Rock climbing in Cologne, Germany, along the Rhein River.
Rock climbing along the Rhine, Cologne Cathedral in the background.

Photography In Cologne, Germany

Cologne Cathedral
Construction of the Köln Cathedral began in the year 1248. Look closely and you’ll see the train station at its bottom left corner.

When you first step out of the doors of the train station in Köln, one of the most spectacular gothic cathedrals in Germany towers overhead, just a few steps away to the left. If you turn to the right you’re likely to find a long line of beige Mercedes taxis, the sides plastered with gaudy advertisements for Pascha, Europe’s largest brothel… a twelve story highrise.  These things together sum up Cologne pretty nicely.

I arrived around dinner time on a Monday, and decided to walk to my hotel to get the lay of the land, though it ended up taking me nearly an hour with my luggage. After spending the previous days in picturesque Austria and Switzerland, Cologne was a bit of a letdown. I began seeing homeless people and beggars, and a sign outside the station warned of pick-pockets.

Perhaps the events of the day were overshadowing my experience, too. I woke up in the morning to walk to the train station, about a 20 minutes walk, and was almost immediately caught in a downpour that lasted the duration of my walk. I stepped into the Dornbirn station completely drenched, my socks soaked, my hair dripping, my shirt sticking to the skin of my back and chest like Saran wrap. I hoped that my suitcase was water resistant (it did pretty well), and that my camera backpack, a ThinkTank Shape Shifter, was as water resistant as I expected (it wasn’t… but I also didn’t stop to put on its rain-fly. My fault).

But when I arrived, the fellows at my hotel were very friendly, the room was fine, and the attached cafe was comfy, and I settled in and began to enjoy the city.

A shaft of sunlight pours down into the subway station at the Piusstraße U-bahn station.
A shaft of sunlight pours down into the subway station at the Piusstraße U-bahn station.

For the next few days, I woke every morning and took the subway to the Köln Messe for Photokina, and in the evenings, I’d take the subways back to my hotel and wander around looking for something interesting for dinner. With one exception, I settled on Turkish every night (very good, and also cheap), but there was a lot of diversity: Greek, Chinese, Vietnamese, and of course, lots of German and Turkish.

On Thursday, I decided to skip Photokina (mostly) for a day, and instead spend some time looking around the city and taking pictures. I was somewhat deterred by the fact that Germany, like many European nations, has much more stringent privacy laws than the USA, so a great deal of street photography is practically illegal1. I wasn’t going to let it stop me completely, but I did have to be a little less conspicuous than usual.

I started by exploring the Dom (cathedral) area, taking pictures of the structure and details. Inside there was a mass underway, and I used the quiet shutter settings on my 5D to take a few shots. As I left, I noticed a woman, apparently an imigrant, begging outside the front gates.

In need in Köln.
In need in Köln.

There’s a train bridge that crosses the Rhein not far away that, like the famous bridge in Paris, is adorned with locks that have been placed by visiting lovers. Many were engraved, and those dated back to the 1990s. I looked at them for a while, and decided that my favorite was a giant brass turtle lock.

Along both sides of the Rheine is a long footpath, and near the Dom, a small park. As I passed through, a man was making bubbles for the children, who were chasing them around wildly… jumping and screaming.

Children chase bubbles below in a riverside park in Cologne.
Children chase bubbles below in a riverside park in Cologne.

I continued to walk the city for most of the day, but didn’t find anything that was as promising as the area of the bridge and cathedral, so I returned in the evening just before sunset.  It’s a popular spot to watch the sunset, and the city has thoughtfully build numerous tiers of steps along the eastern bank for people to sit and enjoy a warm evening on the river.

More interesting than the colors that were beginning to appear in the sky, though, were the rock climbers who had set up belay ropes on the bridge foundation walls and were climbing in the fading light. This, I decided, was a great way to add a bit of interest to an otherwise cliche view of the city, and as luck would have it, the climber who fit into my frame was a beautiful blond woman (photo at top of page).

Cologne Sunset #1
Cologne Sunset #1

As the colors of the sunset grew stronger, I snapped a few more photos of the bridge and Dom, and then packed up my gear to head back to my hotel. In the morning, I’d set out for Prague.

Cologne Sunset #2
Cologne Sunset #2
  1. This is according to the only articles that I was able to find on the topic, which were about three years old. According to these articles, you need to get consent to photograph anyone in public. Germans believe that their right to control their own public includes the right to not be photographed
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6 Comments

  • Hi Matthew, great pics! I am from Germany and I live in the south of the country, close to Munich. As I saw the picture with the begging woman I just would like to mention a thing. In all bigger german and other european cities you will find the same scene. But these people in reality belong to a so called begging mafia from Romania or Bulgaria. They collect money from begging and after that they deliver it to a…well…I don´t know their intern structures. Usually it is a male person which is always in the background and keeping watch over. So if you would give money to these beggars they usually would not earn a dime because.

    • Hey Max,
      When I was 16 years old, back in the 1990s, I was an exchange student to Austria for a year (Dornbirn, in Vorarlberg), and I also spent some time in Munich and around southern Germany, which is beautiful. I also went to a great U2 concert in Munich in 1993… Die Toten Hosen were the opening band.

      Anyway about the begging… I’ve heard that sort of thing, in Europe and in places like India, and I’m sure it’s true to some extent. Around here, some beggers make more money begging than they would working, I also hear. Again, probably true in some cases. Regardless, I thought it was an interesting picture, mostly because of the form and colors.

      – Matthew

      • Hi Mattew,

        I live in Augsburg which is close to Munich. So maybe you have heard about this city. Indeed, I like this picture and its atmosphere :-)

        • Ahh yes, I took the train through Augsburg from Ulm, I believe, though I’m afraid I don’t remember much about it. Hope you’re taking some good pictures this weekend!

          – Matthew

    • She’s in the photo at the top of the page! I didn’t process the image as heavily as I could have, so she’s in the shadowy lower right corner of the image if she’s hard to make out.

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