Touring Cologne

On July 17 we docked in Cologne, around 10 AM.  Before I begin on our day in Cologne, I'd like to describe this as a fairly typical day on the cruise.  Early risers could get breakfast in the lounge as early as 6 AM; you could get a continental breakfast in the foredeck area (the Aquavit Terrace) from 7:30; also at 7:30, they offered a very full breakfast in the main dining room.  The Aquavit Terrace had a glass roof but was largely open to the weather; the dining room, of course, was indoors.  Breakfast was anything from fresh rolls and fruit to dry cereal to omelets made to order by one of the chefs, with coffee, tea, and at least 3 kinds of fruit juice.

The truly energetic could gather in the lounge at 7:00 AM for a daily Qi Gong exercise session, breathing and stretching.  I did this for the first week or so, it was a nice start to the day, but if there was an early tour I had to skip it.  It consistently had 5-8 people.

At 9:30 they had a very elementary (Was kostet ein Bier?) German lesson in the lounge.  They had some kind of presentation most mornings, usually quite well attended, as there was very little else to do on board while sailing except read, stare out the windows, take an occasional photo, and gossip.  In the early part of the cruise it rained a lot, which made the sun deck less attractive.  It was raining when we got to Cologne but it cleared up later in the day, and that was also typical.

About half an hour after docking we all swapped our room keys for paper chits (this is how they made sure they had everyone back before sailing), and left the boat to go onshore and gather into 4 groups, each with a local guide who would take us around and tell us about the city.  Let me digress here and say how astonished I was that this brand new ship, built to the latest energy efficient standards, had no computer systems to manage their passengers!  Paper chits filed in a drawer to tell them who was on shore; handwritten paper receipts for charges to the room.  My gym has a better customer management system than this.  Presumably they will eventually upgrade.

I didn't take photos of most of the local guides, and I regret to say I can't recall his name, but here he is amid all our umbrellas and rain gear:

Our guide in Cologne

He was chatty and very knowledgeable and gave us a very good tour.  Cologne, of course, has been an important military and especially commercial center since the Roman period.  It was a member of the Hanseatic League, and dominated commerce along the coast of Northern Europe in the Middle Ages.  It's the 4th largest city in Germany, with a population over 2.1 million. We started here, which was right next to where the ship was docked:

Old Cologne

It all looks very medieval, doesn't it, just like Amsterdam? You have to remember something about Cologne (and many cities in Germany) – World War II.  Cologne was essentially bombed flat in World War II, and all this was rebuilt after the war to look the way it had. The only part of the city that escaped major damage (nothing escaped damage entirely), was the Cathedral, or Dom, from Domus Dei, the house of God.  I never heard anyone refer to it as anything but "the Dom."  Here it is:

Cologne Cathedral or Dom

Our guide told us that in World War II, there was a fairly open "gentleman's agreement" between the Germans and the Allies, especially the British:  You don't bomb the Dom, and we won't bomb St. Paul's Cathedral.  He claimed to have had WWII veterans on his tours who told him straight out that those were their orders.  The Allies had another incentive, of course, not to bomb the Dom – it's a landmark.  It's huge, it's visible from the air, and when you see it you know where you are.  In days before GPS, this was really important.

I'll stop here and say I have two photo galleries for this day, one for the general tour of Cologne and one for the Dom itself; and I'll do a separate post for the Dom.  We were docked quite close to the Dom, and just downstream from the Hohenzollern Bridge, a name I remember from my European history classes.  The Hohenzollerns were the kings of Prussia, and later of Germany – Kaiser Wilhelm was a Hohenzollern.  The monarchy ended after World War I, but there are still Hohenzollerns around; if you read down to the end of the Wikipedia article you'll see there is an heir presumptive, Prince Christian-Sigismund of Prussia.  Here is the bridge:

Hohenzollern Bridge

"Old" Cologne has the usual tightly packed tall narrow houses – remember, when you look at them, that they predate elevators. If you lived on the 7th floor, you walked up 7 flights.  New Yorkers in walkups may recognize this.  It also has a fair amount of statuary and other public art, including this unexciting looking stela:

Historical flood marker

Go to the photo gallery and enlarge this photo and take a look at the horizontal lines on it – including the one about half way up labeled "50 meter".  These mark historic flood levels; the Rhine river flows through the middle of Cologne, and for most of its history, it wasn't nearly as well-behaved as it has been since the Germans started re-engineering it, I think since the early 19th century.  When a river that size floods, the water comes way up, and if you live near it, you just have to wait for it to go down.

We went on to the Alte Markt, or market place, which was pretty empty on a rainy day:

Alte Markt

The German lesson in the morning had spawned a contest, to find the longest composite German word we could, the winner to receive a bottle of wine.  Jim and I were delighted to find this fellow, first because we're both musicians, and second because his business description, Holzblasinstrumentenmacher, actually won the prize:


Since neither of us drinks, we negotiated an alternative prize, and we got free fizzy mineral water in the lounge for the rest of the cruise.  Mineral water was always free with dinner but usually cost a couple of euro in the lounge.

The Dom isn't the only church in Cologne, only the biggest, and we spent our free afternoon (after Jim had climbed the 533 steps up to the top of the Dom tower!) exploring Great St. Martin, a lovely, rather spare Romanesque church that was actually about the first thing we saw when we disembarked:

Great St. Martin

Great St. Martin is built over a Roman foundation and has some mosaic tile floors that I'm pretty sure were copped from the Romans – and probably restored after World War II like everything else:

Great St. Martin tile floor

It also has some Roman era excavations in the basement, which we toured:

Great St. Martin Roman ruins

After Great St. Martin we wandered around a bit and I took a photo of the Ratsturm, or city hall tower.  I realize that it doesn't translate, but it does tickle my English-speaking sense of humor that the Germans refer to an assembly of elected officials as a Rat.

Ratsturm (city hall tower)

Finally we walked back to the ship.  We didn't make it to the chocolate museum, and we skipped the optional evening Beer Culture Tour (aka pub crawl), even though Cologne has the most pubs per capita in Germany.  Besides, the only beer you can get in Cologne is Kölsch, a rather light straw-yellow beer which is only brewed there.

Evenings on the ship always included the daily briefing, at 6:15, when the program director explained what would happen the next day.  Dinner was at 7:00 PM.  At 9:00 PM, a trio (as I recall) of local musicians came aboard and played a selection of classical pieces in the lounge.  And so to bed – the ship sailed at 11:59, so everyone on the beer tour had to be back aboard by 11:30.

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