The Mole Diaries: Cologne (Volume 2)

The Mole Diaries: Cologne (Volume 2) by Larry Myhre

This article was written by Erica Lee, published on 3rd July 2013 and has been read 5186 times.

Erica Lee is a 20-year old European Studies student from Ireland. She studies German and French alongside History and Politics at home. She says, "German has always been my stronger language so I chose to major in it and spend my Erasmus year here. I’ve been documenting what has been a very eventful year on my blog - feel free to check it out and get in touch!" Here is Erica's insider guide to living in Cologne...

Accommodation in Cologne

Cologne has serious problems when it comes to student accommodation. The Studentenwerk ( provides subsidized housing for students but it is often difficult to secure a place with them. Apartments in the city centre, near the University, especially around Lindenthal, are the first to fill up. If you want to get a place with the Studentenwerk, a good option is the Studentendorf Efferen, a student village on the outskirts of Cologne, 10 mins tram journey to the Uni stop and inhabited by over 2,000 students, which makes it very easy to make friends and have a good time. Alternatively, seek out a flat-share on, but again, you need to act fast!


If you are an EU Student, the Erasmus grant should help to some extent. It varies from country to country. For students from other Western countries, the cost of living in Germany is relatively low. Food and drink are both inexpensive, and generally speaking, a year abroad here is very manageable. You will need a German bank account to pay rent, I recommend the Sparkasse because it is the most widely available in the city, and if you don’t use your own bank’s ATMs you are likely to be charged a hefty fee.


The workload at Uni varies depending on your home Uni and your course of studies. Generally, under the conditions of Erasmus you take ¾ of the average amount of ECTS required of you at home. Talk to each of your lecturers individually and explain the situation, most are very flexible. However don’t do be too complacent with the whole “I’m an Erasmus” thing, the lecturers here do not appreciate that and you will not be doing yourself any favours.


English is widely spoken in Cologne and there are plenty of students here who do not have the faintest clue when it comes to German, they all manage to get by. That being said, the language is an invaluable tool, especially for getting to know the locals. At the University, the German as a Foreign Language department offers classes from A2 to C1 level so there’s no reason not to go for it! Memrise is a cool online app for learning languages among other things, they too have German courses and if you visit any good book shop here, Mayersche for example, they have plenty of books, dictionaries and audio courses, all of which will help. 


ESN is the Erasmus Student Network, they organise all sorts of events for exchange students in Cologne. Everything from typical party nights to trips away, water-skiing, international dinners and so on. Keep in touch with them on facebook to find out what’s going on when you first arrive.

Where to…


Mango - Zülpicherstraße. Very good value hearty food and fantastic cocktails. Mensa - near the Uni. Dinner for €2.25 for all students. You can’t beat it.


Hellers - off Zülpicher. A small family run brewery, perfect for a glass of Kölsch. Any of the cocktail bars around Zülpicher (the student area).


Luxor - for ESN Parties and cheesy music. Das Ding - for your average club night. Ehrenfeld - for a more alternative sort of night.

Things Not to Miss in Cologne

It would be difficult to miss, but nonetheless deserves a mention; The Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral, Germany’s Most Visited Tourist Attraction.

Koln Cathedral

[Photo by Rob Sinclair]

11th November: “Elfter Elfter” - the Beginning of the Karneval Season, it kicks off at 11:11am.

December: Christmas Markets - seven in all, the one at the Dom and the one on the Rhine must be seen. Magical is the only word to describe them.

February: Karneval – Five days of Madness climaxing in an amazing parade on Rosenmontag, just before the beginning of Lent.

July: Christopher Street Day, or Gay Pride, a big thing in the Gay Capital of Germany

Kölner Lichter – a massive fireworks display to music on the Rhine with the Dom in the background.

What makes a year abroad in Cologne so special?

Cologne is a multi-cultural city. It has its own "Constitution" a set of 11 principles for life. It’s all about living life to the full and making the best of things. Another saying adopted by the people of Cologne is “jeder Jeck es anders”; it means “every person is different” and in Cologne you really feel that. On your year abroad you have the chance to develop as a person, you’re free to be yourself, even reinvent yourself if you so wish. Cologne’s easy-going philosophy goes hand-in-hand with the laid back Erasmus student life and that’s what makes it a perfect place to spend your year abroad.

Don’t Forget...

1. … to travel

As a student at any university in the Bundesland North Rhine Westphalia, you get a travel ticket built into your student ID. This allows you to travel within NRW for free, and even take guests with you within the Cologne area during the evening and on weekends. With cities like Aachen, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Essen and Münster all a stone’s throw away, there’s no reason not to travel and see as much of Germany as possible!

Cologne is also very central within the continent, Paris is 3 hours away by train, Brussels an hour and a half away and the Deutsche Bahn has very affordable group travel deals allowing you to visit cities like Munich, Berlin or Hamburg for as little as €8, provided you don’t mind changing trains a few times. (We took a 12-hour journey to Munich last October, life’s all about the journey, right?)

Germanwings has its base in Cologne airport, flights are also very reasonable and there’s a “Blind Booking” feature which has the potential for both amazing and disastrous Euro-Adventures!

2. … to document your time abroad
Take photos, or better yet, make videos. They will be hilarious to watch back. Even if you don’t want to share your experiences publically, do keep a journal, the year abroad is something you’ll want to remember for the rest of your life. Check out this article for other amazing ideas! There’s so many things I wish I thought of sooner!

3. … to leave a lock on the bridge

The Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne is covered with thousands of decorated and engraved padlocks as expressions of love, friendship and so on. Why not leave your own legacy on the bridge too?

No Matter What

You are guaranteed an amazing time on Erasmus in Cologne!

Mach’s jut!

Our Mole Diaries are insider city guides written by students about their experiences, filled with top tips and recommendations. Please view our 200+ Mole Diaries arranged by language, and if you'd like to contribute, do find out more about becoming a Mole!

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