Cologne / Köln / Keulen

The city of Cologne, for some reason, has never struck me as a place for urban photography. Unlike the other three large German cities of Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, as well as its arch-rival Düsseldorf, Cologne has barely ever come to mind when I think of photographing cityscapes.

Perhaps it has to do with a lack of familiarity with the city. Then again, I’ve been to Berlin, Hamburg and Munich only once and I thoroughly enjoyed making photos in those cities. Or it could be that I never had a good first impression of Cologne. I didn’t have a poor first impression, mind you – it was more that the city didn’t arouse much excitement in me when I saw it.

For instance, there’s the famed Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) that’s visible as soon as you exit the main station, but when you do, you see a rather large church building that’s also rather black. Furthermore, there are enough splotches of the cathedral’s original colour for you to know that black wasn’t the colour that the building was intended to develop into.

The cathedral and main station are located close to the Rhine, and I found the area around the Rhine to not be much better. Similar to Düsseldorf, there is a pavement running alongside the river and it is often crowded. (I learnt from someone recently that the pavement has a bicycle path but one can’t really ride a bike there anymore because of all the tourists walking about.)

Nonetheless I’ve always found Düsseldorf’s Promenade to be much more pleasant somehow. Despite the crowds it is a place that I would enjoy walking along. In fact, two days ago this is exactly what I did! I don’t ever remember getting a similar feeling with Cologne’s riverside walkway (and if it has a name I don’t know it).

Regardless, a city is a city and even if its cityscape isn’t to my liking, there are always urban scenes that can be photographed. And so it was last July when I spent a weekend in Cologne. I wanted to make some photos during my short stay, so I spent large parts of Saturday and Sunday walking around with my camera.

Despite some difficulty, I was able to get some shots that I liked and these are shared below. These photos are a good reminder to myself that it is exactly when I feel that a scene is hopeless that I should slow down and really focus to find something worth capturing.

One of the spires of the Cologne Cathedral.
A modern-looking minaret of a large mosque in Cologne.
A bottom-up view of a Kranhaus in Cologne.
A stairwell as viewed from the bottom.
A lift shaft with light shining down the top and casting shadows.

It’s funny how a city can now spark certain (strong) emotions in me, come to think of it. Having grown up in the city-state that is Singapore, the concept of a city never really sunk in because, as far as I was concerned, the city I lived in was also the country I lived in. There was no such thing as weekend trips to another city since there was no second city within Singapore’s borders to visit. Consequently, any feelings I had about Singapore as a city automatically translated to my feelings about Singapore as a country (e.g. Singapore is a clean city = Singapore is a clean country).

Living in Utrecht was where I realised what must’ve been obvious to the rest of the planet – that each city has its own character and flavour, and that these qualities are distinct from those of the country in which the city lies. How I feel about Rotterdam, for example, is different from how I feel about Nijmegen. And my impressions of both cities have nothing to do with how I feel about the Netherlands as a country.

I don’t see my impression of Cologne changing anytime soon. But, to end on a more positive note and give the city its due, I would recommend visiting the Kranhäuser and the Chocolate Museum. The former is architecturally interesting and the surrounding area is pleasant, plus there are some nice restaurants to try. The latter is great fun for everyone because there are detailed accounts of the history of chocolate, its manufacturing process and its place in international trade, among other things. You can even make your own chocolate at the museum, courtesy of Lindt!

Therefore: visit western Germany’s largest city and arrive at your own conclusion about it!

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