7 Instagram-Worthy Things To Do in Cologne

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1. Festivities. What makes the time you’re there special? I arrived in the midst of Cologne’s fourth annual Chinese Festival, which took place right outside the Cologne Cathedral. The Cathedral, it so happens, is right next to the Hauptbahnhof where I first arrived in Cologne 24 hours before. I walked around the market and ate vegetarian spring rolls and noodles.

2. Rhine River. It was 76 degrees Fahrenheit on a Sunday in September, which meant the sunlight was swiftly slipping away as the winter months approach. So we walked along the Rhine, one of the major European rivers. It flows in a northerly direction, and right through Cologne.

3. Shopping District. The blocks near the Cathedral are where you will find all the shopping you could want. The roads are flourishing with pedestrians, people just don’t drive there. There’s an H&M, Zara, New Yorker and even an English market. TK Maxx (it’s TK Maxx here) isn’t far either. The Apple store was not home in the modern build often seen in its U.S. stores, but housed in architecture that made its logo almost look displaced.

4. Love Locks. Walk across the Hohenzollern bridge and maybe even lock your own love up there! Tens of thousands of couples have pledged their love this way already, and it is truly an overwhelming amount of love to walk by if you think about it.

5. Cologne Cathedral. It was built to house the remains of the Three Kings (Three Wisemen) and took more than 600 years to build. The foundation was laid in 1248 and it was finally completed in 1880. For those first four years, it was the tallest building in the world.

6. Sunset. With the Cologne Cathedral and the Hohenzollern Bridge, you can’t go wrong. If you stick around long enough, you may even get to see the Cathedral light up at night. I ate with my colleagues across the river at Grissini, a restaurant with walls of windows so you can’t miss the view.

7. Nightlife. The trains run late into the night here, so whether you go out for one Kölsch, the traditional brew of Köln, or twenty (they come in small glasses for less than 2 euros a piece + your server will continuously refill your glass unless you put a coaster over it to signal you are done), you will be able to get home without operating a vehicle yourself. From art exhibits, to brew houses, to karaoke, to opera, techno, jazz and punk, there’s something special here for anyone.

What they don’t tell you about the Immigration Office

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I arrived at the Immigration Office late in the morning on a Monday, so I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to take care of getting my residence permit that day. The hours are 08:00 to 12:00. The woman at the front desk told me that they open at 08:00.

I thought 08:00 was a bit extreme, but if I arrived before 09:00, at least, I’d be fine. With three more hours until close, how could I not be? I arrived Tuesday morning shortly after 08:30. A friend of mine was already there. As I’m in the elevator on the way up to the fourth floor, she said they just put a “CLOSED” sign on the number dispenser. They would not be seeing anyone who didn’t already have a number.

I decided to wait it out and see what would happen. There were two small waiting rooms. All the seats were full, so people were sitting on the hallway floors. We were, too. Eventually, a couple of seats opened up and we snagged them. A man who had to go, for work or another daily obligation, gave my friend his ticket. His was earlier than hers. She gave me hers. 037. It was around 10. Around noon, my friend went in. She came out empty-handed. She didn’t get it, and the woman was mean and rolled her eyes at her. I thought since I had everything the university told me to provide, and understood a bit of German, I’d be fine. Well, she was nicer to me, but no cigar. Wednesdays they are closed.

I arrived at 07:14 on Thursday morning and was seventh in line. The doors opened at 08:00. I am not going to go into detail about the events that followed between going up the elevator and getting my number (09), but it was not a good look on humanity at all. Looking back, I would have attempted to organize a line. I wish that the people who work there did. In the mad rush up the four floors to the number dispenser, it didn’t matter how early you got there, it only mattered that you were aggressive. I let my friend  who helped me on Tuesday go ahead of me (bumping me to 08), and a woman who was not there early anywhere near as early as us somehow got up there, too (bumping me to 09).

Still, 09 wasn’t a long wait. I went in with everything I was told the previous time that I needed. Plus, I filled out the application I was given the previous time to the best of my ability while I waited.

So here is what you actually need for the Immigration Office:
1. Your number. (Get there at 07:15, and it will go fast. Get there at 7:30, and you could wait for hours.)
2. Your passport.
3. Your insurance exemption letter that says your insurance works for Germany.
4. Your AirBnB receipt or renter’s agreement. (You must have something printed out. Digital copies are not accepted.) The university will say that we need our City Registration confirmation, but this does not suffice.
5. A “biometric passport photo” that is 35 x 45 mm. On photo paper. Cut out. (Note: this is not the same size as a U.S. passport photo.) You can get this done at a Copy Shop. I went to one right by Chlodwigplatz, a stop from TH Köln.
6. Stamped certificate of university enrollment. (The letter that you received when you arrived so you could use public transport.)
7. Proof of sufficient funding. Currently, you need proof of 853 euros for each month you are staying in Germany. I printed a balance letter saying that I had an amount in excess of the amount I needed. If you have Charles Schwab, this letter is easily accessible online. However, it is not likely to be in the correct currency. Do the calculation and write amount of euros your currency equals on the letter.
8. The application, if you have received it before. Plus, the information that will go into the application such as your address, your German phone number, your insurance information. Basically, the things you probably have accessible in your wallet or on your phone.

I brought these things in when my number was called. I was told I need to pay 50 euro and I was ready to pull it out of my pocket. (Note: for my friend, it was 56 euro. Bring excess.)

But, the cash register is at City Registration. So, she held onto my passport, I took the blue form she gave me around the block from Ludwigstraße to Laurensplatz to the person at the desk entitled “Kasse” and paid the 50 euro.

I went back to Ludwigstraße, went up the elevator, knocked on the person’s door who was helping me, and waited. She came from the outside, said “Komm rein.” I followed her in and handed her the blue receipt. She handed me my passport complete with the residence permit inside.

“Das ist alles?” I asked.

“Das ist alles,” she said.

Arriving in Cologne (+ what you need to know if you’re studying abroad)

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I landed at the Frankfurt airport (FRA) at 05:30 on a Friday morning. I had until 09:15 to show up at my AirBnB in Cologne if I wanted to not have to lug my bags around the city until actual check-in time, which was 3 p.m…. I mean, 15:00.

Customs was no problem. I had the documents I needed with me, my acceptance letter into TH Köln and the address of where I would be staying. But, the customs official believed me when I told him, in German, that I was a student and where I would be studying.

Fortunately, I had the learned wisdom (from previously studying abroad) to not have to wait on baggage claim by bringing only 1 carry-on, 1 personal item and a ski jacket. I raced past baggage claim and was the first in line at the train ticket counter. I booked the next ICE (Inter-City Express) train to Cologne Hauptbahnhof at 06:43. I ran to the platform (= Gleis auf deutsch), which was about 70 euros. I had 30 minutes of free WiFi on the train.

I arrived in the center of Cologne, looked at a public transit (Kölner Verkehrs-Betriebe – KVB) map at the station, took a photo of it (actual photo to the right), and caught the line to the stop by my AirBnB. I activated Verizon’s TravelPass for the day with a phone call to the person at the AirBnB, and was let in with an hour to spare.

Things to do when you first arrive in Cologne as a study abroad student:
1. Go to ALDI and pick up a SIM card in the Aldi Talk Prepaid Starter Kit. Find somewhere with WiFi, and start the process of activating your SIM card. This will may take 24 hours.
2. Go to your university’s International Office and pick up the letter that allows you to use public transportation for free as a student.
3. Go to an Insurance Agency to receive an exemption letter that states your insurance will work for your stay in Germany. I went to the AOK recommended by my university and they did NOT give me the document, but THIS ONE DID: Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) located at Habsburgerring Eingang, Pilgrimstraße 2, 50674 Köln.
4. Return, with the letter, to the International Office and pick up your MultiCa (student card). DO NOT LET THEM TAKE THE LETTER — you will need it for the Immigration Office, but nobody will tell you this. They will now also give you the information on the bank transfer you need to make to pay the semester fee of about 275 euros. Paying the fee with Transferwise worked for a fellow student in my program. Do this immediately, as this will take a few days to go through before you can put money on your MultiCa. Some of the Mensa’s (student dining halls) accept cash, but they all accept the MultiCa.
5. Ask your landlord to fill out the form confirming where you will be living: Wohnungsgeberbescheinigung, and take that and your passport with you to register with the city.
6. Apply for a residence permit at the immigration office. This is a whole thing, which requires waking up early, waiting in line at 07:00, and understanding some German. A post regarding this process is upcoming here.

Climate Strike: Cologne, Germany

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Demonstrators in Cologne, Germany, emerged from the Hans-Böckler-Platz station and poured onto the streets for the global #ClimateStrike today. All ages showed up for the demonstration, from babies to school-aged children, to teenagers, to adults.