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Cologne: Dawn till Dusk

Having arrived on the night train from Zurich, the initial prospect of rocking up to Cologne at 5am didn’t sound attractive. A few much-needed stretches and bone cracks later, we were ready to hit the town.

Inside the Dom

Normally, churches aren’t high on the “5am must-see” list, but the “Dom” (short for Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral) is one of the biggest cathedrals on earth. Taking around 700 years to complete, its 157m-tall towers dominate Cologne’s skyline like a medieval skyscraper. The massive stained-glass windows and thousands of frescoes add an ethereal ambience to the building, and it’s enticing to just sleep on the floor.

After breakfast, we walked around the city as it slowly woke up. Cologne is littered with brauhauses that specialise in their city’s special brew: Kölsch.

Kolsch on tap

Several churches and a circus ground later, we somehow made our way into a traditional hunting-lodge styled brauhaus called Früh at 8am for a second breakfast of wurst (sausages) and Kölsch. The beer is served in tiny 200ml glasses, making it easy to try more than a few, as brews vary from brauhaus to brauhaus.

Kölsch is often drunk in groups of mixed social standing, and any exclusivity in its drinking culture is frowned upon – so much so that no Kölsch will be sold with titles like ‘Premium’ or ‘Special’. The brauhauses have even devised a unique Kölsch tray that has a handle and slots for 10 glasses, making it convenient for the servers to fill and deliver them to your table.

It was at Früh that we realised our plans for the entire day: brauhaus crawlling! We would devour fresh wurst and beer for the entire day, experiencing Cologne’s culture, city and culinary offers all in one go.

The next brauhaus we hit was Sion, founded in 1318 and still looks cheery inside. Fuelled with hops and wurst, we trundled around the city’s old town section – with its wobbly cobbled streets – feeling rather upbeat despite the slight rain. Apparently, brauhaus-hopping is a popular past time for both tourists and locals, and when you’ve got brauhauses opening as early as 8am, you know you’ve got some serious drinkers in town. Breakfast with beer is the norm, and if you ask for coffee, expect funny looks.

Cologne's multi-coloured buildings

Lunch was at Gaffel Haus, where we tucked into Shinkenhaxe (pork knuckle) drowned in sauerkraut. What we didn’t count on was the portion – we ordered one plate, but we still couldn’t finish our own halves. A glass of beer later, and we were out exploring Cologne’s other sites along the Rhine river to walk off all the calories. Before long it was tea time and, wouldn’t you know it, another brauhaus visit.

Peter's Brauhaus

This time it’s Pfaffen, and amongst its specialties is Reibekuchen – the city’s most unique dish. Served everywhere during fall and winter, it’s available only on select days of the week at each place. Pfaffen’s is arguably the best, and often available (depending on the chef), 2-3 days of the week. A potato pancake served with savoury brown gravy or sweet applesauce, it’s the ideal accompaniment to Pfaffen’s more full-bodied brew.

It’s worth to note that another popular accompaniment to Kölsch is the Halve Hahn (literally means ‘half chicken’). Don’t get too excited – it’s only cheese on rye bread.

With a distended belly after sunset, we flopped back to the hotel, deciding to go on a diet the next day. Twenty minutes later, we changed into stretchable pants and were off to Peter’s Brauhaus for dinner, where we kicked back more beer and wurst in this well-weathered, respectable establishment.

When it was time to achingly crawl back to the hotel for the night, we came to a unanimous conclusion: when it comes to beers and sausages, Cologne’s the best of the wurst.

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