Hoffenheim scored in injury time through Kerem Demirbay to clinch a Europa League place at least. The visitors dominated but Leonardo Bittencourt had struck on the break to give Cologne the lead.
Cologne 1-1 Hoffenheim
Bittencourt 58' - Demirbay 90+3'
Hoffenheim are heading to Europe. Of course they hope it will be in the Champions League rather than the Europa League but they at least secured the latter against a largely inferior Cologne.
Wherever their travels take them next term, it will be Hoffenheim's first European adventure. It is quite a tale for a team from little more than a village who rose up the ranks of German football thanks to a software mogul's millions.
But recent years have seen consolidation in the Bundesliga and last season's flirtation with relegation. Step forward a 29-year-old wonder coach in Julian Nagelsmann and suddenly you have a side ready to play in Europe.
Hoffenheim sit third on 55 points, an unassailable 14 points above Cologne who occupy the final automatic Europa League spot in sixth with both having four games left.
The visitors enjoyed much the better of the first half. They knocked the ball around confidently and showed just how much verve Nagelsmann has instilled in his side.
But they failed to carve out a really clear-cut chance, Steven Zuber testing Timo Horn from distance in perhaps their best opportunity.
Immediately at the other end, Cologne went the closest of either side in the opening period, a combination of Oliver Baumann and the post keeping out Dominique Heintz’s header.
The hosts were generally frustrated, Anthony Modeste running offside far too often and Bayern Munich-bound Niklas Süle looking at his commanding best in the Hoffenheim backline.
The same pattern appeared to be developing in the second half but Cologne suddenly broke at pace and Hoffenheim’s defence fell away in uncharacteristic style, allowing Bittencourt to score one of the easiest goals he will have the pleasure of netting.
Jonas Hector was given time and space to pick out the unmarked Bittencourt for a tap-in after 58 minutes.
As Hoffenheim pressed forward for an equalizer and left gaps, Cologne’s Yuya Osako was clear in the box but chose to shoot instead of squaring and surely setting up a second goal.
Süle then had a half chance at the other end but desperate Cologne defending saved the day. Milos Jojic then should have sealed it for Cologne before being snuffed out in a telling moment which summed up how dogged and daring Hoffenheim have been this term.
Demirbay duly grabbed the equalizer in stoppage time after scrappy Cologne had failed to clear their lines. In truth it was the least visitors Hoffenheim deserved.
Their rise from relegation candidates last season to Europa League qualifiers and Champions League contenders this term under such a young coach is arguably the story of the Bundesliga season, whatever RB Leipzig fans might say.
With a 12-point cushion over Hertha Berlin in fifth, at least the fourth Champions League qualifying spot is surely now in Hoffenheim's grasp.
Relive the action as it happened: