NOTE: These travel pictures are from travels prior to us becoming nomadic in 2018. Like most of the world, we are staying put right now until the threat from COVID19 is either over or preventable via a vaccine.
Köln (Cologne) was the first German city that Ted and I visited, back in 2013. Although my heritage is ethnic German, my father was born in Poland and my mother in Hungary; neither lived in Germany for more than a few years just after WWII, and neither ever expressed any interest in going back to visit. There are still cousins, on my Dad’s side, living in northern Germany, and who we’ve since visited, but in 2013 we were just Canadian tourists celebrating our 35th anniversary year with a spectacular river cruise.
We chose the Viking cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest for its ports of call along the Rhine, Danube, and Main rivers, but a part of me also wanted to see the cities that my mother had seen on her exodus from Budapest to Bremerhaven. I was curious, having heard snippets of stories about her trek, and ended up surprised by the strong emotions the trip evinced, alongside the simple tourist’s awe at the centuries of history that we could see and touch.
The Köln pegel (level recorder). As we sailed the Rhine, each city had an identifying water level marker.
St. Martin’s Church, as seen from the bank of the Rhine. Built between 1150 and 1250 AD, it rests on the 960 AD site of a Roman chapel. With old and new in such close proximity here, it is really easy to see just how huge these churches were compared to the size of homes; they really were built to create a sense of awe.
Our first glimpse of the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) on the right as we approached our docking site. Laws state that the cathedral must be the tallest building in the city.
The exterior of the stunning gothic Cologne Cathedral (officially the Cathedral of St. Peter). Construction spanned over 600 years, from 1248 to 1880, culminating in the third tallest church in the world, with spires 157 metres (515 feet) tall. It sits on a site that was home to Christian places of worship back to the 4th century, including a Roman chapel which has been excavated and can be seen through a glass viewing floor. The cathedral is so large, and its location so central to the city, that it is almost impossible to get the entire building in one shot.
The cathedral was not always black. The discolouration is due to air pollution and acid rain, and there were cleaning efforts underway when we visited – although with a building this big and this ornately carved, those efforts are endless.
The cathedral’s main (west) entrance is breathtaking, with its gold leaf and larger-than-life-sized statues.
A portion of the cathedral’s mosaic floor. This is where I started crying, much to Ted’s chagrin (this was supposed to be a happy trip!). As our guide encouraged us to recognize that we were walking on centuries old floors, and to imagine whose footsteps had preceded ours, visions of my 19 year old mother walking through the cathedral alone completely overwhelmed me.
Take in the height of the nave! The intent of the design of Gothic churches was literally to make people see how small they were in comparison to the glory of God. We certainly felt tiny in that space.
Just a small sample of the medieval stained glass windows, which survived allied air raids in WWII only because they had been removed for safekeeping (so much for the Nazis’ conviction that they were invincible). My mother remembers being in the cathedral sometime in the years between 1945 and 1947, when the windows were still boarded up. Although Mom was not Catholic, she appreciated beautiful artistry; it was one of her regrets that she had never seen the cathedral in its full glory.
The cathedral has been a centuries-long destination for pilgrims wanting to see this huge gold reliquary, which holds the remains of the 3 wise men. Note the people visible through the ironwork for some perspective on the shrine’s size.
The monument to Friedrich Wilhelm III, King of Prussia during and immediately after the Napoleonic wars. Although the statue commemorates a king who retook the city for Prussia, many years of his rule were sad ones for Cologne and the King; from 1794 until 1814, Cologne was occupied by the French. Apparently at one point Napoleon’s armies dared to use the cathedral as stables for their horses.
The tasty contents of one of Cologne’s open air bakeries on the main square (a garage door style window rolls down over it when it is closed and the shelves empty). The bakeries open early in the morning to allow office workers to pick up fresh buns on their way to work, and close mid afternoon. The smell of freshly baked breads and rolls as we walked past was glorious.
While in the main square, we stopped into one of the many small bars for a couple of glasses of Kölsch, Cologne’s signature beer. The beer is served in elegant slender 6.8oz glasses, two at a time, and additional pairs of full glasses keeps appearing unless you know the signal to make it stop: a napkin placed across the top of your glass. 2013 was pre-selfie, so there are no pictures of us enjoying the brew…. but we did!