What can I say about Köln that has not been said before? Cologne or Köln, as it is called by the natives, is a place of resilience, high culture and is known as the economic capital of Rhineland. In January 2020, I visited the picturesque city of Cologne, shortly after my trip to Paris. Let me start by saying that I’ve always assumed Cologne had a French connection. Somehow, I got the notion that Cologne was a Francophile’s dream and that the Rhine river supplied the water used in all luxury French cologne. Moving pass my ignorance about Cologne versus “eau de cologne,” I can honestly say I had no real expectations before visiting this city but was utterly swept away by the evident modernity colliding with the anachronistic aesthetics of an ancient past.
Here I present the highlights of my unforgettable stay in the city of Cologne. It was a difficult task to hand-select the best parts because there was so much to see, but overall, there’s an abundance of historical information and unique aspects of this city that could make this blog much longer than expected.
A River Runs Through It
Cologne sits dead center on the Rhine River and was once occupied by the Romans. Yes, folks, I said the Romans! This city was built upon Roman engineering and culture. To be accurate, the Romans conquered the westerly bank of the Rhine, while the east side was home to the Germans. During my short time in Cologne, I learned that the area that the Romans occupied was much more advanced when compared to the German side.
During my visit, I decided to book a guided walking tour through TripAdvisor. I must insert that I have booked 2 guided tours in 2 different cities in opposite parts of the world with TripAdvisor, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. My Cologne tour lasted a few hours and cost me USD 175.67. While some may argue over the price, for me, it was worth it because my tour guide (Ms. Aylin) is a history teacher who often gives historical tours of the city, highlighting the culture and people of Cologne. My journey started at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, which is the second-largest church in Europe, after that, we visited the Love Lock Bridge then headed towards Gross St. Martin and then Alter Markt. In between, I saw the local city hall, the Romano-Germanic Museum, ancient Roman sewage systems, the old Jewish quarter, the home of the first cologne distributor, and an area that was an ancient fish market.
Link to Private Walking Tour of Old Town: https://www.tripadvisor.com/AttractionProductReview-g187371-d16717252-Cologne_Walking_tour_of_Old_Town-Cologne_North_Rhine_Westphalia.html
My tour started at the Cathedral, which houses the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne. Construction for this church started in 1248 and went on for 225 years until it stopped in 1473 then resumed in 1840 until its completion in 1880. Amazingly this church was built over 632 years. Today the church is continuously undergoing restoration and maintenance. An interesting fact about the upkeep of the Cathedral has to do with the color of the building. From most of the pictures, the church appears to be black or dark grey. This is due to pollution and dirt; every year, one part of the church is cleaned to remove a layer of grime that reveals its actual color, which is stone white. Since the church is so large, it’s impossible to clean the entire exterior all at once. By the time they’ve completed one side then move to another area, the previously cleaned side would have turned black again. Currently the Cologne Cathedral is the second-largest church in Europe, offering one of the most important pilgrimages for Catholics outside the Vatican. At one point between 1880 and 1884, it was the world’s tallest building and managed to survive World War II being bombed 14 times.
The Three Wise Men & Gerhard Richter
Outside of my visit to Vatican City, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter is the second church I’ve ever visited that is home to significant relics of the Christian faith. The Cathedral is the resting place of the remains of the Three Kings or Three Wise Men. In Christian tradition, these are the three men who visited Jesus shortly after his birth. Over 20,000 people visit this church daily to get a glimpse of the tomb. The tomb itself is a magnificent piece of artwork created out of silver, gold, wood, enamel, pearls, beads, and 1,000 jewels. Visitors can find the shrine inside the church along with several paintings, sculptures, statues, and stained glass. After the shrine of the Three Kings, the stained-glass windows are another amazing testament to the creativity and engineering feat of humans. My tour guide Aylin noted that during World War II, all of the stained glass was removed and stored away, and strangely enough, while most of the city of Cologne was bombed and had to be rebuild the Cathedral managed to make it through the war unscathed.
One of the stained-glass windows that draw as much fanfare as the shrine is the pixelated work of art produced by contemporary German artist Gerhard Richter. Richter is known for his photorealistic paintings and abstract pieces. To date, he is coined as one of the most important living painters of the 20th century. His stained-glass window stands out amongst the others because of the unique blurring of the lines between the past, future, and protest of traditional establishments such as the government and church. Using pieces of the original stained-glass, he created a 1,220 square feet piece in every color of glass that currently exists within the church. In total, it represents about 72 different shades of colors.
When he arranged each piece of glass, he ensured that no color touched, overlapped, or intersected. It’s important to note that there was a bit of drama surrounding this window as, according to my guide, Richter refused to do a traditional window depicting martyrs or any Christian theme. Cardinal Joachim Meisner highly disapproved of Richter’s work and the day of the unveiling he failed to appear. To me, it seemed odd that they would even request Richter to do this window, seeing that one of his most famous quotes has to do with the separation of art and government. It seems evident that Richter would have never conformed to the Catholic establishment and used this way a to object to religion.
After visiting the Cathedral we made our way to Gross St. Martin on the way there we stopped at the Romano-Germanic Museum. Just as the name suggests, most of the artifacts on display were uncovered in Germany. This museum hosts the world’s most extensive collection of Roman glass vessels, and the building itself is constructed over a large excavation site, where roman homes and streets once stood.
Love Lock Bridge & Gross St. Martin
We also stopped at Hohenzollernbrücke bridge Known as Cologne’s love lock bridge. Here couples come to place their love lock on the bridge. The original bridge, known as the Cathedral Bridge Dombrücke was demolished to make way for the Hohenzollernbrücke bridge in 1907. This bridge, just like so many other structures in the city, was blown up during World War II and then repaired. Due to its location, its perhaps one of the most photographed bridge in the area because of the view and proximity to the Cathedral.
Walking along the Rhine River towards the Gross St. Martin I took note of the many homes and buildings along the riverbank. The Great Saint Martin Church or Groß Sankt Martin is a short walk from the Cathedral and was built on a Roman chapel and is now being used as a monastery under the branch of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem.
Alter Markt or the old market is a square that has been a market and sight for public demonstrations for centuries. It was also a place where public executions were conducted, now its home to a number of cafes and also where the yearly carnivals begins. It is also where the Rathaus City Hall is located, and on the other side of that building is the Kallendresser roughly translated as “gutter shitter”.
It’s a statue of a man crouched down, pulling his pants down. According to my tour guide, it was placed there by sculptor Ewald Matare in protest of city hall. It was erected to mock the politicians for not fulfilling the promises made to the people. In return, they placed a sculpture of a face sticking its tongue out. So the tongue makes an appearance teasing the public and the Kallendresser statue.
City hall is also the site of a 1963 visit from John F. Kennedy. Ever since his visit, the city hall building had tried to maintain the same interior design as it did back when JFK visited.
Farina 1709, Original Eau de Cologne
Cologne is noted as the birthplace of eau de cologne. It started when an Italian perfume maker by the name of John Maria Farina immigrated to cologne over 300 years ago. According to the story, it took him a very long time to produce his perfume because he had to import most of the ingredients. Farina’s idea around his scent was based on his homeland of Italy as he combined lemons, grapefruits, oranges, bergamot, and blooms to replicate a spring morning after the rain. He named the perfume after Cologne and started bottling and selling it, which then became a big hit with the upper class, such as Louis XV to Princess Diana. The Original Eau de Cologne was distinguished with prize medals or diplomas by the Juries of Exhibition of all nations centuries before other perfume manufactures started copying this idea. Farina started selling this perfume in 1709, but another traditional German cologne was inspired by this brand. The other cologne is known as 4711 and was produced by Maurer & Wirtz in 1799.
I purchased a small bottle of Farina 1709 cologne, and I can honestly say that the scent is very light, there is a definite citrus note that is not overpowering. I was highly impressed as I assumed it would smell like something my grandmother wore, but it’s a fragrance that seems to transcend space and time.
This is the end of part one look out for part two! I was able to learn as much as I could about Cologne because I booked a personal tour with BlackBuck Travels.