Travel: Respectability on the Rhine: Valerie James is awed by a Gothic Dom and discovers a hotel in the round

The girl in reception was charming, and her question unexpected. 'Do you know the name of the big hotel on Hyde Park

Corner? I am thinking of working in London.'

'The Lanesborough, but it's not at all like this,' I said.

'Yes, but I want to live in London.'

'This', as she had already explained to us, is Europe's only hotel in a water tower. Now water towers I can take or leave, but the Wasserturm in Cologne is special. One hundred and thirty years old, a redbrick landmark in a city largely built of stone, it is not for someone who likes to hide in corners, or for those with a phobia about circles, for everything here has a curve.

Immensely stylish - the interior was designed by Andree Puttman and much of the furniture was made in her factory - and with walls hung with valuable modern paintings, its soaring entrance and corridors have an almost monastic air. The combination of the strange and familiar is at once unsettling and soothing, but the staff are whisper-quiet, efficiency rules, and within these round walls one can see the new Europe and the new Europeans working.

Cologne is bustling, busy, its position close to the Belgian border insulating it to some degree from its troublesome family far to the east. Its history is one of survival, or resurgence, not least from the 90 per cent destruction by Allied bombing during the Second World War, and the overwhelming impression is one of confidence. And enjoying the style, the beautifully presented food, it is easy to be reassured that all is well with the world.

But with just two days for our first visit to Germany, tourist things had to be done and so the comfort of circles was left and corners and angles peered into. We began, as everything in Cologne does, with the cathedral, the Dom.

Leaving the Wasserturm, there could be no greater contrast than the Dom, the ever-present skyline feature of Cologne and the epitome of angularity. Everything soars upwards, piercing the skies in the purest expression of High Gothic, as blackened by age and pollution, it both stretches and lowers over the city. (St Paul's is jolly by comparison.) Inside the Dom is the magnificent sarcophagus containing the relics of the Magi (stolen from Milan in 1164), the Gero cross and, dwarfing tourists and worshippers alike, the towering walls designed to intimidate and awe.

Chastened and reduced, we recovered in the museums and art galleries. Then, sated with German culture, we lunched and wandered through the market with stalls full of wonderfully carved candles and traditional pottery before a short cooling cruise down the Rhine.

But like some Gothic Lorelei the Dom, and a very English desire for afternoon tea, drew us back to the Cathedral Square to sit in the Dom Hotel's sheltered terrace, eat pastries, sip tea and watch Cologne go by; stolid, respectable, heavily shod, what my mother used to call 'neat and tidy'.

Then it stopped going by, stopped being so neat and tidy in front of those black cathedral steps. Plain-clothes policemen, bomber jackets and jeans pristine, their short haircuts doing little to conceal the earpieces of their radios, surrounded the crowds as loud-hailers and banners came out and Turkish crescents and slashed swastikas were revealed. We asked a waiter what was happening and he said: 'Some Turkish kids, anti-Nazis. They make a fuss.'

The Dom Hotel is not amused by such demonstrations; the grandeur of its old European style is upset by such political happenings so security men were positioned at the entrance to the terrace. Mozart became a little more insistent and we were encouraged to turn our chairs away from the square. The waiter came over to us again. 'You come from London? I want to work in London. Where would be the best place to go?'

We smiled and advised and returned to the comfort of thick carpets, small tiles, large towels and circles which contained no dark corners, and took some drinks up to the restaurant terrace on the top floor. It was a glorious evening, warm with just the hint of a breeze. The view was of a residential quarter, of people eating and drinking out of doors, in their gardens, walking their dogs, talking to neighbours.

The stuffed quail were delicious, the desserts a challenge to any diet and, in the cool of the evening, we enjoyed a last cup of coffee peering down from our 11th-floor eyrie to see the marching band in the street. Not a marching band. More policemen with a dozen vehicles surrounding the remnants of the afternoon's protest.

We stood up for a better view and I glanced along the terrace. No German eyes were directed down to the street, nothing disturbed the diners' chatter; if anything they concentrated more on their companions. A young man approached. We turned to him, eager for explanation.

'You are English? My work is in the financial sector, but I wish to work in London. Could you tell me. . .?'

How to get there . . .

Flights: Lufthansa (0345 737747) and BA (0345 222111) fly daily from Heathrow to Cologne; BA has a special offer of pounds 89 return if you book before 16 September.

Accommodation: a weekend package at the Hotel im Wasserturm (010 49 221 20080) costs from DM450 (pounds 180) per person including breakfast, dinner in the rooftop restaurant, sightseeing tour, free

admission to museums and a meal in one of the city's beerhouses.

Further information: German National Tourist Office, 65 Curzon St W1Y 7PE. The 0891 600100 number is a premium-rate service; you are probably better off phoning the Cologne Tourist Office direct (010 49 221 221 3345).

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific