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Cologne, Germany’s 4th largest city, is located on the mighty Rhine River, historically one of the great rivers of the continent and among the most important arteries of industrial transport in the world. As one example, while we were here, we saw 5 or 6 river cruise boats anchored in Cologne. The city was founded and established in the 1st century AD as a Roman settlement. When Cologne began building its underground transportation system they discovered extensive Roman ruins. In the year 310 AD under the emperor Constantine I a bridge was built over the Rhine at Cologne.
When you approach the city from almost any direction, you can’t help but notice the twin spires of the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) which rise 515 feet above the city center. Construction, which began on the cathedral in 1248, continued until 1560 when it came to a halt. The partially built church lingered for the next 300 years and even suffered a stint as a horse stable and prison while Cologne was occupied by Napoleon. In 1842 construction resumed and the cathedral was completed in 1880. The star among the treasures housed within the cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Kings, a richly bejeweled and gilded sarcophagus said to hold the remains of the kings who followed the star to the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Legend has it that the remains were taken from Milan in 1164 as spoils of war by Emperor Barbarossa.
The city of Cologne was one of the most heavily bombed during World War II, mostly at the hands of the British Royal Air Force. Cologne endured 262 air raids in the course of the war which caused approximately 20,000 civilian casualties and almost completely wiped out the central part of the city. There are a number of photographs on the side of the cathedral showing its condition as well as that of the surrounding area once the bombing had been concluded.
Cologne has revitalized its former harbor area that runs 2 kilometers along the bank of the Rhine River just south of the old city area. Many of the 19th century brick buildings have been given second lives as office, living and entertainment spaces. The most dramatic feature comes from a trio of Kranhäuser (Crane houses), huge inverted L-shaped structures that are an abstract interpretation of historic harbor cranes.
Cologne is home to a type of beer known as Kölsch which is a light, crisp hybrid between lager and ale. It is unusual because although it is warm fermented with ale yeast, it is then conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager. Ok, I don’t know exactly what that means but bottom line, it has a lovely golden color and a refreshing, slightly sweet taste. In 1986, the brewers of Cologne agreed upon the Kölsch Konvention, which set out the brewing process that had to be used, and restricted the use of kölsch to breweries that were within 50 km/30 mi of Cologne. Currently, thirteen breweries in and around Cologne meet this convention. When you go into a Cologne beer hall serving Kölsch, you will receive a small cylindrical shaped, 0.2 liter glass of beer. When you empty that one you will receive a replacement until you place your coaster on top of the glass indicating that you don’t wish to have more.
The Cologne Carnival, which has parallels to Brazil’s Carnival, takes place every year. It kicks off in November, then is suspended until after the new year. The time of merrymaking in the streets really gets underway on the Thursday before Lent. A week long street festival takes place between Fat Thursday and Ash Wednesday. During this time there are daily parades and most people are in costume.
Next stop: Brussels, Belgium