Monday 22 April 2019

Aachener Weiher parkrun (Cologne)

The German city of Köln (Cologne) sits on ground which can trace its first settlement back to a Germanic tribe called the Ubii who settled here in around 38BC after forming an alliance with the Romans. At the time it was called Oppidum Ubiorum.

In 50AD the Romans elevated its status to a Roman Colonia (an outpost of the Roman empire used to secure conquered lands) and renamed it 'Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium' (CCAA) after Agrippina and her husband Emperor Claudius. Agrippina was the mother of the Roman Emperor Nero. Incidentally, he had her killed a few years into his reign.


The name Colonia stuck and as the years went on variations such as Colne, Coellne, Coellen, Kollen, Kolne were all used simultaneously. Collen was the favoured spelling in early modern times, but it wasn't until after the first world war that the authorities decided on Köln as the official name. The spelling Cologne is the French version of the name which is also used in English. You may even hear Colonia still being used, especially if you visit during carnival time where the song 'Viva Colonia' can be heard many times each day.

It has always been a very well populated city and the current-day figure stands at around 1 million people, making it the fourth most-populated city in Germany. The second world war saw it virtually deserted as it was on the receiving end of 262 bombing raids by the Royal Air Force which almost destroyed the entire city.

aachener weiher

Modern-day Cologne is a centre of culture in the region and has more than 30 museums and hundreds of galleries. The most recognisable feature of the city is without doubt Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral). Construction began in 1248, was halted while in progress in 1473, then started again in the 1840s with it finally being finished in 1880. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and Germany's most visited landmark with more than twice the number of visitors (6.5 million per year) than its closest rival the Reichstag in Berlin.

Over the years the city has had four defensive walls in place, but under the Treaty of Versailles German fortifications were to be destroyed. However some sections of the Roman wall have survived, and you can still trace the line of the medieval defensive wall as the main ring roads around the city run along it. Much of the land here is known as the 'inner green belt' which surrounds the inner city, and one of the areas is a park called Hiroshima-Nagasaki Park.

briefing etc...

Hiroshima-Nagasaki Park was created on land previously used as a dumping ground for debris from the bombed city. It was also used as a place for rallies and could hold up to 200,000 people. Peace rallies were popular and Cologne became part of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Alliance, which is an international city alliance against nuclear weapons. The Cologne Peace Forum suggested the area become a park in memorial to the two Japanese cities and in 2004 the park was inaugurated. 

Before the park had a name it was essentially just referred to as the 'green space on the Aachener Weiher' or 'the meadows around the pond'. The Aachener Weiher (Aachener Pond) is an artificial lake, pretty much a perfect square in shape (very orderly, you might say) which takes its name from the adjacent Aachener Straße (this runs along the route of original Roman road 'Via Belgica'), and it is this pond that gives its name to the weekly, 5 kilometre running and walking event that now takes place here - Aachener Weiher parkrun.


The inaugural event was on 23 March 2019 and became Germany's 16th parkrun. We were driven into Cologne by my mother-in-law as we were staying at her house about an hour away. We drove along the A4 and as you approach the city you pass the Michael Schumacher Kart Centre before the fantastic panoramic sight of the city comes into view.

Once at the venue, we parked the car on the side of Aachener Straße right next the Aachener Weiher, which was of course perfectly convenient. A fee is payable between the hours of 9am and 6pm Monday to Saturday - at the time of our visit it was 0.50 euros per 20 minutes or 4 euros for the entire day. The cycling network looked to be fairly decent, but I can't remember seeing any official cycle racks. There were a couple of metal benches at the start/finish which looked ok for securing a bike to.

road section

The park may or may not have toilets depending on when you visit. They seem to have a system of portaloos in place for busy periods (the summer). A sign on the toilets suggested they would be available between May and September. We visited in April 2019 and portaloos were in position at various points around the park. They were free-of-charge to use but if visiting, especially outside of the dates mentioned, it might be worth having a pit-stop en-route.

I'd imagine most British tourists would arrive on public transport, and probably via the main train station 'Köln Hauptbahnhof' (Cologne Central Station or Main Station) in the centre of the city. There is a direct train from Brussels to Cologne so it makes it quite a straight forward destination from London using a Eurostar-Thalys combo - I've used this Thalys many times in the past and the best tip I can give here is to pay the extra few Euros and upgrade to first class (standard can be a bit chaotic). As I was staying with family I didn't need a hotel so can't offer any specific advice on this, but being a very popular tourist destination means hotels are in abundance.

around the park

Once in the centre of Cologne it is easy enough to take the U-Bahn (underground) line 18 to Neumarkt and then the tram line 1 to Moltkestrasse. From there you simply walk into the park and head to the south side of the Aachener Weiher where you will find the meeting point and start-finish area. Of course, you could walk or run from the centre - for the record it's around 2.8km.

The briefing is delivered by the Laufleitung (Run Director) next to the pond where you get a superb view of the telecommunications tower 'Colonius' which at 266m is the tallest structure in the city. The runners and walkers are then sent off on their way around this very pleasant inner city park. It takes place over a two lap course encompassing the park and the perimeter of the pond. Underfoot is a combination of tarmac and a light, dusty gravel surface (with a little sand and some decking thrown in for funzies), so road shoes will be fine year round. Also, buggy runners will be just fine here, but it's worth noting that there is a kerb to negotiate a few hundred metres into the lap. 

around the park

The first section is right next to the pond, and after doubling back on oneself at the beginning of the lap, the course heads along the central road which is quite popular for cyclists and actually had some official park maintenance vehicles moving around (worth being aware of this). The lap continues along the meandering paths of the memorial park and features a gradual climb up to the top of the rubble pile which is now beautifully landscaped.

The route is sometimes lined with a dense selection of trees and at other times with open grass areas. There are a few tight turns as the course kind of zig-zags its way through the park. The streckenposten (marshals) were strategically placed and were all brilliant. A small section of the path is covered in sand from the adjacent spielplatz (playground) - it was strange negotiating that with a buggy! This is followed by a chicane style width restriction barrier.

atomwaffen abschaffen stone

Keep an eye out for the 'Atomwaffen Abschaffen' (Abolish Nuclear Weapons) memorial stone at the highest point of the route. It features the symbol of the paper crane (Orizuru) which has become a symbol of resistance to nuclear weapons and nuclear war. It is flanked by three trees; a Ginkgo for Hiroshima, a Japanese Cherry Blossom for Nagasaki, and a Black Poplar for Cologne.

After meandering back down to water-level, across a zebra crossing (closed road) and over the decking for the Biergarten, there's a three-quarter lap directly around the pond where the route passes the Museum Fur Ostasiatische Kunst (Museum of East Asian Arts) before heading past the finish and back off into the park for a second lap (where I was joined by my son in the buggy). As I was with the kids, we spent most of our time at the back with the Schlussbegleitung (tail walker).

around the park / pond

Once two laps have been completed, the ziel (finish) can be found alongside the pond in the same place it all began just a short while earlier. Personal barcodes (between us we produced an Australian disc, Polish wristband and British wristband) are scanned along with the finishing token right next to the finish. Once everyone has completed the course and the kit packed away, the team relocate to Kawa Coffee Snacks and Co (just across the Universitatsstrasse road) for some post-event refreshments.

The ergebnisse (results) for event 5 were processed later that day and 25 people had participated which is slightly lower than the the average (40) for this event at time of writing. If you are visiting and worried about the language barrier, don't be! The core team are mostly British and so much English is spoken that you might not realise you are overseas - I imagine this'll change as more locals become involved, which will be good for the event. I recorded the course with my Garmin and the GPS data can be found on my Strava profile, here: Aachener Weiher parkrun event 5. I also made a course video using the Relive app on my phone, you can view that, here: Aachener Weiher parkrun course fly-by.

finish (ziel)

After the run, me and my daughter decided to spend some time taking in the sights around the city. We started by finding a medieval gate and a few sections of the Roman Wall before moving on to see the magnificent Kölner Dom, and the Roman Dionysos mosaic floor in the Romisch-Germanisches Museum (viewed from the outside as the museum is currently being renovated).  We then had a spot of lunch and finished off by wandering through the Altstadt (Old Town) (rebuilt post-war) and visiting the Shokoladenmuseum (Chocolate Museum). We were almost tempted by the Senfmuseum (mustard museum)!

post-run refreshments

There were countless other things we could have done, like visit the Fragrance Museum where the original 'Eau de Cologne' was created, take a boat ride on the Rhine, visited Cologne Zoo (apparently one of the oldest in the world) or taken in the panoramic view from the top of the Kölntriangle. However there's only so much time in a day and it was soon time to jump on the train back to my mother-in-law's house where we were finally able to put our feet up while having some abendbrot.


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