12:10pm Thursday 12th April 2012
There are not many places where you can smell the essence of a sperm whale’s intestine mucus and then drink like a fish until the sun comes up, writes Steve Zacharanda.
But in Cologne I did both and a lot more besides including seeing the resting place of the bones of the Three Wise Men.
The German city was full of surprises and caters for all type of tourists from a couple celebrating a special anniversary to young bucks wanting a stag weekend to remember.
The story of how the German city is associated across the world with smelly stuff is told at the house where the Italian Farina family became the first in the world to create lingering fragrances. In 1709 Johann Maria Farina created Eau De Cologne in honour of the city and in the Farina Haus you can learn how he did it and how generations of his family have continued the tradition.
As is en vogue with attractions everywhere someone dressed in period costume, complete with rather tight tights, gave us a guide around the house explaining how perfume was made.
There of course was the awkward moment when the grown man in the tights and a wig felt a tad self-conscience but he carried on and gamely took us into a centuries old room with pots containing smelly stuff. Needless to say that no-one guessed what the pungent smell in the yellow pot was. Who knew that perfumeries crave the intestine mucus of sperm whales, well, the lucky Irish couple who stumbled on in it on a beach must have because they sold it for thousands at an international perfume auction.
What I loved about Cologne was that the city was full of people, good and bad smelling, it was hectic from the moment I got up until the moment I staggered home past 6am.
The Germans know how to have fun, the beer kellers run like clockwork, as soon as you finish your glass a man pops up and fills it, in fact unless you cover your beer glass with a beer mat they will fill it up regardless.
And unlike many of the world’s great cities, including London, there is no problem finding a drink after midnight, there are plenty of bars and then when one closed at 4am I asked the friendly faced bouncer: “Anywhere else open?” He looked at me as if I was mad and told me to turn right and there were more places to enjoy, obviously as the dawn approached there were less open but it’s great local licensing laws cater for different body clocks.
And the local tipple Kolsch, a beer popular throughout Germany, is not expensive either cheapening a night out.
Cologne is German’s oldest human settlement and sits on the mighty Rhine, there is a lot of history to the place, including new found Roman ruins, but not many historic buildings due to the carpet bombing of the city in the Second World War. Thankfully the RAF crews left the majestic cathedral standing as they used it for as a landmark to navigate from.
The huge cathedral took centuries to build, and now its blackened walls rise up into the sky and take the breath away.
Outside there was a real carnival atmosphere with street performers and various characters in fancy dress jostling people for photographs, we even got to see two middle aged men sprayed from head to foot in gold having a blazing row over their pitch. Inside there is beautiful and ornate expressions of Catholic love for idolatry and you could spend hours just looking at the stain glass windows alone.
Our guide told us proudly the altar, which contained what looked like a miniature solid silver and gold church, housed the remains of the Three Wise Men. Stolen from Palestine, and mugged from Italy centuries ago, the remains have a bizarre and bloody history and on January 6 the silver and doors are opened so people can see the decaying skeletons.
Whether you believe they are the real Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar or not it helps explain why Cologne was a Medieval powerhouse in Catholic Europe.
Just a stone’s throw from the cathedral is the Museum Ludwig which houses one of Europe’s biggest contemporary art collections.
The whistle-stop tour took hours but I could have happily spent the whole day wandering amongst the Picassos, Andy Warhols and countless other priceless artefacts.
Other great attractions in the city include the Romana-Germanic Museum which will get any history-buff in a lather and the Chocolate Musuem which is a firm favourite with ladies who love the dark stuff and children who can gorge themselves on free samples.
Cologne has plenty of shops, from department stores to boutiques, and needless to say in the run up to Christmas the whole city is transformed into one big Christmas Market with hundreds of traders turning up from across Germany to sell their wares.
The vast array of sausages on sale at the markets were worth the short hop to Cologne alone and if you like your meat then belly-filling servings of pork, beef and venison are available in restaurants across the city and at a reasonable price.
However, thankfully the only place you’ll find sperm whale intestine mucus is in the cologne.
Bmibaby flies direct from East Midlands Airport to Cologne up to four times a week. Fares start from £34.99 one way including taxes. Bmibaby offers customers many benefits including allocated seating, online check in and the opportunity to join BMI Diamond Club - the UK's most generous frequent flyer programme. To book a flight visit www.bmibaby.com and for information on visiting Cologne please visit www.germany.travel.
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