Day 5: Cologne, Germany
On the minute at 8:30am, Excellence Princess started her engines and the ship maneuvered from its anchoring position on the Mosel River right across the old town of Koblenz back into the Rhine River. The day started beautifully and the fortress throned brightly illuminated by the sun above the city. It would take us about 3 1/2 hours to overcome the roughly 110 kilometers that lied in-between Koblenz and our next stop, Cologne.
On the way, we passed a number of small pretty villages such as Linz am Rhein, the famous Remagen Bridge, Bad Honnef and Königswinter.
Shortly after Bad Honnef we passed the borders between the two German federal states Rhineland-Palatine and North Rhine-Westphalia, pretty much on the height of the Seven Hills, Siebengebirge in German.
Most prominent mountain (well, it is rather a hill with only a little over 300 meters) is the so-called Drachenfels (Dragon´s Rock). I remember this spot from my childhood when my parents took me on an adventure trip to the castle. The area is of ancient volcanic origin and the legend of “Siegfried and the Dragon” draws every year millions of visitors to the castle on the top, which makes Drachenfels Europe´s most hiked mountain!
In the legend, Siegfried (the hero of the Nibelungenlied) killed the dragon Fafnir which lived underneath the castle in a cave. He bathed in the dragon´s blood afterwards in order to become invulnerable. Well, wherever this was right or wrong, to a young boy definitely a thrilling story.
A little later, we passed the old capital of historic Western Germany, Bonn. It was funny to see all these political institutions and the previous residence of the Federal President, Villa Hammerschmidt, from the water. Opens up a completely new perspective in how you perceive a city. Now that Berlin is our capital, Bonn almost seems provincial.
During lunch, we finally reached Cologne. The two bell towers of the city´s most prominent landmark, the Cologne Cathedral (or Kölner Dom in German) were visible already from the distance. Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and the biggest in terms of surrounding catchment area. Over 10 million people live in close proximity in Germany and the Netherlands, which lies more or less around the corner.
It was once the capital for the Roman province Germania Interior, as well as headquarter to the Roman armed forces. During World War II, it was destructed by 95 percent after over 34,711 bombs had been dropped onto it. This is the reason for a rather unique ( I would call it pretty ugly) cityscape and skyline though. It is one of these German cities that have mostly not been reconstructed by rebuilding post-war architecture. The cathedral, on the other hand, survived in most parts the bomb raid.
So after lunch, it was self-explaining, that I would pay visit to this masterpiece in Gothic architecture and the tallest twin-spired church in the world. The towers reach 157 meters! Works began back in 1248 and were halted in 1473 for over 327 years. So the completion was not before 1880, but after original plans.
The entry into the cathedral is free of charge, but red dressed dignitaries inside are available for any donations that one might want to contribute. And it is well worth it to preserve this mighty construction. The insides are beautifully decorated and most windows have been provided with wonderfully crested leaded glass.
Photo Gallery Cologne Cathedral
There are two attractions that you will have to pay entry to: One is the Treasure Vault (Schatzkammer to the left of the main entrance) and the other is the access to the elevated viewing platform in the Southern tower (entrance to the right of the main entrance).
I did not do the vault, but climbing up the tower was definitely on my list. For only 4€ per person a cheap thrill for that you do need to be in a good shape in though and free of fear of height or heart problems. It took 532 steps altogether in order to reach the platform which towers on a little under 100 meters above the ground (and that is not even the top of the tower). But it was well worth it! Magnificent views onto Cologne, the Rhine River and the surroundings payed well off for the struggle to make it up in the small and winding staircases.
Since it was Sunday, general shops were closed downtown even in a large city like Cologne. But the shopping center inside the main train station (which lies right next to the cathedral) hosted quite a few stores as well as a supermarket where I could stock up my need for water and coke zero.
While I grew up in Düsseldorf, which lies a little further up the river, I had been many times to Cologne as a child. I had even lived here for a very short time, so I spared myself a sightseeing trip through the city itself.
I decided to spend the rest of the day inside the famous Museum Ludwig, which was also located right behind the cathedral and which featured an interesting exhibition about Gerhard Richter on top of the regular collection. The museum is a gorgeous architectural work from the inside and absolutely worth visiting if you are looking for a little culture.
The entrance fee is 12€ per person and do not forget to ask for a locker card right away (2€ deposit) to spare you extra ways. The lockers outside are only functioning with this card!
If you would like to finish up your visit to Cologne with something sweet (and after all the running and climbing you should most definitely deserve this), go visit the TörtchenTörtchen branch on Apostelnstrasse. Do not go hungry though. This could become dangerous :).
I was exhausted by the end of the day. And after I enjoyed the once again marvelous dinner on board, I later withdrew to the comfort of my cabin to catch up with some sleep. The next stop Duisburg was just around the corner and I wanted to be ready for it…
Photo Gallery Museum Ludwig