Episode 354 – Köln, Kölsch, and a Cathedral

Köln was one of our (many) favourite places on this tour back in 2013, so we were totally okay with repeating the included tour that would take us into the city’s absolutely magnificent Gothic Dom (Cathedral).

Unlike on our last Viking cruise here, we did not dock right in the city, but in Zons, and then the ship met us in the city around noon. Ted and I weren’t sure exactly why the change, since it would mean a 45 minute coach ride into Köln, but one of the crew explained that since the ship moves much more slowly than a coach (at only about 10 kph/6mph), this option would give us more time in the city. I’m all for that, despite not loving bus rides – sailing the river is much more picturesque.

Our ship docked in Köln. This beautiful shot credit of our friend Al, who took it from the viewing platform more than 500 steps up the tower of the Kölner Dom. The Hohenzollern Bridge in the photo is a railway bridge that was built for the German emperor who wanted to be able to take the train directly to the cathedral. Just over 1200 (!) passenger trains PER DAY traverse this bridge.

The Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) and our longship the Viking Magni, viewed from the opposite side of the Rhine. Photo credit A. Yoshimura.

Our walking tour ran from 9:45 until noon, taking into account the coach time, but we planned to stay in the city all day and only return for 7:00 p.m. dinner and an evening on-board concert by members of the WDR Symphony Orchestra.

The walking tour was much different from what we’d had before, with less emphasis on the cathedral and more on the surrounding city. Unfortunately, right now Köln is in the process of building, repairing and preparing “everything, everywhere, all at once”, so many sites were either closed or partially obscured by construction hoarding.

The Cologne arsenal building dates to the 15th century, but the bilingual street sign dates to Napoleon’s invasion of the city, when he introduced street signage and the numbering of addresses.

Köln is the second oldest city in Germany, founded by the Romans in 38 AD as the Roman Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, named after Agrippina, wife of the Emperor Claudius and mother of future Emperor Nero. The stone wolf dates to Roman times, as does a portion of the wall incorporated into the arsenal.

Remains of the Roman sewer system.

World War 2 history is everywhere in the city. Top: this chocolate shop was the only building left standing on its street after Allied air raids. Bottom: “Stolpersteine” (stumbling blocks) now used in many European countries, were the initiative of a Cologne artist. Each stone is placed at the former residence of a victim of the Nazis. This grouping was located near the city’s small historic Jewish district.

Köln’s city hall is one of the strangest (architecturally) we’ve seen, incorporating a 14th century tower and 19th and 20th century buildings; it looks like a mismatched set. The tower has a carillon that plays hourly, with a face that sticks out its tongue once for each hour’s chime (12 times at noon!).

Although our guide did not take us into the Dom, we did circle the exterior.

The Dom is still the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, although no longer the largest or tallest cathedral of any age. It certainly dominates the cityscape. Looking up (as we did for the last picture), you need to lean WAY back to see the top of the spires, which are 157 meters /515 feet tall – that’s the equivalent of a 50 story skyscraper!!

Top left: a full-size replica of the spire finial. Top right: one of the entry doors, surrounded by larger-than-life sized statues of the apostles, each holding an item identifying their trade prior to following Christ.

The Dom at night lives up to its Gothic name.

We stopped for lunch at a Brauhaus (brewpub) in the city, where we enjoyed beef and barley soup, crusty rye buns, and cold glasses of Kölsch, the beer brewed specifically in Köln. Kölsch is served in 0.2 litre glasses, which are continuously replaced with full ones unless you place your coaster over your empty glass. That’s a tip we learned back in 2013 that stood us in good stead today.

Having had lunch, we returned to the Dom on our own to explore further. We’d had a wonderful tour in 2013, but with a building this massive and ornate there is always more to discover.

The nave soars to 43.6m/143 ft tall, with all the light streaming in from above through stained glass windows. The light and colour encourage those in the cathedral to look heavenward.

Before walking into the nave, people are encouraged to pause for a moment to reflect upon whose feet have trod these mosaic-clad floors during the past 800 years. I always think of my mother being here as a 20 year old refugee in 1948.

The Dom’s most valuable relics, bones of the 3 Magi, are contained in this huge gold reliquary which holds the most important place in the cathedral.

The inscription reads that in love and piety this monument was placed containing the remains of Reinhard of the Barons of Westerburg and Counts of Leinigen who died in the year 1848, aged 48. The tomb looks as if he was buried in a Disney castle, painted as it was in full bright colours now faded to pastel blue and pink.

The tomb of St Engelbert, Archbishop of Cologne, Germany, slain by hired assassins and venerated as a martyr, buried in Cologne Cathedral on 24 February 1226. The effigy looked more relaxed than we’ve seen anywhere – he looks as if he’s receiving a manicure from a cherub.

We took the opportunity to do something we had not done in 2013: tour the Cathedral Schatzkammer (Treasury). We were absolutely dumbfounded by the opulence of the bishop’s vestments embroidered with solid gold thread, the jewel-encrusted chalices, and the bishops’ crosiers (crooks signifying their role as shepherds of their religious flock).

Note the precious metal threads and the incredibly detailed embroidery.

Gold and jewels abound. In theory, all this beauty and these riches are supposed to foreshadow what saved souls will attain in heaven. In reality, the church hoarded wealth while their congregations starved.

There was an entire room containing just reliquaries, with some truly disturbing items: rib bones, phalanges, hair … and what exactly is in a “bust” reliquary? (Hint: it’s exactly what you imagine. Yech.)

Left: rib bones of a saint. Right: The relics of St. Gregory of Spoleto,, who was martyred in the 4th century, were brought to Cologne by Archbishop Bruno (965 AD). The remains were buried in the shrine ef the Magi. About 1500 this bust reliquary was made for the head. The donor was Dr Menchen, whose coat of arms is engraved on the front.

Tiny slivers of what was purported to be Jesus’ cross, collected on the crusade’s in the 11th century, encased in gold and embellished with enamel and pearls.

There were also portions of the cathedral that had been damaged or detached during bombing on display; they’ve been replaced by modern reproductions on the Dom’s exterior.

After a short coffee break back on our ship, we wandered over to St. Martin’s Church, a Romanesque structure, and were rewarded with a surprise: the chance to tour the archeological remains of a 50 AD Roman swimming pool located under the foundation of the church. There are Romain ruins and structures all over under the surface of Cologne; sadly, the Roman-German Museum is currently being renovated, so is temporarily closed, and we were not able to tour the artifacts displayed there.

The fairly simple interior of St. Martin’s. Nonetheless it had several unique sculptures, including a depiction of Christ on his shroud, being carried by Saint Peter and Saint Christopher.

There was a really interesting visual chronology of the structures that existed on this site. (1) turquoise – first century AD, the Roman bath, (2) orange – second century AD, a larger Roman spa complex, (3) dark blue – 12th century, 2 towers and a Benedictine convent erected, and light blue – middle 12th century, fire destroys convent and building of 4) yellow – 13th century completion of church, (5) red – 19th century, showing smaller church after another destructive fire in 1378, and subsequent damages in the 16th and 17th centuries, and grey – 20th century, showing the now smaller church, modern neighbourhood, and current road network, (6) the entire story!

After dinner we headed to the lounge for drinks and the evening’s entertainment. WDR Orchestra is a German radio orchestra based in Cologne, where the orchestra mainly performs at two concert halls: the WDR Funkhaus Wallrafplatz and the Kölner Philharmonie. What fun to have their pianist and absolutely amazing clarinetist in the Viking Magni’s intimate lounge playing classical music and Gershwin.

It was another great day, revisiting Köln and learning new things.


  1. For anyone following and still awaiting their visit to Köln, while the Roman museum near the Cathedral is closed, a selection of treasures has been installed about a half hour walk away (don’t believe Google) There is incredible Roman glass on display on the upper floor — see it first!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was explained to us that the porous sandstone is hard to clean – cannot be powerwashed or sandblasted, and laser cleaning is prohibitively expensive. It sure looks creepy Gothic when it’s so dark!


  2. We are trading off Viking trips! We did the Grand European river cruise in September and loved it! And we are doing your World Cruise in January 2024. Enjoy the river cruise and love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s