Cologne – Magnificence on the Rhine

Visiting Cologne in 2019, it is hard to imagine that 95% of the old city centre was destroyed in the Second World war, and that the population had dropped from it’s pre-war numbers of around 800,000 to a mere 40,000. It is even more remarkable that the Cologne Cathedral survived when it was surrounded by so much devastation – as seen in the picture below, taken in late 1944. It suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs and despite being badly damaged, it remained standing. It is said that this was less a stroke of good fortune and more due to the fact that twin spires were an easily recognizable landmark for Allied aircraft, and they left it standing for that reason.

During the World War II, Cologne endured 262 air raids by the Western Allies, which caused approximately 20,000 civilian casualties. On the night of 31 May 1942, Cologne was the target of “Operation Millennium“: 1,046 heavy bombers attacked their target with 1,455 tons of explosives. The raid lasted about 75 minutes, destroyed 600 acres of built-up area, killed 486 civilians and left 59,000 people homeless. I find this hard to even imagine, and I’m left stunned when doing research on the accounts of the second world war.

In Nazi Germany, essentially all of Cologne’s pre-war Jewish population of more than 11,000 were deported or killed by the Nazis and the six synagogues of the city were destroyed.

Given all of the above as a backdrop, today, it is remarkable to find that Cologne is a truly spectacular city and with a 2019 population in excess of one million, it is Germany’s fourth largest city behind Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich.

Aerial View Of The Cologne Cathedral Germany

It is an intriguing mix of old and new – from its Roman heritage to its pedestrian-only shopping zone featuring high-end brand-name retailers from all around the world, and, it is also home to more than 30 museums and hundreds of galleries.

With Program Director Leonard’s Port Talk the night before, and in talking to other passengers on board the Viking Lif, this was a visit we were all looking forward to. A couple of guests had even shared with me that they’d wanted to see the Cologne Cathedral their entire lives, and they could hardly wait to get going.

The Lif arrived at the dock in Cologne shortly after 8 AM on a blustery overcast Monday morning (July 15th), and while finishing our breakfast, this was our first glimpse of the Cologne skyline and its truly remarkable Cathedral.

At 8:45, we heard the announcement from Leonard that it was time to leave the ship and meet in our pre-arranged tour groups at the top of the gangway.

Emerging from the ship, we were on the right bank of the Rhine,and three things hit us right away. The first was the weather – and I do mean it hit us, as this was the coldest day of the trip and we would not see any sunshine on this day. The second was of course the spectacular cathedral that sits just across the river. And, the third was the Hohenzollern Bridge with its three iron truss arches spanning the river.

We came to find out that this railway and pedestrian-only bridge, is the most heavily used railway bridge in Germany, with 1200 to 1500 trains a day crossing it in one direction or the other.

Check out the video below. It starts at the edge of the bridge near where we were gathered and you will immediately see trains crossing in opposite directions. The panoramic view then sweeps across the river, revealing the Cathedral, the massive train station at the end of the bridge, and the skyline of downtown Cologne, from the perspective of looking across the top of the Viking Lif.

There are four equestrian statues of Prussian kings and German Emperors from the Hohenzollern family line flanking each side of the bridge. Clockwise from the top left they are: Wilhelm I, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, Friedrich III, and Wilhelm II

While our destination on this day was across the bridge and into the heart of Cologne, the side on which the Lif had docked was home to an extensive port and industrial area, as well as home to VOX, the most succesful privately-owned TV station in Germany.

And speaking of across the bridge, this next group of pictures really set the stage for the story of Cologne, for in them, you can see one of the many trains crossing the bridge; you’ll see people walking and cycling across the bridge; you can’t help but notice the spectacular Cologne Cathedral in the background; and, all along the side of the bridge, thousands upon thousands of “Love Padlocks”, similar to what we had seen earlier in the trip, in Salzburg….but on a much grander scale.

People have been placing these so-called “love locks” on the bridge since 2008, and in some circles it is considered a new-fangled form of vandalism. A few years ago, the bridge operators threatened to have the locks removed (since it is estimated they weigh about 45 tons), but in the end, relented in the face of monumental public opposition.

It took us about seven minutes to cross the bridge, and during that time, the relentless rumble of trains coming and going was quite astonishing. As we reached the other side, we had a fabulous view of Cologne’s enormous train station – Köln Hauptbahnhof.

It not only serves as a hub for eight different railway systems, it is also the starting point of the Cologne-Frankfurt high-speed rail line – a route that covers the 110 mile distance between the two cities in 62 minutes (including four stops) and hits speeds of 185 mph during its run. The train was just arriving in Cologne as we crossed the bridge.

While there is no doubt that the Cologne Cathedral is the “star of the show”, in any other circumstance, the Great St. Martin Church would most certainly be the main focus of any city tour. We had a fabulous view of it off to our left as we crossed the bridge, and it is the largest of the big Romanesque churches of Cologne……and, older than the Cathedral!

Its’ foundations rest on remnants of a Roman chapel dating back to around 960, and when it was first constructed, the land it sits on was an island in the Rhine. The current building before us was erected between 1150 and 1250, and while it sustained heavy damage in World War II (the tower and nave burnt to the ground), it avoided the fate of so many other structures that were completely destroyed at that time. Restoration work was completed in 1985, and since 2009, it has been used by a branch of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem – a group that I know very little about but who seem to have had a major influence on the development of Christianity.

Turning our attention for a moment back to Cologne Cathedral, while it would be another hour before we actually found ourselves in front of the church, we couldn’t help but experience a continuous series of “wow moments”. In the picture of the Cathedral below, we had just crossed the bridge, and the train station is off to our right, and what we are looking at is a side view! Yup, a side view!

Our walking tour began to lead us away from the Cathedral, and as we turned left to head out toward Cologne’s Old Town, we came face to face with the “Kölner Philharmonie” (Philharmonic Hall). It is a beautiful building but woefully undersized as it only has seats for 2,000 people.

The area where I was standing to take this picture is called the Heinrich-Böll Platz, and the Philharmonic Hall is part of an assemblage of buildings that make up the Museum Ludwig which opened in 1976. The reason I mention the Platz at all, is that the Hall is located below ground in an Amphitheatre setting. It seems that walking noise from people with stiletto heels, and/or that horribly annoying sound of rolling skateboard wheels can actually be heard in the hall. As a result this square is closed during the roughly 400 concerts per year that take place here. (can you say “oops, that’s an unfortunate design flaw”).

Museum Ludwig” houses a collection of modern art and has one of the largest Picasso collections (900 pieces) in Europe as well as many works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. It opened in 1976 as the home for $450 million worth of modern art donated to the City of Cologne by chocolate magnate Peter Ludwig. I sure would have enjoyed spending an afternoon in this place.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is museum-ludwig.jpg

Our guide had us follow her down the steps toward the Rhine promenade and then led us toward an area she referred to as the Fischmarkt, which lies in the shadow of the Great St. Martin church.

The quarter around the Great St. Martin was heavily populated with tourist groups like ours, as well as many locals, and the area is chock full of crooked alleys, beckoning cafes and taverns, and both colourful and storied architecture. I was careful to use the word “storied” as opposed to “historic” for the reality is that former narrow buildings in the area were demolished in the 1930’s to satisfy a modernist movement among the inhabitants. Then World War II came along and destroyed in excess of 90% of the new buildings.

Post-war restoration plans called for a historical appearance in any re-building and that is what we saw before us, as we arrived in the Fisch-Markt.

The significance of the Fisch-Markt dates back to 1259 and the establishment of the “staple right”, or stacking rights along the Rhine. Due to issues and challenges with the water depth of the Rhine, goods had to be transferred to smaller ships. The inhabitants of Cologne benefited from this as the “staple right” meant that goods had to be off-loaded and stored, and, offered for sale to the local citizenry for three days, before moving on. Most of these goods were fish such as Herring and salmon, and the bulk of it originated from Holland.

Since the early 1980’s the area has flourished and it has a distinct Mediterranean ambiance about it.

I am not overly “artsy” when it comes to the taking of photographs but I couldn’t help myself as far as the next picture is concerned. While listening to our guide talk about the history and significance of the Fisch-Markt, I happened to look up, and was immediate struck by the intriguing angles of the view in front of me. I think it made for a pretty neat picture so I have included it in my blog.

From here, we began a slow wander through some of the crooked and narrow alleys I mentioned earlier, giving us an opportunity to see the historical charm of Cologne’s Old Town. We encountered a mix of traditional old houses, restaurants, and taverns (see “Einstein’s below – described as a popular local “dive bar”), as well as some of the many museums that dot the area.

Our guide told us to make sure we found a spot later to enjoy the local beer (Kölsch), and the favorite sandwich of Cologne, a Halver Hahn – a Gouda cheese sandwich served on buttered rye, with pickles, onions, mustard, and paprika. This is how it comes to your table. Oh, and if you speak any German (which I don’t), Halver Hahn apparently means “half a chicken”, so welcome to the head-scratching I experienced over the name of this popular sandwich.

Emerging into the the centre of Cologne’s old neighbourhood, we found ourselves at one end of the Alter Markt and Heumarkt, a major attraction for Cologne residents and visitors alike.

Surrounded by many small restaurants and cafés, we could imagine that on a nice sunny day (which this wasn’t), these Markts would be a lovely place to spend some time browsing, noshing, sipping, and of course people-watching. It hasn’t always been so people-oriented though as during the late Middle Ages the square was also the site of public executions, and occasionally, jousting tournaments were held here.

At the middle of the Alter Markt stands a statue of Jan-von-Werth, a fountain erected in 1884 in honor of a successful general during the Thirty Years’ War.

With a bit of a wry smile and a naughty grin, our guide then brought to us to another “point of interest” in the square – the “Kallendresser” (freely translated as gutter shitter), a sculpture of a man with his trousers down at the top of the facade of house no. 24. The bronze sculpture created in 1956 is a modern adaptation of a relief that before the war adorned a neighboring house no. 40. The origin of the sculpture is unclear, and some claim that it is a political statement towards city hall which is directly opposite the house.

Before leaving the square, our guide pointed to a narrow alley known as the Lintgasse, a pedestrian-only zone only 425 feet long, just a little longer than the length of a football field. It is famous for its medieval history and was first mentioned in the 12th century in writings about Cologne.

In the middle ages, the street was home to a number of medieval knights, and at the corner of it (seen in the picture on the right, below), there is a seven-storey townhouse that was built in 1213, and later extended in 1580. It is one of the oldest buildings in Cologne and it survived the devastation of WW II along with the numbered building to it’s right. The historic townhouse was converted into a beer house in the late 1800’s and still operates as such today.

By the way, the numbers on houses as in the picture above, indicate the dates in which they were renovated or sold to new families.

Our guide also told us that in Cologne there are five seasons, and the fifth season is “Carnival”. It is declared open at 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th day of the 11th month, and with the exception of a break during the Christmas period, it lasts well into the New Year. The “Alter Markt” is a focal point for these activities as well as the spot where “Carnival” is officially declared to be underway. It would be very similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and there is even a week-long street festival called “Crazy Days” that takes place between Fat Thursday and Ash Wednesday. All through these days, Cologne folks go out masqueraded, and I just had to buy a postcard or two that showcased this event. Check them out, below.

It was time to move on, and speaking of time, we were standing directly opposite the historic City Hall and on it’s tower you can see a clock.

What you can’t see from the picture above, is that just below the clock , there is a figure, in fact the face of a man, that every hour on the hour sticks his tongue out when the clock is striking. We happened to be there right at 10 AM, and as you can see, he and his tongue are right on time.

As for the City Hall itself, the foundations and oldest parts of the building date back more than 900 years making it the oldest City Hall in Germany. The building complex before us consists of a mix of architectural styles due to additions and changes made to it on four different occasions between the 1400’s and the 1950’s (post WW II repairs and reconstruction).

Standing at the base of the tower, our guide pointed out that it was decorated with 130 stone statues representing emperors and kings that are connected to the history of the city.

One of the more interesting historical characters immortalized in stone is Agrippina the Younger who was born in AD 15 in a Roman outpost on the Rhine River which is present-day Cologne. She was a Roman empress and one of the most powerful women in the first Roman imperial dynasties. Both ancient and modern sources describe Agrippina’s personality as ruthless, ambitious, violent, and domineering and she was considered to be very beautiful.

She was the fourth wife of Claudius who was the Roman Emperor from AD 41 to AD 54, and many historians accuse Agrippina of poisoning her husband, though accounts vary. In AD 59 Agrippina was executed on the orders of her son, the emperor Nero.

Walking behind the City Hall, we came upon a row of hoarding boards with a sign indicating that work was being done on a Jewish Museum in the Archaelogical Quarter of Cologne.

The name of it, MiQUa, comes form the word “Mikveh”, a ritual purification bath in Judaism, and it is being built on and underneath the square where the town hall stands. This is the site of Cologne’s historic Jewish quarter from the middle ages – a site that was the scene of great tragedy, for in the 14th century, almost all of the Jewish inhabitants were murdered as they were blamed for the outbreak of the Black Death. There was not another Jewish congregation in the city until 1801, when circumstances improved under Prussian rule.

Below is an artist’s rendering showing where the museum will be located relative to the buildings around it, and the MiQua will consist of a section above ground, as well as a long underground passage.

For context, see below for a picture of the back of the City Hall, and you can compare it to the rendering to get a sense of where the Museum will actually be located.

And, for one final picture, (from the Museum’s web-site), here is a roof-top view of the excavations that are on-going and that will be part of the new museum when it opens in 2021. The ruins you can see are the foundations of the residence of the city’s Roman governor (1st-4th century) and just a short block away a section of the original Roman sewer has also been found (the second picture below). That section of sewer is one of ten that has been uncovered and they’ve been found to be part of a 59 mile network – the third largest water channel in the Roman empire.

In talking with other passengers at the end of the day, our tour group seemed to be one of the only ones that paused inside the new portion of City Hall on our way to the Cologne Cathedral. Inside, there was an impressive scale model of the city of Cologne and a beautiful mosaic on the lobby wall.

Exiting City Hall, we were now within a very short walk of the ultimate destination for our walking tour, the spectacular Cologne Cathedral, and as it came into full view, it literally was breath-taking.

It is so big that I simply could not find a spot to stand where I could get the entire front of the church in a single frame. The best I could do was the rather shaky-handed, wind-assisted, slightly-warped (I think that’s enough colourful adjectives) panoramic picture below, taken with my iPhone camera.

While I intend to write a dedicated blog about Cologne Cathedral, let me just note that it is the third largest church in the world, and it’s frontage (that I couldn’t capture clearly in one frame), has the largest facade of any church in the world. As I said, more on this magnificent building in a separate blog.

There was one amusing moment to recount as we gathered in front of the cathedral. Our guide asked if there were any sinners in the group. We of course all chuckled, and some of us put up our hands up in almost a mock surrender. She then pulled Dick Shields out of the pack and had him join her at the front of our group.

She said to him, “I want you to imagine that I am a bishop in medieval times and your are one of my flock. Give me some money”.

We all laughed again, and Dick finally reached in his pocket and gave her some coins. She took them and said “Thank you. You are absolved from yours sins”.

As we all chuckled, she went on to explain that this is how the massive golden altar – The Shrine of The Three Kings was paid for. Sinners were asked for money, and in return they received absolution, and were allowed to walk away guilt-free….and the Bishop got his money for the church.

Yes, Dick eventually got his money back from the guide!

Before releasing us to go off on our own, we were walked over to the right-hand side of the square that is immediately in front of the cathedral. That placed us at the entrance to the “Römisch-Germanisches Museum” which is an apparently spectacular archaeological museum, and home to a large collection of Roman artifacts. The collection is from the Roman settlement of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium on which modern Cologne is built.

The Museum, which opened in 1974, sits on the site of a 3rd-century villa. that was discovered in 1941 during the construction of an air-raid shelter. On the floor of the main room of the villa is the renowned Dionysus mosaic. Since the mosaic could not be moved easily, the architects designed the museum around the mosaic. The inner courtyards of the museum mimic the layout of the ancient villa. The picture of the Mosaic (below) is from the Museum’s website, for try as I might, I simply could not get a clear photo through the window without shadows, or daylight glare.

As we walked around the building, there were window displays of Roman ruins such as the one below.

We parted ways with our guide in the plaza in front of the Cathedral and I have to say that we thought she was one of the best of all the tour guides we had during the cruise.

The plaza area around the Cathedral was swarming with people; tour groups, school tours, couples and families on vacation, as well as locals using it as shortcut to get from one part of the city to another. And there were artists everywhere, like the one pictured below with her chalk art renderings featuring flags from all over the world…no Canadian flag though.

Before going off on our own, we spent half an hour inside the Cathedral which I will cover in a separate blog as previously noted, and then we began to walk.

According to my little guide book, we were on the Hohe Straße, an important commercial street dating back to Roman times, and in modern times, a designated pedestrian zone extending about 1/2 a mile from the cathedral zone. It has been extended by the Schildergasse, one of the most famous shopping streets in Germany, and when we saw the brand names on the store fronts, it was easy to see why.

This entire area was booming. The streets were full of people, and the stores were busy too. We were blown away by the fact that it seemed like every famous label was represented. We had no idea that Cologne was like this.

I suppose this might be the appropriate place to mention that as we were walking along, I suddenly had one of those “slap in the forehead” moments, you know where something blindingly obvious all of sudden hits you. In this case it was the fact that we were in Cologne, and that the perfume Eau de Cologne was developed here. Yup, I finally made the connection. I didn’t say anthing to Mary but as she checked out a shop of interest to her, a little googling ensued, and here’s what I learned.

Eau de Cologne or simply cologne was originally mixed in Cologne in 1709 by an Italian perfume-maker by the name of Johann Maria Farina. While the term cologne has become somewhat generic over the past 300 years, particularly in North America where it most often refers to perfumes marketed towards men, the original product was a spirit-citrus formulation. Farina’s inspiration for Eau de Cologne, was the creation of a scent that reminded him of an Italian spring morning, and of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain.

The original and most famous Eau de Cologne, 4711, was named after the location where it was developed – Glockengasse No. 4711. It is one of the oldest fragrances in the world, and it continues to be marketed to this day.

Of course, one of our favorite moments was the discovery of a Lego store as we are well known among friends and family for our passion for building Lego sets. There is a Lego creation in almost every room in our house!

We didn’t find anything unique that we haven’t seen before, but it was still fun to check out the store and see all the displays.

The rumble of tummies and the allure of smells emanating from the countless restaurants along the way reminded us it was time for lunch, and we settled on the Merzenich Bakery and Cafe. I probably shouldn’t have used the word settle, as eating here was in no way any kind of compromise. The sandwiches and the deserts were wonderful, and given the line-ups and the challenge of finding a table, we weren’t alone in our choice of venues…..funny how all the pictures of me eating seem to involve a desert. Hmmm.

One of the “eye-catching” items my little guide-book told us to look out for was the Neumarkt Gallerie with its pop-art ice-cream cone on top. Sure enough, as we rounded a corner, there it was in front of us.

As we neared the end of our exploring, I was astonished to come upon a Leuchtturm (Lighthouse in English) retail store. While it probably didn’t mean anything to anyone else on board, to me it was an instantly recognizable brand, as they are one of the leading dealers of stamp albums and stamp accessories in the world……and my collection at home is full of items I have purchased from them over the years. Still do in fact.

Shortly after two we were back at the Hohenzollern Bridge and that gave me an opportunity for a few last pictures of the Cathedral, and for sure, the train station, because as I’ve said throughout these blogs, I just love all things transportation-related!

By 2:30, we were back on-board, and having gotten somewhat chilled on this cold and windy day, we decided that a different kind of “chilling” was in order, so Mary broke out a cross-stitch project while I grabbed a David Baldacci book I had brought with me, and we relaxed in our cabin for the rest of the afternoon.

At 6:00 PM we headed down to the lounge for Program Director Leonard’s nightly Port Talk, and on this evening he spoke about us leaving Germany behind and finally entering the Netherlands. He also gave us the first of several briefings on the details of our disembarkation in Amsterdam in just a little more than 24 hours time, which (sadly) drove home the reality that our cruise was nearing its end.

Having listened to Leonard, we made our way to the dining room for another wonderful meal with our travelling companions, the Kays and the Michnowski’s and then it was back to our room and (for me) the book and (for Mary) the cross-stitch piece that we had started on that afternoon.

At dusk, I ventured out onto to our deck and took the video you can click on below. Cologne at night was really quite lovely, and we had really enjoyed our visit to this historic city.

Next up – the windmills of Kinderdijk, but first a detailed look at Cologne Cathedral.


One Comment Add yours

  1. frejatravels says:

    Nice write up of Cologne. I never been but it do look like a fairly interesting place to go and visit one day.


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