Last Updated on 2nd March 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
With its grand Gothic cathedral and status as one of the largest cities in Germany, Cologne is perhaps most famous for its sprawling Christmas markets which truly bring the town to life during the coldest months of the year. And when it comes to truly iconic photo spots in the city, there are two places which stand out the most: any photo which features the twin spires of the Cathedral and that of the Fischmarkt Köln (otherwise known as the Cologne Fishmarket). Here’s a quick history, as well as how you can visit for yourself!
If you’ve ever seen a photo of Cologne on Instagram, then no doubt you’ll have seen the photo of the candy coloured houses standing tall and proud in front of a Romanesque Church. In fact, Cologne is pretty famous for its twelve Romanesque Churches. And though it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing city, this photo spot truly is the exception.
Though many people mistakenly believe (myself included prior to my Cologne visit) that the church featured in the photo is that of Cologne Cathedral, this is simply not the case. Instead, the church featured in the photos is that of the Great Saint Martin.
As you might imagine from the name and its location in pride of place along the banks of the water’s edge, the Cologne Fishmarket was once the site of the historic city fish market, with roots dating all the way back to the 13th-century.
The fish trade largely comprised of ‘green fish,’ though other fish for sale included that of herring and salmon. During this time, the fish market would have been situated between the Köln’s city walls and the church of St Martin. The candy coloured buildings themselves trace their way back to the 12th-century, when they were likely constructed as part of the adjacent Benedictine Abbey.
During WWII, much of the city was flattened during bombing (90% of the old town and fish market), and so plenty of parts of the old town were painstakingly rebuilt to their original designs following the end of the war.
The Gothic architecture of the row of houses in front of St Martin’s Church are a testament of this. As a result, one of the only ‘original’ buildings close to the fishmarket is that of the ‘stacking house’, though, of course, all the buildings in the area look pretty historic.
Groß St. Martin (Great St Martin Church)
If you’re interested in ecclesiastical history and wish to see more than just the impressive Dom, then there are a handful of interesting medieval churches dotted around the city. One of the most famous of these is that of the Great St Martin Church, which was founded on the site of a Benedictine Abbey.
The location has been a place of worship since at least the 10th-century, when Archbishop of the time, Bruno the Great, ordered a church be built. The design of the church you see today was largely conceived of during the 12th-century, though much of the current ecclesiastical building was largely reconstructed following heavy bomb damage during WWII.
Rather interestingly, the site was also in use by the Romans during the 1st-century, when the surrounding area would have been home to a palaestra (a kind of sports training area). In the crypt of the Great St Martin Church, there also remains the ruins of a Roman warehouse.
Things to do close to Köln Fischmarkt
Grab a beer overlooking the River Rhine
One of the greatest joys of visiting the North Rhine Westphalia is that there are so many local and regional beers on offer. As such, once you’ve snapped your photos of the candy coloured houses at the fishmarket, head to one of the many nearby taverns, inns, or bars to purchase a beer and watch the world go by, all the while overlooking the River Rhine.
Explore the Alter Markt (Old Market square)
As you might imagine, the Old market Square is situated in the heart of the city and boasts a variety of cafés, bistros, and restaurants serving traditional local fare (the Halve Hahn Sandwich is a local speciality). Though badly damaged during WWII, the surrounding streets are a maze of cobbled lanes, small boutiques, and hidden gems.
Visit the harbour Christmas Market (in the winter)
If you’re still wondering what time of the year you should visit Cologne, make sure it’s around Christmas time (i.e. in the month before). After all, Cologne’s Christmas Markets are among some of the best in Germany and the many themed markets can be found dotted across the city. Close to the Köln Fischmarkt, the Harbour Christmas Market offers many stalls selling handcrafted gifts and local souvenirs.