The rest of my birthday present from the Viper Pilot was a weekend trip to Cologne or Köln. Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany (behind Berlin, Hamburg and Munich) with a population of about a million people. The drive from our house was just under two hours so as soon as the Viper Pilot came home from work on Friday, we hit the road and got there just in time to relax in the hotel and crack open a bottle of wine from the Mosel valley (aka home).
Elle made herself right at home in the big comfy pillows on the bed.
Now if you’re anything like me, you have maybe heard of Cologne, Germany but you can’t recall why. I felt the same way about Columbus, MS but we won’t get into that today. I didn’t even realize Cologne was such a large city until we got there. I flipped through my Rick Steve’s travel guide (I don’t go anywhere without good ol’ Ricky) and discovered that there is actually a ton of things to do in Cologne and I began to panic wondering how in the world we were going to see/do it all in two days. But of course we managed. 🙂
At the very top of my site-seeing list was the famous Roman Catholic Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Cologne. The Gothic Dom is Germany’s most exciting church, looming over the bustling main train station — a juxtaposition of the modern and the medieval times.
The impressive Gothic building was initiated in the 13th century, stalled in the Middle Ages, and not completed until 1880. Even though the majority of it was built in the 19th century, it is still technically a Gothic church (as opposed to “Neo-Gothic”) because it was finished according to its original plans. If you were wondering (I am curious about this everywhere we go in Europe), the cathedral suffered 70 hits by aerial bombs during World War II, but it did not collapse, though the rest of the city more or less did. According to this source, the twin spires were used as an easily recognizable navigation landmark by Allied aircraft raiding deeper into Germany in the later years of the war, which may be the reason why it was never completely destroyed. Thank God.
The Prussians (the movers and shakers behind German unity in the 1800s) mistakenly considered Gothic as a German style, though it actually originated in France. They paid for the speedy completion of the Gothic German church after it sat unfinished for 300 years. Architecture in general intrigues me, and even more so after living in Europe. I wish I had a better understanding of it.
After standing in awe admiring the outside, we stepped inside the church. It was actually during mass, and we heard the organ playing as we walked in. And though I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying, the music was followed by what definitely sounded like a super long homily… 😉 We stood in the back with the other tourists and listened for a while. There were two smaller chapels off to the side in the back and we lit a candle and said a prayer for lost loved ones. I was hesitant to take any pictures because it seemed disrespectful, however just about everyone else was and I couldn’t see any signs prohibiting photography. Since my camera doesn’t need a flash or make any sound, I figured one or two couldn’t hurt.
Standing inside the church made me feel so small. It was an overwhelming whirlwind of emotions as I stood there soaking it all in. The 140-foot-tall ceiling reminds me of our place in the vast scheme of things. Lots of stained glass — I read there is enough to cover three football fields — fills the church with light, representing God.
After exiting the sanctuary, we saw an arch and foundation from the cathedral’s predecessor (remains of a pre-1248 structure). We then climbed 533 steps up the cathedral’s dizzying tower (with the second tallest spire of any church in the world) to enjoy a fine city view from 475 feet above the ground. A stop in the Glockenstube after 400 steps gave us a chance to catch our breath, regain feeling in our legs, and see the Dom’s nine huge bells. Including Dicke Peter (24-ton Fat Peter), claimed to be the largest free-swinging church bell in the world.
Heights don’t bother me, but I’m not a huge fan tight spaces or completely wide open spaces (like a spiral staircase up a spire where you can see the ground hundreds of feet below you on all sides), and I remember not particularly caring for the climb up to the top of St. Paul’s cathedral in London. I think that’s claustrophobia and the opposite of claustrophobia…it’s a weird fear I have, I know. This climb wasn’t much different, but I do remember it being worth the fretting and stressing because the view is fantastic. Plus, Saturday was supposed to be a leg workout day, anyway. I’m a trooper. 😉
As I suspected, the view was worth every wheeze and bead of sweat.
Because wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away at the stones, there is almost always scaffolding on the cathedral for maintenance and repair work. Can you imagine standing out there?? There is not enough money in the world.
Following the 30 minute descent, we toured the Dom’s Treasury which consisted of six dim, hushed rooms in the cathedral’s 13th century stone cellar vaults. Photography was not allowed in this area but imagine: spotlights shone on gilded chalices and crosses, medieval gold crusted capsules containing bits of chain, bone, crosses, and cloth, plenty of the fancy bishop garb all intricately embroidered with gold and laden with pearls, rings with fat gemstones, and tall gold crosiers. Everything in the Treasury had English descriptions so we were able to learn about the history of it all. The Viper Pilot pointed out that a display of gold chalices I was drooling over were from long before our country even existed. This seemed utterly mind-boggling, that is, until we saw of the relics from the tombs of a young boy and woman dating back to the 4th century. And there I was, standing before it 1712 years later. How very humbling.
The weather was dreary, so a stop at Starbucks warmed us up. It was my first sip of Starbucks since we moved to Europe (we don’t have any in our neck of the woods) and it was delicious.
After resting for a bit, we wandered along the Rhine river to the Imhoff Schokoladenmuseum (Chocolate Museum) or should I say the Mmmuseum. Being the chocoholic that I am, I loved this place. We followed the cocoa bean from its origin to the finished product taking in the history, culture, and business of chocolate starting with the Aztecs to present day. We got to sample the chocolate straight from the functioning chocolate factory. I wish this picture was scratch and sniff. There aren’t words to describe it.
It was the best thing. Ever.
A final stop in the choco-full gift shop found us 60 € poorer (I have a husband who may not always understand me, but he really loves me). It was all fresh from the factory, how could I not indulge!?
At every hour, the whole city echos with the chimes of church bells from all the churches in the area. The sound of the dueling church bells was incredible so I took a video for you to see and hear — volume up!
After dark, we decided to take Elmer on a stroll across the bridge over the Rhine and back to see the Dom lit up at night.
The next morning the weather was simply too nice to spend it inside. We were a little museum’d out from the previous day, so we walked at least 2-3 miles along the Rhine enjoying the sites and sounds of Cologne.
We did a quick driving tour of the city, something we enjoy doing everywhere we go, before heading back for home. We were exhausted from our weekend and spent the evening relaxing.
I just love the smell of your Cologne. 😉