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Traveling In Gay Europe - Final Destination: Cologne

Our European travel series for gay men concludes. First we showed you Vienna, Austria. Then we took you to Munich, Germany. Now Instinct is pleased to present you with a tour of culturally rich and historical Cologne.

The fourth-largest city in Germany and former Roman colony has the famous Rhine snaking through it and a robust gay culture. Cologne’s annual Pride festivities draw about one million people from all over Europe.

Bars are located in two areas just about two metro stops apart. Old Town, closer to the river, caters to men 50+ as well as leather and fetish. More popular, attracting a younger crowd, is Bermuda Triangle, near Rudolfplatz. The intersection of Schaafenstrasse and Mauritiuswall is where one finds lively watering holes of many types. ExCorner has a casual beer-loving vibe and I saw birthday parties and Oktoberfest celebrated in equal measure. One thirtysomething had multiple glasses of beer lined up on a window sill. At only two Euros per glass, I suppose he could afford it.

IRON is more sophisticated featuring an all-black interior accented with purple neon lighting. Here I spoke with an American (who didn’t want to give me his name for this article) living with his husband in Germany. When I commented on how mixed the crowd was, he told me it is normal for gay men and women to hang out together in Cologne. His identity preserved, we both smiled at the handsome Iranian (and straight) bartender who felt embarrassed his German wasn’t “good enough.” Who was I to judge? I ordered my second drink in English.

Saunas are popular in Cologne too. Badehaus Babylon, a gorgeous Italianate villa made of red brick, offers three floors of fun including an outdoor pool (allowing office workers to be voyeurs from their skyscrapers surrounding the facility). Drawing a diverse clientele, there were men of all ages and types, from thin, pimply teenagers (the age of consent is 14) to white-haired older men. In contrast to years ago when I first visited, this time I noticed many Middle Eastern men (Cologne has a sizeable and growing Muslim population). One reason they stood out was the swimming trunks they wore. Most men wrap a towel around their hips, or wear nothing at all. And in comparison to the US, condoms are a big deal in Germany. PrEP is not yet widely available in Europe like it is in the States, so one finds condoms everywhere, as well as posters stressing safer sex.

Lastly, there are two absolute cultural musts in Cologne. Museum Ludwig, with its permanent and visiting modern art exhibits, features Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns. Cologne Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction began in 1248 and wasn’t completed until 1880. Both are located on the Domplatte, not far from the main train station.

If You Go – Cologne

GETTING THERE

Cologne Bonn Airport is a regional one so it is difficult to fly direct to or from the USA. Connections via Munich, Frankfurt or Berlin should be expected. Cologne is served by high-speed rail if you travel in and away by train. Deutsche Bahn offers Sparpreis saver fares for booking in advance online and one-way tickets can cost as little as 19 euros.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel NH Collection Köln Mediapark, Im Media Park 8b; +1 212 219 7607

WHERE TO EAT

Bei Oma Kleinmann, fantastic traditional German food popular with locals – get the schnitzel with a pint of Kölsch, the signature local brew; Zuelpicher Str. 9; +49 221232346

Bastian’s, charming bakery café serving jaw droppingly-good rolls and pastries; Auf dem Berlich 3-5; +49 221 25083412

WHAT TO DO

Badehaus Babylon Cologne, one of the most beautiful and popular saunas in Europe; Friesenstraße 23-25; +49 221 4207 4577

ExCorner, Schaafenstraße 57-59; +49 221 233 6060

IRON, Schaafenstraße 45; +49 221 2764 9614

Museum Ludwig, Heinrich-Böll-Platz; +49 221 22126165

Cologne Cathedral, Domkloster 4

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