In late February we enjoyed a short but lively weekend in Koeln, the capital of North-Rhineland Westphalia— the German state that borders Belgium and the Netherlands.

The first thing to come to mind is the famed neo-gothic Cologne Cathedral. It is the landmark of the Köln skyline and most visible point within the city, which by comparison is much less ornate. Many of the buildings in Köln are emblematic of Germany’s post-war modern reconstruction; It is one of the oldest cities in the country but bares the resemblance of a 20th C. city.

For many visitors (including us) Köln’s draw is simply the promise of a good time. And partly the intent to drink Kölsch, the local brew.


Above: Thousands of ‘love locks’ on the Hohenzollern Bridge.  We spotted some goodies.

Before we visited, Köln had just held their biggest party of the year: Fasching Karneval. Chatter about the event was a partial catalyst for our trip to the city.  In this popular European tradition there are parties, performances and televised entertainment shows.  And similar to Mardi Gras, the cities hold parades and people wear bright costumes. Fasching marks the first signs of Spring and the coming of Lent.  In mid-February, Köln was the place to be!

Most of our weekend was spent in the Innenstadt— a central, compact area of sights surrounded by the Grüngürtel, the city’s belt of park space. The area has shopping, museums and great nightlife.   Köln also had some of the tastiest food we have eaten in the whole country. We headed to Bastian’s for a Café-style breakfast that included their delicious landbrot (sourdough wheat bread), and later we detoured to Bay Area Burrito Company for our first real (‘good’) burrito in a year!

Koeln was full of nice surprises!

Below: Dropped Cone (2001) in Neumarkt Galerie is a recent work of Claes Oldenberg, also known for Spoonbridge and Cherry (1988) at the Walker Art Museum Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis!



Kölsch is a regional variety of beer — Making Köln somewhat of a destination for those who want to drink Kölsch ‘vom Fass’, fresh off the tap.  It is Germany’s only all-barley pale ale (though nothing like an American pale ale) and is poured in a small, narrow .2l glass called a Stangen which fares well for bar-hopping and warm summer patios.

One of our favorite spots was the beer hall at Früh am Dom, one of the bigger names in Kölsch brewing.   A Saturday night at Früh was as lively as a Bavarian brew house, minus the lederhosen. The servers keep their trays filled and are happy to tally your coaster each time they swap out an empty glass.

You can read about a New Yorker’s entrancement with Kölsch here or try one of a handful of  Kolsch-style beers that are brewed in the USA, this summer.

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Kölner Dom

The Cologne cathedral was more beautiful than I imagined. For many travelers it is the reason they have come to Köln.   Any doubts about it’s impressive scale were dissolved within a moment.  It is an incredible, monumental structure that fills an entire city block.  The cavernous interior felt bright and peaceful and we left Köln contemplating a new appreciation of this space.

The cathedral is centrally located, and we found ourselves passing it each day.  It is just a few steps from the train station and is the first thing to greet you when you arrive. In the early afternoon we saw the interior transformed as sunlight passed through the stained glass windows. As the above photo shows, at that moment we were surrounded by a mirage of pastel reflections.

Like many churches of this period, construction was ongoing.  The cathedral was fully built 600 years after the first mortar was laid (1248 – 1880), and became the tallest building in the world for 12 years.   The floors are covered with incredible mosaics and the space attracts religious pilgrims who have come to see  the [stated] remains of the biblical Three Wise Men in a golden casket. We also climbed the 500 steps of the spire to reach a viewing platform that overlooks the city.



On the same crisp February afternoon we visited Kolumba, the Art Museum of the Archbishopric of Cologne.  Cologne began as a Roman colony in the Germanic lands and is one of the three oldest cities in Germany.

The museum is a modern, rectangular space built over the ruins of the Gothic church of St Kolumba (origin, 980 A.D.),  with areas of the excavation integrated into the museum.  The museum holds a collection of religious relics, multi-media and contemporary artwork.

It is the newest museum space in the city and was designed by Peter Zumthor, a Swiss Architect. The building has garnered praise for it’s elemental use of light and space (mainly glass and stone) along with a seamless integration of modern design with antiquity.

An unexpected room within the museum was the second floor Leseraum ‘reading room’,  a quiet space.  The room is covered with wood veneer and was a warm, sunlit oasis within the stone interior. The space was especially nice in the diffused winter light.


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Belgisches Viertel

One of our favorite areas of the city, and the best area for nightlife was the Belgisches Viertel ‘Belgian Quarter’, a neighborhood of trendy shops and bars.  Based on a recommendation, we ended the night at Sixpac which was described as a ‘hipster bar’. A hipster bar in Köln had the feel of most places in Minneapolis-St Paul, so we felt right at home!


We may not have visited Köln if it had not been for two back-to-back recommendations that we would miss a sizable part of Germany if we missed Köln.  It is Germany’s 4th largest city and absolutely one of our favorites so far!




Kölsch, A Summer Beer Worth the Fuss New York Times

Germany’s postwar buildings: eyesores or worthy of protection?

Carnival in Franconia: Veitshoechheim 2013 Broadcast  YouTube 
(reminds me of this—->  Lawrence Welk : Adios, Au Revior, Aufwedersian)



After reading reviews from Lonely Planet and the Independent, Bremen piqued our interest. Like Hamburg, it is a former Hanseatic shipping city near the North Sea. Pairing these two Stadtstaaten (city states) over a long weekend was a perfect balance, they are uniquely different from cities in Bavaria –and from each other– and just an hour apart by train.  Beer drinkers might recognize the name, the city is home to Braureri Beck & Co. –  Beck’s.  It is also known for another household beverage, decaffeinated coffee, and for the children’s fairytale The Town Musicians of Bremen. We checked out the famous sculpture near the Rathaus where the legs and nose are shiny from being touched for good luck.

Bremen is a city where a tourist can see many of the main sights in a weekend —  it was charming, small-scale and walkable within several distinct quarters.  After our whirlwind in metropolitan Hamburg, Bremen’s quaint center felt truly old; It was an incredible medieval style square — and I think– one of the most architecturally cohesive that we’ve seen.


We ate the most amazing potato salad at Martin Keifert’s walk-up bratwurst shop. Yup, we’d consider another trip to Bremen for potato salad.


1200 year old Dom St. Petri

Like many European squares, the Altstadt is anchored by the towering Bremen Dom. This Protestant cathedral is perhaps the oldest building we have seen, built in 789 AD.   A portion is a museum where they have a complete collection of church relics: first edition books printed on the newly invented Gutenberg press, archived 800-year old bishop attire, ornaments and fine art all under the watchful eye of a dedicated gallery attendant. He lifted his arm and summoned us over to the glass case he was protecting and slowly pulled back the cloth cover and revealed… the oldest book in the archive!!  He motioned that it would be alright to photograph it without my flash. (of course!) For a euro you can also visit the leaded cellar where they have the mummified remains of eight bodies. Derek is adventurous, but not in any way a fan of dark, dank medieval buildings—-  we passed on the mummy viewing.



The narrow alleyways of the former red-light district, the Schnoor, are converted shops, restaurants and galleries.



Das Viertel

By luck, the apartment we rented was in Das Viertel– the Arts Quarter.  The neighborhood contains the kulturmeile–  a street that is home to Bremen’s theater, Kunsthalle, and the eclectic shops and restaurants in this area (we stopped for a drink at Engel ‘Angel’ cafe ).

We discovered a HAY furniture store nearby and I fell completely head over heals for their clean Danish modern aesthetic, and one piece in particular:  ‘about a chair‘ <– click here to see the chair.

Before departing Bremen, we wanted to stop by the small antique shop we had seen tucked into a house across the street.  The owner of the shop is a lifelong resident of Bremen and told us about his childhood, growing up in the city, and how the house was once his father’s milk shop.  Now it is a space for his collection of 20th C. china and porcelain, mostly salvaged from estates.  For us, he suggested a cup and saucer set from Arzburg, designed in the 1960’s.




While Bremen isn’t a stop on most  tourist itineraries – it could be. It was a unique spot.  It makes a great side-trip from Hamburg and it is actually only a 3-hour drive from Amsterdam.

Read about our visit to Hamburg here.


Saturday 11am

We had a laid-back agenda for Saturday, and our first stop was Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) to see Dresden’s collection of masterpieces.

Next, we stepped into Kruezkirche “Church of the Holy Cross”. This church was in the Altmarkt “Old Market” (Frauenkirche was in the Neumarkt) and has been modified many times; It has burned down 5x since it was built in 1168! In the most recent renovation, the building was kept intentionally spare.  I wish my photos had turned out better, but a there are a few below that show this incredible space, a great synthesis between Baroque and 60s modern.





Saturday 5pm

The rain picked up on Saturday afternoon, just as we were walking to the Aussere Neustadt.  We detoured past the Yenidze, (below) a cigarette factory in the 1900s— toward the Elbe River Banks, which it turns out, aside from having the best views, is where the fun is at.  We saw some guys chilling their beer in one of the fountains, good idea!

Next, warm coffee under the overhang at Cafe Continental. We were tempted over to the Kunstofpassage (literally, art passage), a courtyard of buildings decorated by artists with quirky shops, etc. Perhaps the most known is the musical building that plays when it rains!  Possibly just in theory, we determined!




Finally, Astronautalis!
Derek spotted a concert poster that MN hip hop artist Astronautalis would be in Dresden the following weekend. Small world. It seems he likes to travel and is a pretty good travel writer! He is blogging while performing on his European tour.  It got us listening to some of his music.  Read  about Astronautalis’ adventures in Prague or watch a video of him riding around the Czech Republic on a motorcycle and drinking a beer!



Well, that is our trip.  Again, we really like Dresden!


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Dresden: Frauenkirche

When Dresden was bombed near the end of WWII the oldest part of the city, the Innere Altstadt, was most affected.  Two days after the bombing began, Frauenkirche  “Church of our Lady” collapsed. From 1945 – 1993 the center of Dresden was a pile of stone and ash. (Image of the ruins)

Socialist War Memorial

It was a political decision to not rebuild the church (religious structures were not the responsibility of the state). Residents appealed that the rubble should not be discarded as planned, and Frauenkirche was left alone as a reminder of the atrocities of war.


In 1993, reconstruction of Frauenkirche began– mainly from ambitious fundraising and the intent of Dresden’s residents to restore the structure.  It was finished in 2005.   Pieces of the rubble were removed piece-by-piece and catalogued. Of the millions of fragments of original stones, close to 3800 were incorporated into the rebuild.  The stones from the original structure are darkest, due to the high iron content in Saxon sandstone. The church is a replica of the original.  In other words, it is nearly new.

Pieces of the alter were salvaged.  The interior is painted to resemble the marble and granite pillars. Frauenkirche’s intricate wooden doors were remastered from wedding photos taken long ago. Some aspects, such as the organ, were not restored. The renewed structure is said to symbolize the possibility of rebirth.



Our visit 

We stopped at Frauenkirche our first day in Dresden.  Derek climbed the tower to look over the city and I visited the interior.    Afterwards a friend recommended that we stop at the café near the cathedral for Eierschecke, a Saxon specialty.  It is an egg-custard cake, sort of like cheesecake, but not overly sweet!  I was wondering how it was made and found a recipe in U.S. measurements, here  —



For the Dough:
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup + 1/8 cup Sugar
1 Egg
Pinch of Salt
1/2 package Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup Milk, lukewarm

For the Quark Filling:
17 ounces (500g) Quark
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted Butter
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
Zest from 1 Lemon

For the Topping:
2 cups Milk
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted Butter
1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
3 Eggs Yolks
3 Eggs Whites
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean


In a small bowl, combine the yeast and half of the milk. Mix in 2 tablespoons of the flour and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Allow this mixture to sit in a warm place for 1 hour.

Combine remaining dough ingredients then add in the yeast mixture. Mix until a smooth dough forms, then knead by hand. Allow dough to sit in a warm place until double in volume.

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

Grease a baking sheet or a Spring-Form pan. Roll out dough to fit the size of the baking sheet. Transfer dough to pan.

Mix Quark with sugar, eggs, and lemon zest. Mix until creamy.

Spread quark mixture evenly over dough.

For the topping, combine milk, butter, egg yolks, and sugar. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla bean and add seeds to milk mixture. Bring to a simmer, stirring continuously. Allow to cool.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.

When the milk mixture has cooled to room temperature, gradually (and gently) fold into the egg whites. Spread this mixture evenly over the cake.

Bake cake for around 40 minutes or until a golden brown crust develops on the top of the cake.

Remove cake from oven and allow to cool completely.



A Rainy Day in Nuremberg

We took an hour train to Nürnberg over the weekend and enjoyed our time in the city despite that it rained all day. The cold and dreary weather enhanced the Gothic sections of the city.  As one of our first excursions in Germany, I would recommend Nürnberg and consider going back for more exploration. The city has a distinctly grim feel, I am sure that I have not been anywhere like it. The train station is at the perimeter of the Altstadt so you can begin there and do a full day of walking, which is what we did.

St Lorenz
The images of Lorenzkirche (1250 A.D) are mainly in contrast to the Hofkirche from the previous post. It felt very gothic and dark, not as bright and romantic as the ornate 18th century chapel at the Würzburg Residenz. 



Saturday’s moody skies set the tone for our walk through the stone and iron corridors of the city’s 12thC imperial fortress.  Afterwards, we had the local specialty for lunch – Drei im Weckla “Three in a bun”, three smokies in a hard roll! And you get a pack of mustard! Not bad. Dad- I think you would like this!


Albrecht-Dürer House
Living space and workshop of artist/draftsman/printmaker Albrecht Dürer is now a museum with a neat interactive interface.

Long gone, Albrecht Dürer still has celebrity status in his hometown.
Dürer was a 15thC humanist. Instead of drawing from memory or imagination, journeymen were sent out to collect everyday natural objects for reference. This was a new approach to german art, and a fundamental contribution to the Northern Renaissance. At the same time, Martin Luther’s Reformation was in full swing; And across the continent in Italy, DaVinci was creating the Mona Lisa.

finally, yarn graffiti! I heard about this awhile ago and here it is. Derek saw this reference in Vita.MN last week or so about Mpls based yarn street artist HotTea.

A huge event in Nürnberg is the Christmas market beginning in November; We will definitely be back. The city was also a Nazi launch pad in the 1930’s and later the location where they were tried.



+ Jürgen Weber. Ehekarussell (Marriage Carousel).1978-1984. Nürnberg

+ Jürgen Goertz. Der Hase—Hommage à Dürer (The Hare—a Homage to Dürer).1984. Nürnberg

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Hofkirche at the Residenz

At the Würzburg Residenz there is a Hofkirche (Court Chapel).  The Hofkirche has been on my mind since we we visited last week.  Since college I’ve had an interest in how thoughtful architecture (use of natural light, acoustics, scale) can influence sacred spaces, and the Residenz chapel was breathtaking.

Below are a few more photos.  The planning architect of the Hofkirche was Balthasar Neumann, a german, who designed the adjacent palace. The paintings within the Hofkirche were badly damaged by fire and water during WWII and were restored in the twenty years following the war.

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