If you’re looking for lively bars and cafes, great shopping and an inspiring creative atmosphere, Cologne’s Belgian Quarter is the perfect weekend escape destination. Germany’s fourth largest city is just an hour away by (low-cost) plane and along with neighbouring Bonn has surprises around every corner.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the highlights.
Brüsseler Platz & The Belgian Quarter
All the streets in this arty district of Cologne 20minutes from the center are named after Belgian Cities – Ehrenstraße and Maastrichter Street are choc-a-bloc of chic independent clothes stores, cafes and cool home furnishing outlets.
Prices are similar to the UK (if not slightly lower) and if you look hard, there are real bargains to be had. It’s a great place to browse, grab a coffee and just lose track of time. Among the dozens of shops, check out Green Guerillas for German fashions and a bit further away Red Wing for shoes.
When I visited one of the car parks had been turned into a ‘pop up catwalk’ featuring new collections from up and coming designers, Doraine van Overeem and MariusJanusauskas and there are always different creative events happening every week.
Fashionista’s looking for something more luxurious should head East toward the centre to Mittelstraße and seek out BASLER and Marc Cain (Women’s Fashions). Apropos (stylish clothing for Men & Women) and Marlies Dekkers (Gorgeous Swimwear & Lingerie). Meanwhile art lovers visit Figge von Rosen’s (Aachener Straße) gallery to seek out the newest artistic talent in Cologne.
Lagerfeld. Modemethode. @Bundeskunsthalle (Bonn)
Bonn is only 20mins away on the train from Cologne and a must visit is Karl Lagerfeld: Modemethode. It runs until the 13th September at the Bundeskunsthalle and shows the evolution of the designers work for the four labels (Fendi, Chloé, Lagerfeld and Chanel) he’s predominantly worked for over his long, and still incredibly creative career.
Of the 120+ pieces highlights include the coat designed by a very young Karl Lagerfeld in 1954 for the International Woolmark competition. It was a prize he won and enabled Lagerfeld to put a foot into the door of the Parisian Fashion world. Meanwhile, more present day pieces include his latest Neoprene wedding dress from the Chanel Autumn/Winter 2015 collection.
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Along with a large display of the bags he’s designed for Chanel there are early pieces made for Fendi, the Fashion house he still works with today, some 50 years later. Interesting too are his sketches, offering an insight into the mind of the perfectionist and to the design process from paper to fabric.
Lagerfeld is also famous for his photographic and film making talents, ‘Once Upon a Time’ the (slightly crazy) short film he made with Keira Knightley as Coco Chanel can also be seen at the exhibition. Fashion fans will find much to love at Bundeskunsthalle and there is a wonderful cafe on the roof. My only disappointment was the absence of any sign of Choupette, Karl Lagerfeld’s (in)famous cat.
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STAR WARS™ Identities @ Odysseum
Star Wars fans will love STAR WARS™ Identities, a brilliant exhibition taking place at the Odysseum in Cologne featuring over 200 original costumes, props, models and pieces of artwork from the Star Wars movies.
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Highlights included in the collection are R2-D2, Anakin’s full-sized Podracer, Darth Vadar and many interactive exhibits. Möge die Macht mit dir sein.
For Barmy summer evenings, hang out in the heart of the Belgian Quarter in Brüsseler Platz. Grab a table outside St Michael’s Church, (I saw an ambient DJ actually inside the church) order a bottle of the local Kölsch beer and soak in the good vibes. It can get busy and the festivities go on well into the night, but among the mixed age groups on the streets the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming.
Eat and Drink
If you’re staying at the Chelsea Hotel (see below) you have to eat at the Central Cafe / Restaurant “o.T” at least once. The food is mostly typically German, simple and really tasty, but there are are lighter dishes on the menu and I had a fantastic coconut mange-tout curry for €11.90.
The Cafe is part of German art history and it was here in the 80’s and 90’s where one of Germanies greatest artists Martin Kippenberger organised his legendary parties. It’s also known as a center of literary lectures and discussions and philosophers such as Peter Sloterdijk, Stefan Heym, Johan Galtung and Matthias Horx have all been guest speakers here.
For breakfast or a healthy lunch Cafecafe is the perfect place. Vegetarian and Vegan tastes are catered for and one definitely worth trying is the Acai, mango, banana and guana smoothie (#6).It gave me enough vitamins to last the weekend.
Towards the centre of Cologne you’ll find plenty of Shisha cafe’s and while not one to participate myself, the drifting vapours only add to the ambience.
After-dark – Sixpack is the place to go to in the quarter when everything else is closed or empty and you still want to party. Open til 6-8am, there’s no sign, but look out for the reflective glass mirror and the sixpack symbol above the door (Aachener Straße 33). The Barracuda Bar is good too, and rightly known for its dangerously delicious Mojitos.
Sleep – Hotel Chelsea
Ideally situated on the corner of the Belgian Quarter, the Hotel is close enough to all the fun, but far enough to be out of easrshot. In 2001 a roof extension was added to the Hotel in a deconstructive architectural style allowing for seven more rooms to be added to make a total of 35 with 3 additional suites. All have free Wi-Fi and are modern, clean and comfortable.
Within 50ft of the Hotel there are two restaurants, a sex shop, a church and a supermarket with an excellent bakery. What else could you need that is further away?
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Jülicher Str. 1, 50674 Köln, Germany
Phone: +49 221 207150
Ryanair operates 14 weekly flights from London Stansted to Cologne. For a full list of destinations and all lowest fares please visit www.ryanair.com