Cologne Day 1

On our last morning in Hamburg, we were up and ready to go in plenty of time to catch our train to our next city stop, Cologne. However it was to be a nervous wait for the taxi ordered by our hotel; we were told it would be here in 10 minutes but by the time it arrived we had spent a long time stomping around the footpath in front of the hotel. We could only presume that the taxi company had lost workers due to Covid outbreaks. However, we made it to the station in time to get a quick coffee and croissant, find the platform without confusion and experience an untroubled train trip across Lower Saxony and into the famous Rhineland. Cologne was a city that I had been looking forward to visiting for many years. Our destination was Hotel Mondial am Dom Cologne and it was to be our pleasant home for the next two days. It was in easy walking distance from the Cologne railway station, the only thing in our way was the pride of Cologne, the hugely magnificent, world-famous cathedral. So we were forced to drag our bags around the cobblestones of the Dom, struggling to avoid other visitors to the city who like us, kept their eyes on the continuous surprises that this ancient building provided.

Cologne may be the largest city in the province with 1.1 million citizens but Dusseldorf is the state capital of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). After World War 2, Bonn, which is south east of Cologne became the provisional capital of West Germany before this status was returned to Berlin at unification in 1999.

Cologne was first settled by a Germanic tribe, the Ubii, around 38 BCE but in another 80 years, the Romans decided to set up their own provincial capital in Germany in 85 CE. The Roman heritage of Cologne is one of the important features of the history of Cologne which we particularly discovered on our second day’s tour of the city with a guide.

After checking into our hotel, we lost little time in setting out to explore the old center of Cologne. The map to the left shows the three stages of our walk. The red dashes line shows our walk to our hotel on arrival at the Hauptbahnhoff. The blue solid line shows our route after we had settled into our hotel. The purple solid line shows our route in the late afternoon of our first day when we realised there was still plenty of light and time to go and have a closer look at the Cologne Cathedral.

There was no way we could avoid Cologne’s principle tourist attraction on arrival by train in the city. We walked out of the station and there it was, overshadowing our walk to our hotel. It has many superlatives involved in describing it. It is Germany’s most visited landmark with an estimated 20,000 visitors a day. It is the third tallest church of any kind in the world. Of course it is a World heritage site, declared so in 1996. Its construction began in 1248 but was halted for 3 centuries from around 1560. Funding was provided for its completion after the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century but it still needs continuous cleaning and restoration in the 21st century. We would return to the ‘Dom’ later in afternoon.

When we got to the other side of the Cathedral, we found ourselves in the back streets of Cologne City on the way to Hotel Mondial. We passed a very large café that was set behind a long fountain and sculpture dedicated to a local folktale that told the story of Cologne’s house gnomes (Heinzelmännchen). The poem written by Ernst Weyden (1805-69) that tells the tale is on the right above. It was beautiful fountain with sculptured portraits of the gnomes in the front panels.

After we had settled into our rooms, we gathered in the hotel foyer, found ourselves a city map and garnered advice from the very helpful Concierge. Rather than heading back towards the Dom, we continued on down past our hotel, towards the Rhine River. Its not every day you get the chance to stroll along this most famous of European Rivers. We reached the banks of the Rhine in between two bridges; the Hohenzollern Bridge and the Deutzer Bridge.

We found ourselves in front of a square that was bordered by the most beautiful tall houses, each with five levels. The square as usual had its compulsory fountain (‘brunnen’)…it was called the Fischweiber Brunnen (Fishwives Fountain). The fountain was installed in 1986 to refer back to the old times when this was a fish market area.

Behind the colourful homes lining the square, we could see a huge church that appeared to be hemmed in by the houses around it. This was the Great St Martin Church and we decided to head straight up the alleyway past this church to the market places further up, and come back down this way later and have a closer look. One of the features of these back alleys of German towns and cities was the gorgeous decorations that hung above the doors of the shops (see below).

In the area above Great St Martin Church there are two significant market-places that are the centre of the old city and where crowds gather to celebrate football victories or to protest about the treatment of LGBTQ folk (both events occurred while we in Cologne) while at the same time drinking beer and coffee outside the cafes and pubs that line the square. Referring back to the earlier map, the square on the left is called the Heumarkt and the one to the right is the Alter Markt. The Heumarkt (Hay Market) is a much larger, more open square and has been part of the cityscape for centuries. Towards the centre of the square there is a huge equestrian statue of Frederick William III, King of Prussia. He was in power during the catastrophic Napoleonic wars and was one of the European leaders who decided France’s fate at the Congress of Vienna. He was born in 1770 and died in 1840 and this statue was dedicated to him 30years later. His statue in the Heumarkt is surrounded by statues of significant German men of the period.

From the Heumarkt we walked back to the Altar Markt which was a much narrower piazza with the chairs and tables of cafes and pubs surrounding the space, almost meeting in the middle. The central sculpture of the market is a fountain and statue of Jan von Werth, a German cavalry officer in the Thirty Years War (1618-48). His life story provoked popular tales, particularly the one where he joined the army, devastated by the rejection of Griet who was looking for a wealthier wooer. On his return, leading his triumphant troops into Cologne, he saw his former love selling fruit in the markt. She is recorded as saying, “Jan, who would have thought it?” to which he replied “Griet, who would have had done it!” and he turns away.

Next to the Alter Markt stands the City Hall, the Rathaus. It is Germany’s oldest city hall, surviving in one form or another for the last 900 years. It sits on the site of the city’s Roman Praetorium which lasted until 475. It is a building of many parts that has been added to over the centuries. The image on the left below is the top of the Rathaus tower built in the early 15th century. In the right image below is the Loggia, a five bay long, two bay deep arcade attached to the front of the Rathaus. We would have a closer look at the Rathaus on the next morning.

After finishing a slow wander through the Alter Markt, we turned right again into the back alleys so we could have a good look at the Great St Martin Church.

Great St Martin Church is like a number of other churches in Cologne whose site ancestry once included a Roman Chapel. This church was first built in the 10th century CE and became a Benedictine Monastery for many centuries. The last 800 years have seen lots of changes to both Cologne and this church resulting from fire, famine and plague. The Church’s monastery status was finished in the 19th century and the monastic buildings around it demolished. The image on the left below is an early 19th century drawing of the church after the loss of its monastery.

The photo on the right above was taken in 1946, illustrating the damage that Great St Martins suffered along with the rest of Cologne from allied bombing during the war. In this B&W image on the left-hand side can be seen the Jan von Werth Fountain in the Alter Markt. It illustrates that the fountain’s only background detail is of Great St Martins, indicating that the rest of the buildings in the area have been completely destroyed during the war. While there was much debate after the war as to whether this church should be rebuilt, restorations were completed by 1984.

From Great St Martins we walked along the footpath towards the Hohenzollen Bridge across the Rhine. It was constructed between 1907-11 and was named after the family name of Prussian rulers. It was a very important German bridge during WWII and survived regular bombing attacks. The photo below is of this section of the Rhine at the end of the war; the bridge was destroyed by retreating German soldiers (as was the Deutzer Bridge). Looking closely at this photo, the remnants of Great St Martin Church can also be seen. The famous Cologne Cathedral has escaped bombing damage reasonably well compared with the rest of Cologne.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

On the pathway up past the entry to Hohenzollen Bridge, we noted one of four equestrian statues of Prussian Rulers associated with this bridge. We were lucky to encounter perhaps the most famous of German royalty, Wilhem II (Kaiser Bill as he was called in Australian History Classes!) He reigned from 1888 to 1918 when he abdicated at the end of WWI. Many historians believe he was a significant underlying cause in the outbreak of WWI. We were able to ignore his splendour and head up the other side of Cologne’s Cathedral.

The official completion date of Cologne Cathedral was the 14th August, 1880, 632 years after the cathedral was begun. Work began again on the cathedral in 1842 when amazingly the original plan for the façade was discovered. The Cathedral has its own fund raising organisation (Central Dombauverein) which continues today as regular conservation has to take place to combat the black discoloration caused by air pollution; sulphuric acid reacting with rainfall.

One of the questions we asked our guide on the next morning’s tour of the city was how the cathedral survived the allied bombings of WWII. Being a recognisable landmark for bombers, it received 14 hits but remained standing, despite the rest of the city being largely flattened.

When the American army arrived outside Cologne, there was serious tank fighting not far from the cathedral. A ruined Panther tank was put on display on the platform of the cathedral after the war for some time.

It was fairly late in the afternoon when we arrived at the front door of the cathedral to have a look around inside. It was as beautiful and impressive as we thought it would be. Apart from all the complex architecture inside their cathedral to inspect, there was also choir practice going on in the centre of the church so there was a lot going on to capture our attention.

One of the curious aspects of medieval Christianity was its compulsion to acquire relics of the historical story of Jesus’s life and death as well as remnants of the early Christian saints who were key components in the birth of the church. One of the puzzles about acquiring these relics is that principles of Christianity could be overlooked in the process of a bishop acquiring such relics. This is illustrated by the story of Cologne’s Archbishop who had acquired the impressive sounding relics of the Three Magi who were part of the celebration of the first Christmas Day. Sadly these relics had been plundered by the Holy Roman Emperor from a Basilica in Milan. Thus these relics became the reason for the original construction of the cathedral. These relics since the 13th century have attracted paying and praying visitors to the cathedral and no doubt the current Archbishop hopes and prays that his Cathedral relics don’t get stolen by an envious cleric from another diocese. The shrine that holds these relics was begun in 1190. We are told that the shrine was opened in 1864 and was found to contain bones and garments…whose bones and whose garments will never be known. From my reading of the New Testament, the wise men from the east escaped with their bones and clothes intact before King Herod got on their trail.

APPENDIX 1: The Panther Tank outside the cathedral

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