Charlotte Mieß is an incredible multitalent, that much is certain. Just like her hometown of Cologne. Could there be a better guide for the COMPANION District Tour of this Rhineland city? We don’t think so! Not only did Charlotte give us a tour leading through historic landmarks to more modern districts; with her cheerful Rhineland nature and Cologne dialect, she is a symbol for this modern, cosmopolitan city. Charlotte’s route is largely all within walking distance, but best explored by bike, if possible. She herself is an enthusiastic cyclist and walks along pushing her bike throughout our tour — that is, when she’s not cycling ahead of us to reach the next spot before we do.
Standing still is not an option for Charlotte — something that might account for her incredible wealth of knowledge. After an hour, our impressed photographer asks her: “What don’t you know?” Charlotte’s modest answer:
“Well, I only tell you about the things I do know.”
What we know about her: Charlotte Mieß is actually a chef and owns her own food truck, from which she most enjoys preparing vegetarian and vegan delicacies. She is about to open a street café, Köski (pronounced Köschki), which she is currently “completely renovating” herself.
The mother of two — her oldest daughter is twenty, the younger one five — is also interested in architecture, and, together with her parents, has already refurbished one or two properties in Cologne. With her lively manner, the self-proclaimed “local patriot” shows us her hometown and gives us a refreshing overview of the sights.
This Roman city is over 2,000 years old and, with more than a million inhabitants, is the most populated city in North Rhine-Westphalia. There is certainly a lot to discover. With this in mind: “Maacht et joot” — go well, as they say in Cologne.

Cologne Cathedral

There are few cities that are so closely associated with a landmark as Cologne is with its magnificent Gothic cathedral. It is both a place of worship and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its twin steeples always appear to stand out, no matter where you are coming from or what direction you’re facing. It’s therefore no surprise that this is where we start our tour. Inside the church, the spring sunshine refracts through the elaborately designed windows and bathes the cold stone structure in the warm colors of the rainbow. “I find it simply magical here,” enthuses Charlotte, her gaze directed at the 75-meter-high ceiling. The over 600-year-long construction process and regular structural restorations have paid off: even Cologne denizens remain mesmerized by the superlative cathedral. The wonder in Charlotte’s eyes gives that away.
Päffgen Brewery

We continue in the direction of Friesenplatz, or, more precisely, 64–66 Friesenstraße. Charlotte cycles ahead, and we follow on the U5 underground line, which stops right at the cathedral square and takes us straight to Charlotte. She is already standing in front of the heavy black doors of the Päffgen brewery, its name proudly displayed above the doorway in golden letters. “Everyone here knows it,” proclaims Charlotte. “It’s really authentic.” As the only remaining microbrewery from the last century, Päffgen purveys real Kölsch beer, which is still home brewed in its brewhouse — where a restaurant has been serving local specialties since Päffgen’s inception. Order the Halve Hahn (rye bread roll and cheese) or a Flönz (black pudding) to accompany your Kölsch for a real Cologne evening.

From the brewery we go straight to the next urban curiosity — and the Fivve shop is both literally and metaphorically unique. There is only the one single outpost, which you have to come to Cologne to visit. And the trip is worthwhile for visitors from further afield. Lovers of natural cosmetics will be in seventh heaven here upon sighting a vast range of products from manufacturers selected for their distinctive design, fine workmanship, and use of sustainable materials. This oasis of well-being was founded by Daniel Sackmann and the sisters Aleksandra and Karolina Werner. “Here you’ll only find the best products,” Charlotte assures us. “This is where I like to buy presents. But only for really special people.” And if you want to treat yourself for a change, towards the rear there is a range of spa treatments for pampering both body and soul.
Hack Leather Gods

As tempting as the spa room might be, it’s time to move on to our next location. After a six-minute walk towards Maastrichter Straße, we find ourselves at Hack Leather Goods — a manufacturer embodying real craftsmanship. Looking at the goods displayed in the window, Charlotte recounts buying a bag from here 15 years ago that is “simply indestructible.” Here, quality goods are still created according to traditional methods. Owner and founder Christoph Hack learned the trade from his grandfather and has been pursuing it professionally for the past 30 years. He’s been running the shop for 18 years, and according to him, Charlotte was a customer right from the start. Today he attracts customers both young and old. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a rucksack, belt, or bag — you’ll find what you need here in a heartbeat.
Groove Attack

Our next destination awaits just across the street from Hack Leather Goods. In these days of digital sound files, dragged into carelessly compiled smartphone media libraries, we hold shops like Groove Attack in high esteem. Tucked away in the basement below the men’s clothing store Monsieur Courbet, this site of pilgrimage for record lovers has been located here for 25 years. It’s a place for everyone who loves the warm sound of pressed vinyl. On the well-organized shelves you’ll find everything from hip-hop and soul to Brazilian jazz, reggae, and country, to Afrobeat, electro, drum and bass, and Japanese music — the latest trend, apparently. Charlotte browses through the shop — perhaps on the hunt for a new record for her husband. We’ve heard he’s a regular visitor here.

It might sound like Polish pierogi, which in itself would certainly be tempting,  but Wallczka, which has been open for almost a year in Cologne’s Ehrenfeld district, in fact serves international mezze in new combinations, a celebration of laid-back yet adventurous cuisine. And Charlotte, herself a chef, certainly knows what she is talking about when she recommends Wallczka.

The menu is concise yet varied. Vegetarians and vegans are especially well catered for. There is crispy courgette albondigas in an oriental tomato curry sauce (Charlotte’s favorite), kimchi pancakes with teriyaki aubergine and sesame, and green papaya salad with roasted peanuts and coriander — all served in small portions so you can try a bit of everything. It’s lucky we’re hungry and can replenish our energy in such an enjoyable way before we set off to our final destination.
Gerling Quartier

… and the route there leads us straight back to Friesenplatz. This is where the Gerling Quartier is — the home of the new 25hours Hotel The Circle Cologne. The former headquarters of the Gerling Group insurance company is one of the largest historical buildings built in the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany, Charlotte tells us. A monument that represents both rise and fall. But as we enter a new era, the entire district is being transformed into an integrated residential and living space. From July 2018, the new 25hours Hotel with 207 rooms will be situated in the striking rotunda “Im Klapperhof 10.” Here guests can look forward to a 500-square-meter reception area. In the heritage-listed main hall to which insurance customers once came to pay  their contributions, a diverse “fairground” has emerged, comprising a lounge, kiosk, bike workshop, and DJ corner — even Cologne locals are pleased with the new collective space.


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