge venue for the most diverse trends in music, culture, partying, sports and media. It’s a booming city, yet you never get the feeling that you are completely anonymous. Because deep down, Cologne is still a village.

Cologne is host to a number of important trade fairs and is a centre of automobile production, insurance companies, retail and media. Two of the largest TV broadcasters in Germany are located there – RTL and WDR. Thanks to its large train station and airport (Cologne-Bonn), you can quickly reach Cologne from other cities in Germany and abroad.

Love locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge © Klein/DAAD
Love locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge . © Klein/DAAD

Cologne is over 2,000 years old. The city’s landmark is the world-famous Cologne Cathedral which is said to contain the remains of the “Three Kings”, the Holy Magi. Built in the Gothic style, the cathedral is over 700 years old and is the third tallest church in the world! If you make it up the 533 steps to the top spire, you will be rewarded with a fantastic view of Cologne and the Rhine River.

The love locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge in front of the main train station have recently become quite famous. Couples in love attach padlocks to the railing of the bridge as a symbol of their love. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of colourful locks adorn the bridge!

Carnival Parade on Rose Monday © Kölner Karneval
Carnival Parade on Rose Monday . © Kölner Karneval

Cologne is situated in the Rhineland – a region along the Rhine River. Rhinelanders are known for their especially open-minded and friendly manner. The locals absolutely love their city – be it for its beer (called “Kölsch”) or football club, the 1. FC Köln. There are countless songs about Cologne which the locals endearingly call “Kölle”.

The atmosphere in town comes to a boil at Carnival, the so-called “fifth season of the year”. The season begins on 11 November at 11:11 am every year with a large programme in the city. The crowning conclusion takes place in February on Rose Monday when Cologne hosts the world-famous Carnival street parade. Young and old party together, dressed up in the craziest costumes you could imagine, yelling at the top of their voices “Kölle Alaaf” (Cologne is the best!) and “Lang lebe Köln” (Long live Cologne!).

Cologne is an important venue of the fine arts. There are many museums and more than 100 galleries which exhibit art by both prominent artists of the past and up-and-coming artists of today. The ArtyFarty-Galerie has recently gained a reputation among art insiders.

Living in Cologne

Cologne is a vibrant city where you don’t have to worry about being bored. But because its popularity is growing, life in Cologne is not exactly cheap. The rental prices are very high in the districts which are especially popular with students, like the historic part of town (Altstadt) and the districts to the south, Neustadt, Sülz and the Belgian Quarter. You can find more affordable accommodation in Ehrenfeld, Nippes or on the other side of the Rhine in Mülheim or Kalk. Thanks to its well-developed transportation network, you can reach the centre of town relatively quickly.

Aachener Straße © Klein/DAAD
Aachener Straße . © Klein/DAAD

If you want to go out, you should meet at Zülpicher Strasse, where you’ll find one bar after another, and the "Belgian Quarter". The Belgian Quarter has become Cologne’s trendy district in recent years thanks in part to its small and extraordinary designer shops. It’s also a popular meeting place for night owls. On Brüsseler Platz you’ll find many students sitting outside. Aachener Strasse, about five minutes away, is also filled with popular student bars, such as "Sixpack" and "Wohngemeinschaft", where you can enjoy a drink and a relaxing evening, playing table tennis or simply listening to music dished up by various DJs.

My tip

Go on a shopping tour through the Belgian Quarter and then spend the rest of the day with friends and a cold drink on Brüsseler Platz.

There are places to party all around Aachener Strasse and the Belgian Quarter. If you’re not in the mood for swanky clubs, then Ehrenfeld is the place to go – Cologne’s more alternative, hip quarter. One of the best-known places for music is the "Underground" which hosts various party series featuring indie pop, hip-hop and metal. If you love funk or hip-hop, the "Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld" is exactly right for you.

There are numerous parks and greens around the city where you can barbecue, picnic or hang out with friends on warm summer evenings, e.g. at the "Rheinpark" between Mülheim and Deutz, or the centrally located "Volksgarten" and "Stadtgarten". One of the best-known festivals in Cologne is the Summer Jam, which is held at Fühlinger Lake every year and draws reggae fans from around the region and entire country.

Interview with Gabriela from Brazil

Gabriela Hopf is 24 years old, comes from Brazil and studies German Studies and Romance Studies in Cologne.

Picture of Gabriela from Brazil © Gabriela Hopf
Gabriela from Brazil . © Gabriela Hopf

Why did you decide to study in Cologne?

My brother studied in Dresden in 2008 and I visited him there. I was so impressed by the atmosphere and organisation at the university that I thought: “I want to do a semester abroad in Germany too!” And then I received a place in Cologne, though Cologne was only my third choice. In a way, Cologne actually chose me and not vice versa!

What surprised you most about Cologne? Did it meet your expectations?

I arrived in Cologne at Carnival and my first impression was that the city was too big and too full. But after Carnival was over, I realised what Cologne was really all about. It’s a big city with lots of entertainment, a good atmosphere, beautiful parks and open-minded people. Cologne really surprised me! I also find there are many options open to you at the university. As an exchange student, you can take subjects in different departments.

Relaxing in the park © DAAD
Relaxing in the park . © DAAD

What are your favourite places in Cologne?

Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany, but it feels like a small town. My home city in Brazil has 11 million inhabitants! The people in Cologne are very friendly, polite and proud to live here. You notice it most at Carnival! And my favourite places are Zülpicher Strasse, Neumarkt and the banks along the Rhine.

Describe Germany in three words.

Green, organised, structured.

Complete the sentence: For me studying in Germany is....

...a time I’ll never forget, in which I’ve gotten to know myself better and expand my personal horizons.

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