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Cologne was founded by the Romans as Colonia Agrippina in 38 BC and is one of Germany's oldest cities. Unfortunately a large part of the historic city was destroyed by bombardments at the end of World War II. Cologne therefore nowadays is a city where old and new go hand in hand. It is also an important cultural center with no less than thirty museums and hundreds of galleries. This doesn't imply that Cologne is only of interest to culture lovers by the way; the city is more and more visited by young people who are attracted by the trendy shops and places of entertainment.
The Dom – Cologne's landmark – survived the bombardments during the war years. Construction of this large church was started in the thirteenth century, but the cathedral was only completed six centuries later. The two 157-meter-high characteristic spires are already visible at a substantial distance. You can climb the left spire. The Cologne Cathedral contains one of Europe's most important religious treasuries, including the famous Gero Cross. Behind the altar, there's a large golden sarcophagus, the Shrine of the Three Kings, which supposedly holds the remains of the Three Kings.
Next to the Dom lies the Roman-Germanic Museum, built on the remains of a Roman villa that stood here in the thirteenth century. The museum's showpiece is the villa's mosaic floor. The oldest parts of the St Gereon Kirche also date back to Roman times. The fact is that this church originally was a little chapel in a Roman cemetery. In the twelfth century, the two towers were added to this impressive Romanesque church.
Cologne has a lot of museums and it would take too long to describe all of them here, but we will mention the main ones. The Wallraf-Richartz-Museum houses a comprehensive collection of paintings, from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. Here you can see works by for example Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Gogh, Monet, Münch and Ensor. The Ludwig Museum is dedicated to modern art, and includes works by Picasso, Dali, Matisse and Chagall. All modern art forms are represented, including expressionism, Bauhaus, futurism, surrealism, pop art and cubism. The pop-art collection is amazing; the bizarre creations by Warhol, Newman, Christo and Hamilton (just to name a few) are a feast for the eyes. The Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst is a very different kind of museum: Vases, bronze, silver and golden jewelry, utensils and furniture from China, Japan and Korea.
Three thousand years later, the ambrosia of the Aztecs, still has a loyal following. We are talking about chocolate of course. In Cologne's Chocolate Museum you can see how chocolate is made from cocoa beans. It even has a chocolate fountain where you can eat as much of the brown stuff as you want. And in the restaurant you have a choice of no less than fourteen different chocolate drinks.
Is chocolate not your thing? In that case try Cologne's other specialty, the local beer Kölsch. Next to the Dom there is a small brewery (Brauhaus Früh) where this top fermented beer is produced.
The city's highest office building is the Kölnturm. There is a viewing platform on the thirty-first floor that is very popular, especially since the platform of the Colonius telecommunications tower was closed in 2005.
North of the city center you can take a cable car across the Rhine. You also have a wonderful view over the city and the river from this Rheinseilbahn. On the other side you end up at the Rheinpark. It is a lovely green oasis where you can escape from the city's hustle and bustle. There are lots of parrots, descendants of the birds that escaped from the Cologne Zoo years ago.
Approximately 20 kilometers southwest of Cologne lies the theme park Phantasialand. When it opened in 1967 it was mainly geared towards children, but these days the park is aiming at a wider audience. They have for example breathtaking rollercoasters and a flight simulator.
Finding parking space in Cologne's center is difficult and also fairly expensive. A dynamic information system informs you which parking garage has availability. Alternatively you can park your rental car at the Zoo or near the university and use public transportation to travel on. As in many other German cities, the city center is a so-called 'Umweltzone'. You are only allowed to drive around here with a special sticker behind your windshield. Most rental cars have such a sticker.
Southeast of the city lies the Cologne/Bonn Airport, officially called Konrad-Adenauer-Flughafen. You can easily reach the airport by rental car: From Deutz (on the other side of the Rhine), the Östliche Zubringerstrasse (road number 559) runs to the airport. The way to the airport is clearly signposted.