Final full day in Germany, and we are once again making good use of the recent 9€ for a month of travel initiative. We have had some pretty bad train issues this week, but given what we are paying for them it’s not like we can complain too much. In that vein, our original train to Bonn ended up so late that we ended catching the next one in the schedule. In the grand scheme of things, no big deal but wouldn’t have rushed my breakfast otherwise.
One thing that immediately dawned on me was just how small Bonn is. On the map where things look far apart, it is only like 15 minutes tops. So a very short hop from the station took us to our first destination, the Bonn Minster. Its currently covered in scaffolding as it has been for years, but this is part of a massive restoration which barred entry access for three years. Thankfully, it is now open.
This is one of the oldest churches in Germany with some parts hitting 1000 years old at some point this century. It also has an incredibly beautiful choir and apse (yes I am trying to learn the terminology) which photography is unable to do justice to. But still we try because I want to be able to remember how lovely it was.
The first of the rain arrived as we entered the cloister. This would become a theme of the day with the weather being highly changeable and unpredictable – sometimes in the space if descending a staircase or going in and out of a store.
You know, like the Haribo store. I know that by going in here and getting merchandise (and only three bags of sweets, please clap) means I can no longer completely side-eye the M&M store in Leicester Square. Although, in my defense, at least Haribo is German and its not like I made a special trip just for a Haribo keychain.
With Goldbears and gummy frogs bought and in my new Haribo bear bag, we headed to the Poppelsdorff Palace… to find that this too was covered in scaffolding. This time, completely covered so you couldn’t even go into the courtyard and have a shifty. Such a shame because, when you Google it, the palace is beautiful.
Not going to lie, I felt a little defeated by all the scaffolding – but that was cured by a full tour of the Botanical Gardens. The outside gardens were nice enough, with a lot of water lilies and the sounds of frogs making their presence known. The real joy, however, was to be found in the hot house.
This was one of the final rooms we entered and it had a double whammy of beauty. First there’s the corpse flower. The corpse flower of Bonn botanical garden has made news over the years as a record breaker. Looking at it, I think we struck lucky as it looks like it will fully bloom very soon and we got to see it right before it starts unfurling it’s petals and then… smells like a dead body.
Also in this room were the largest water lilies I have ever seen. Apparently one of these is a night bloomer, so it makes sense that the flowers were closed. But wow, as someone who is now trying to grow their own water lilies, one of these suckers is about the same size as my actual pond.
After this it was a bit if a walking tour of the general Bonn Central area. We saw the Sterntor, an old city gate – the third I have seen on this trip. Unlike the other two this has been mildly integrated into the surrounding area, which is great to see as it helps to give this old piece of architecture a new lease of life.
We had a look at the outside of Beethoven’s birthplace, which was closed (but at 10€ entry, we’d never have gone in). Then we popped into the Holy Name church, which is a beautiful small church I haven’t seen mentioned online as a place to look around. I loved what they did with the blue and columns. It’s a simple idea, but very well executed.
It was then lunchtime and, luckily for us, there was a market going in the market square. There were so many options to be had, but I wanted something I wouldn’t get in London and haven’t had on this trip. The Hungarian langos stall was, therefore, perfect. I haven’t had one of these since I was in Vienna and this time I was able to have some toppings. I went with their special, which had garlic butter, sour cream, cheese, red pepper and paprika. It was gorgeous and made me think just how much of a hit this would be in the UK.
That was it for Bonn, so we boarded a tram (or light railway) its hard to know what to call it, to make the 40 minute journey south to the town of Konigswinter. Its very much one of those towns that feels like it scrapes by 10 months of the year and then makes all its bread in the summer. I say this as someone who would have liked to have been able to spend time in the actual town, especially when the weather wasn’t varying between sunshine and torrential rain.
We were here to go a up the Drachenfels, a mountain that has inspired the likes of Beethoven, Wagner and even Turner. This is where the dragon from the Nibelungen legend is from and it has some pretty spectacular views of the Rhine and the surrounding countryside. The best of these are at the top of the peak where the old castle ruins are, but we where there when the rain was at its height. Whilst there is some poetry in being in such a place of legend as the weather is this grey… I want nice photos.
From here, it was downhill to the current Drachenberg Castle. It only dates from the 1880s and is very much what happens when a rich German banker wishes to make his own broadly authentic castle. On the outside it looks like something you’d find in a Disney park, with its almost pink colouring and the perfectly positioned gothic turrets. On the inside though…
… it is gorgeous. So much of what is here now is restored or made based on the original rooms (it’s had a really tumultuous history and had huge sections destroyed by artillery fire in World War Two) and a huge amount of kudos should be given to the continued work that makes this like the kind of castle King Ludwig had he been on some anti-psychotics. The rooms take the lessons learned from so many other palaces and goes very ostentatious without going too over the top with the decoration. It’s also been built with electricity in mind, which is an interesting touch.
My favourite room was, without question, the Art Hall. This is one of those rooms that was basically destroyed in the 1940s and has only started looking like its old self in the last decade. Some of the amazing pieces of stained glass (each themed famous figures in various fields including explorers, composers and heads if state) are dated from 2020-21, so it’s a good thing we never got to go here pre-pandemic. There are still a number of windows to be replaced and I hopetey are able to secure those funds so that its complete before the centennial of its destruction.
The grounds themselves are also lovely to walk around and, somehow, we managed to exit the castle building with there being beautiful sunshine so hot it was visibly making water vapor from they wet roads. It also made large sections smell like walking through a steaming cup of jasmine tea.
You can walk around to get more lovely views of the valley, but it’s the Venus terrace that I liked the most. It’s another of the more recent renovations and is one of the best places to view the castle itself in the context of the manicured gardens. I can only imagine how even more beautiful this area is going to become in the coming decade. Might be a place to come back to in like 15-20 years to see it further along the renovation work, although it looks pretty near done at the moment.
As we left the castle, the heavens let lose torrential rain again to te point where where was some thunder to scare the reptiles. Okay, getting a bit ahead of myself there. Just down the road from the castle is the Nibellungenhalle – a round hall that is set up to celebrate the Nibelungen story as well as the Wagner opera on the story. It’s a pretty simple set up with Wagner playing, a series of paintings depicting the story and some sort of flying pig font in the centre I was unable to figure out. But hey, this ticket gives you access to three attractions, whether you like it or not as they are connected.
So after the hall comes the Dragon Cave. Essentially a long and winding “cave path” that leads you to the dragon. And a cute dragon at that. It was full rain at this point and thanks to the slightly cramped conditions, the umbrellas weren’t working to their maximum effectiveness.
After this you enter a reptile zoo – the connection between these three attractions is tenuous but it is there – where we walked in as she was getting ready to start their feeding. As in, all the padlocks to all the reptiles were unlocked and they were expecting food. As someone who has been to a lot of reptile houses, I have never seen snakes moving this fast. If the open padlock wasn’t still keeping the doors shut… well there are a number of snakes of various sizes who were clearly trying their best to get out and find the food. This place also had a very vocal and hungry caiman who upon seeing me, swam towards my end if the enclosure and just stared at me. It was a bizarre experience that felt like something out a 1950s B-movie.
And that was it for Konigswinter. The weather was still wet as we got back into Cologne so we didn’t want to venture too far in search of food. I managed to find a place close to the hotel that specialised in flammkuchen, a hipstery place that actually experimented with flavours. So whilst my husband went semi-traditional, I went for one with camembert and cranberry on top and was not disappointed.
So that’s the end of my exploration of the Cologne region and my first proper holiday since December 2019. The travel bug is back and eyeing up options for October. So I guess I’ll be back blogging once I am back from wherever I end up. If anything, this trip has reminded me of a few things, that pretty much everywhere I’ve been to has better food than the UK and that I need time out of the country so I can escape whatever political cluster fuck is occurring. Thank you Germany, I’ll be back soon