The Best of the Rhineland in December

Bored in Bonn? Confused in Cologne? Depressed in Düsseldorf? Not anymore. This month we inaugurate our partnership with Rhine-online, an English-language guide to what’s going on in the Rhineland.

The Best of the Rhineland in December
The Bruder Klaus Kappelle. Photo: Rhine-online

Bruder Klaus Kappelle

If you’re looking for something to do on a weekend outside of the Christmas hustle and bustle, take a trip to sleepy Wachendorf, and visit a little chapel that will quite simply blow you away. From far off it looks like a haystack, and as you get closer it starts to look more and more like what it actually is – a block of very unexciting concrete. But walk through the triangular door and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. The extraordinary Bruder Klaus Kapelle is made from more than one hundred tree trunks that were arranged like the ribs of a tee-pee, covered with concrete, dried by fire, and removed, leaving their imprint. The walls rise upwards and inwards towards an open circle of sky and are punctured all around by pinpoints of light – little glass balls pushed into the concrete. The effect is breathtaking. You really are looking “towards the light” and at the same time your eyes are drawn to the dark, pitted walls, which bear the marks of the trees used to create the chapel. Commissioned by local Catholics Josef und Trude Scheidtweiler, the chapel was actually designed by Swiss star architect Peter Zumthor – which has caused a minor earthquake of interest amongst culture buffs around the region and has made a huge impact on the surrounding countryside. The chapel has well and truly arrived on the tourist map. Finely dressed architecture fans turn up in their Porsches and BMW Z6’s, to dirty their heels on the muddy 20 minute walk through the fields to the chapel, closely followed by coach loads of camera clicking tourists. Don’t let the idea of the crowds put you off – it is well worth a visit. Whether in summer when the sun pours through the open roof and glints off the hundreds of glass balls, or in winter when the cold blue light reflects off the snow captured inside the chapel’s interior – it’s always a special place of peace and reflection.

Cheap sleeps in Cologne

Friends coming over for the holidays, but out of space? Low price accommodation has been hard to find in Cologne, unless you’re prepared to stay in one of the outlying suburbs, or the dirtiest looking back-packer hostel on Barbarossaplatz above MacDonald’s – not very enticing, especially if you’re visiting for a weekend of culture and shopping. Hostel Köln saw the gap in the market and has opened their first hostel between Neumarkt and Rudolfplatz – it’s the perfect location. The hostel is clean, and bright, has simple white walls and furnishings, with added colour accents to liven things up, and dark wood beds and tables. The prices are reasonable, €45 for a single, €30 for a double (per person) and €24 (per person) for a dorm room – all prices include breakfast in the pleasant and bright breakfast room. There’s also a seminar room for hire, free internet usage and a hotspot in the lobby. With the start of the Christmas Market season the hostel is likely to be swamped with weekend shoppers – let’s hope expansion plans are already underway.

Hostel-Köln, Marsilstein 29, 50676 Köln

Big, bold and beautiful in Bonn

The latest hotel to open up in Bonn is a five star luxury design/boutique extravaganza called the Kameha Grand. Usually design or boutique hotels are perfectly styled and small in scale. The Kameha Grand is grand by name and grand by nature with 253 rooms, a spa, two restaurants, four different bars and lounges, plus numerous banqueting suites and meeting rooms. Owner Carsten Rath, is optimistic about the hotel’s popularity, despite opening in the middle of a recession. He has incorporated an eco gimmick that will go far to cut down on running costs. The hotel is able to cater for 70% of its heating and cooling needs using geothermal power. The power plant in the basement allows for reduced energy costs and cuts C02 emissions by roughly 400 tonnes. The hotel sits right on the Rhine and offers spectacular views of the Rhine valley and Siebengebirge hills. Its modern glass exterior looks rather like an airport terminal from afar, and the large spaces inside can look a little like an exhibition hall. But the luxurious (and somewhat kitsch) interiors created by the Dutch industrial designer Marcel Wanders, create a surreal and bizarre atmosphere which makes the hotel a delight to look at – it’s like walking into the pages of Alice in Wonderland. Wanders calls it a very “sexy cool place” and says that “a hotel should entertain inspire stimulate… and create a space full of surprises and beauty” – and he has certainly achieved this at this new place.

Kameha Grand Bonn, Am Bonner Bogen 1, 53227 Bonn

Let it snow, let it snow, in Neuss

The chances of a white Christmas are pretty slim in the Rhineland, but there’s one place in the region where you’re guaranteed snow – and lots of it. The Skihalle Neuss has snow all year round as well as authentic alpine apres ski. With its huge slope, it’s perfect for skiers and snowboarders and there are courses for both adults and kids of all levels. You can also hire all the kit you need from boards to boots, jackets, trousers and helmets. If you’ve never been on a ski slope before, this is a great place to start, it’s big, but not too daunting and there are of course ski lifts to take you back up, if you make it to the bottom in one piece. And then there’s the apres ski – it’s all part of the experience – delicious food and tasty grog, Glühwein or Jäger Tea – there are five restaurants and bars to choose from at the Skihalle and there are also parties, special events and disco’s to be enjoyed – depending on your level of intoxication. Check out the New Year’s party packets which include dinner, drinks, discos and use of the slope – prices range from €13-50 across the various different restaurants and bars.

allrounder winter world, An der Skihalle 1, 41472 Neuss T: 2131-1244-0

Franz Ackermann at the Kunstmuseum Bonn

You may have seen some of the wonderful murals created by Franz Ackermann at the new Cowboys Stadium in the US. If you haven’t, you don’t have to go very far to see some of his wonderful room filling works of art, because he’s coming to Bonn in December. Born in 1963 in Neumarkt St Veit, Germany, Franz Ackermann makes exuberant paintings and installations centred on themes of travel, tourism, globalisation and urbanism. His large-scale dynamic installations are built up from individual components comprising paintings, drawings, photographs, wall drawings and sculptural, billboard-like constructions. His work frequently deals with the double side of tourism – the glamour, speed and consumption of international travel but also the detritus, architectural scarring and garbage that it leaves behind, and his installations often take on the appearance of strange advertisements for a global tourism industry run amok. He creates room filling installations which consist of a large array of different materials and sometimes also integrate everyday elements, such as furniture, clothes and magazines. Ackermann is planning to develop a new set of works for the Kunstmuseum Bonn where they will be exhibited for the first time – so you’ll be seeing new and unique work at this show which runs from 17 December to 21 February.

Kunstmuseum Bonn, Museumsmeile, Friedrich-Ebert-Allee 2, 53113 Bonn


Ancient Jewish settlement to be brought back to life in Cologne

No city north of the Alps has been home to Jews for as long as the Roman settlement of Cologne. A recently discovered Jewish quarter is now being brought back to life.

Ancient Jewish settlement to be brought back to life in Cologne
The site of the construction in Cologne. Photo: DPA

If you are a tourist walking through the centre of Cologne, sooner rather than later, you'll come across a construction site located in the very best position, in the middle of the town hall square.

At the beginning of this millennium, the people of Cologne dug into the earth directly in front of their historic city hall and found a treasure from another millennium: the Jewish quarter.

Complete with a dance hall, a hospital, a bakery and a synagogue, the quarter contains the ruins of a settlement from the Middle Ages. It is a city within a city, a miniature world of houses huddled together. 

Of course, all that is left is ruins – one needs a bit of imagination to picture how the whole thing once looked. But experts from Germany and abroad agree: there's nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

Ancient tradition

No other German city has been associated with Jewish history for so long as Cologne. 

The first documented Jewish community dates back to the year 321, making it the oldest north of the Alps. 

But in 1349, the neighbourhood was destroyed and its inhabitants were murdered or expelled. Local Christians blamed Jews for the outbreak of the plague.

Currently, a museum is being built over the site on the town hall square. It will be a parallel world underground: visitors will be able to relive life in the Jewish quarter in the era of knights and minstrels on a 600-meter-long trail. The trail also visits the governor's palace from Roman times, which was rediscovered in the 1950s. 

The museum is called MiQua after the name for the Jewish ritual bath, Mikveh.

Exhibits will include artifacts found during the excavations; among them is a crescent-shaped, gem-set gold earring from the 11th century. 

The researchers also discovered a tablet dating back to the Middle Ages with the inscription “yt in ys neyt anders.” This could be translated as “Et is wie et is” (It is as it is) – a classic Cologne saying. 

The museum is scheduled to open in 2024, but through the panorama windows on the third floor of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, also located on Rathausplatz, one can already follow the progress of construction work.

This year Jewish life will be celebrated across the country – the anniversary year '1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany' will be celebrated nationwide. 

Hamburg is organising a themed week entitled 'More than Little Jerusalem'; in Nuremberg the photo exhibition 'Germany's Emigrants' will be opened; and in Herxheim in Rhineland-Palatinate the play Judas by Lot Vekemans will be staged.

READ MORE: 9 hilarious gifts Judaism gave the German language