Show de Cologne

Paris, long known as the city of love, has a new rival. Prepare to be wooed.
By Paul Grogan
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Cologne's Franken Platz Kolner Cathedral
HEIGHTS OF LOVE: Cologne's Franken Platz Kolner Cathedral  (Digital Visions)

We're halfway down Cologne Cathedral's soaring south tower when it happens. One minute my beloved is cautiously negotiating the narrow footholds that seem to spiral endlessly earthwards, the next she's clutching at marble-smooth walls and doing her best to stifle a whimper. Emma has, quite literally, gone weak the knees. Behind us, dozens of people are piling into one another, but try as she might, she can't will her left leg down onto the next step.

I wish I could say that I'd just whispered a well-chosen sweet nothing into her ear, but the truth is much less romantic: yesterday we made the mistake of visiting the city's Museum of Sport, which features interactive displays on which visitors can test their skill and strength. I say mistake because first, tests of skill and strength rank a distant second to chocolate and champagne when it comes to les affaires d'amour, and second, Emma and I would sooner break each other's legs than lose.

After the virtual bike race (no contest) and the reaction-time test (Emma cheated) we were all square; ultimate victory—and with it the fate of our entire weekend—depended on the standing jump. But as I was about to discover, standing jumps are unfathomably difficult. My first attempt was more of a stunted shuffle than a jump, while Emma managed a passable impression of a grasshopper on a hotplate. Time after time I tried to match her effortless efforts, and time after time she seemed able to leap small buildings in a single bound.

But victory came at a price. This morning her legs were so stiff she could hardly walk, and while she was fine going up stairs, going down them was another a matter. And so it is that we find ourselves—on Valentine's Day—trapped on a narrow spiral staircase hundreds of feet above Cologne's teeming city centre, wishing we'd gone to the Chocolate Museum instead....

We're in Cologne because when it comes to romantic breaks, Paris is just too obvious, too clichéd, too... passé. On the face of it, of course, Cologne has a lot in common with its French cousin: it oozes Old World charm, has a reputation as a purveyor of the world's finest perfumes, and boasts a cathedral big enough to swallow a small town whole. But that, my love-struck friends, is where the similarity ends. Where Paris is big and sprawling, Cologne is bijou and compact; where Paris is eye-wateringly expensive, Cologne is cheap as chips; and where Paris is cold and impersonal, Cologne is warm and welcoming.

Think of it this way: If cities were women, Paris would be a stunning but slightly off-hand brunette smoking a Gitanes and doing her best to look bored, fine for a meaningless fling, but too cool for anything more intimate. Her cousin Cologne, on the other hand, would be a fun-loving blond with perky pigtails and a 100-watt smile, the perfect choice for an intimate weekend away. 

Published: 18 Jan 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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Best Hotels in Cologne

$88
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#2
Novotel Koeln City
$110-$200
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#3
Barcelo Cologne City Center
$104
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#4
art'otel cologne, by park plaza

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