Cologne

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Cologne

A Brief History  Cologne began as a Roman garrison on the banks of the river Rhine. It was founded in AD 50. The original Latin name was Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, which means Claudius' Colony, the Altar of the family of Agrippina. (Agrippina, Emperor Claudius' wife and the mother of Nero, was born here.) From the year 795 when it was made an archbishopric, it began to grow in size and influence. By 1200, Cologne with a population of about 40,000, was the largest European city north of the Alps. As a place of pilgrimage, Cologne used to attract about 1,000,000 visitors a year. It was known as Sancta Colonia and was the fourth holiest site in Christendom, after Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims came to see what is still Cologne's greatest treasure, the Shrine of the Magi.

Cologne began to develop as a modern city in the mid C19 when it mushroomed as a result of massive industrialisation. The boom stopped in 1939. WW II was a tragedy for the city. It was an obvious target for Allied bombing. The population in 1939 was 768,000. In October 1942, the RAF executed the first of their 1,000-bomber saturation raids. 20,000 people are thought to have been killed on that night. The vast majority subsequently evacuated the city. These raids continued right up until the end of the war. Approximately 90% of Cologne's housing stock was destroyed. When U.S. forces entered the city in 1945, they found a remaining population of 150,000 living underground.

Contemporary Cologne  Cologne is Germany's fourth largest city and the capital of Nordrhein-Westfalen. Its population has grown to nearly 1,000,000. It has a student population of 80,000. It is a major commercial, industrial and manufacturing centre and a massive transportation hub. The Hohenzollernbrücke is the busiest railway bridge in the world with 1,000 trains crossing it every day. There are 10 Autobahns surrounding the city. Two major airports are within an hour's drive. Ford Europe is Cologne's biggest single employer, with a workforce of 25,000. Toyota, Mazda, Citroen and Renault also have plants here. Metallurgical, chemical and petro-chemical factories employ 70,000 people in Cologne.

Beer and Perfume  Even though you may hear otherwise from Bavarians, Cologne has the oldest brewing tradition in Germany. The name of the local beer is Kölsch (which is also the name of the local dialect). It is a delicious fast beer. That is to say, it is ready for drinking immediately after pouring (unlike Pils, for example, which takes 7 minutes). There are 24 different breweries producing Kölsch in the city, fewer than there used to be but brewing more beer. It is said that if you put all of Cologne's bars end to end they would stretch for 6 miles.

Twenty different firms are responsible for the production of Cologne's most famous export, Kölnisches Wasser, better known as Eau de Cologne. This subtle mixture of orange, lavender and many essential oils was invented in Cologne in 1709 by an Italian immigrant called Giovanni Maria Farina. His company still exists. The best and most famous Eau de Cologne, though, is Mulhens 4711 which has been in operation since the 1780's.

Some famous citizens of Cologne:
Konrad Adenauer, mayor of Cologne 1917-33. He subsequently became leader of the Christian Democratic Union, first chancellor of post-war Germany and the great architect of German reconstruction.
Max Ernst, one of the great masters of surrealist painting.
Heinrich Boll, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 1972.

The Kölnerdom  Since this will probably be the sum total of your Cologne sightseeing, you need to know it in some detail. (Afterwards you can relax, going shopping in the Hohestrasse or strolling in the Rheingarten.) It is fascinating and repays a lot of attention. The following information is almost certainly more than is necessary but is nevertheless worth knowing. You will probably have to improvise a little anyway because the extent and the direction of your visit is going to be largely determined by any restoration works going on at the time.

Before you go inside there are a few things worth noting. This huge Gothic building is the biggest cathedral in Germany. From the laying of the foundation stone to the completion and consecration in the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm I, it took over 600 years, from 1246 to 1880. As you stand in front of the cathedral in the Domplatz you are looking at the largest church facade in Christendom. The twin towers above reach 515 feet. 509 steep steps up the south tower (small fee) lead to an impressive viewpoint over the city, passing the 24-ton Petersglocke, the world's biggest swinging church bell. Around you in the square are occasional and fairly uninteresting remains of the roman city. There is also a car which you can win by buying a ticket in the Domloterie. Maintenance costs of the cathedral come to 12,000,000 DM per year. 70% of these costs are paid for by the Domloterie, the rest by private donations and state funding. the Kölnerdom is the seat of the Primate of Germany.

When you enter you should go straight through the nave to the transepts to get an idea of how this enormous edifice fits together. It is a Gothic cathedral in the French style, only bigger. It is also a typical pilgrimage church with ambulatory chapels to facilitate crowd control in peak devotional season. The choir in front of you is the earliest part, dating from the C13 and early C14. Next they built the nave and the towers, C15 and C16. When the money ran out in 1560 the work stopped. For the next 300 years the cathedral was an empty shell, or rather two empty shells, open to the sky. It wasn't until the 1840s, when the Prussians ruled Cologne, that work restarted to connect the two separate sections by building the north and south transepts. With better and more modern building techniques, unlimited funds and the C16 architectural plans they were able to complete the building within 40 years. Incidentally, if you are visiting in cold weather you will doubtless notice that the cathedral has no heating system. It is not a very popular tourist attraction in winter. In very cold years (the last was 1990) it has been known for the holy water to freeze over.

Some Points of Particular Interest  These various points of interest start at the north transept and follow the ambulatory round from north to south.

1) Votive Image of the Virgin Mary: by the east wall of the north transept surrounded by candles. This clothed and decorated statuette is the modern focus of Marian devotion in the cathedral. The various bits of jewellery on her clock are gifts to her from members of the public.

In the 1980's, a Spanish Gastarbeiter on his way home from working in Berlin had an hour's wait between changing trains in Cologne station. It was the middle of the night. Having nothing else to do meanwhile, he took advantage of the outside scaffolding to break in to the Kölnerdom through one of the stained glass windows, climbed down some internal scaffolding, stole all the jewelry from the cloak of the Virgin, went out the same way he had come in and returned to the station just in time to pick up the train to Spain. Nobody knew what had happened until three years later. Living now back home in Spain the thief had fallen in love with a Peruvian woman and had rashly shown her the jewels and confessed his crime. He had never been able to sell the goods. She told him that as a Christian she would never marry him until he gave himself up to the police and returned the jewels to their rightful owner. Blinded by love he went to the police. She meanwhile took the jewels and fled. He is still in prison. She has disappeared, presumably to darkest Peru. Neither she nor her booty have ever been seen again. The Virgin Mary now has a new set of jewels.

2) Gerokreuz: in the first ambulatory chapel, the Kreuzkapelle. This is a cross commissioned by Archbishop Gero in the early C10. The present Baroque surrounds are a little incongruous. It is said to be the world's oldest monumental crucifix. It is over life-size. NB. Certain features are very different from the later, more familiar, Gothic crucifixes: the eyes of Christ are closed, his head is bowed, his torso sags, his feet are apart and the wounds of the stigmata are less gory and more subtly depicted than is common later.

3) Dreikönigeschrein: or Shrine of the Magi, Cologne's greatest treasure. It is unfortunately, difficult to get close enough for a really good view. This reliquary was designed to house the remains of the Magi brought from Milan by Archbishop Rainald von Dassel in 1164. In the last century Prussian scientists opened the shrine to establish whether or not the Magi were really contained within. The bodies of three men were found, one young, one middle aged and one old. The date was more or less correct. The only question is how on earth did the Three Kings, who all went their various ways home after the birth of Christ, ever get to Milan?

The designer of the reliquary was Nicholas of Verdun. The work was begun in 1181 and completed by local craftsmen in 1220. The dimensions are bigger than they appear (7 feet long by 5 feet high). There is obviously plenty of room for three full-size coffins inside. It is the biggest shrine to have survived in such good condition from the Middle Ages. The form is of a basilica. The materials are gold, silver gilt, bronze gilt, pearls, jewels and enamels. Along the sides on the top level are the apostles, and below them are prophets from the Old Testament. On the front and back are scenes from the life of Christ (a Virgin and Child, the baptism, the adoration of the Magi etc.) interspersed with contemporary figures like Rainald von Dassel himself.

4) The stained glass: the best medieval glass in Germany. Some windows are typological, some depict episodes from the lives of the saints, and others are purely decorative patterns, foliage, etc. The oldest panels, dating from the early C14, are in the ambulatory chapels (the rest are C16). The windows are currently undergoing a huge project of cleaning and restoration. Each panel takes about 3 months to clean, a process that involves removing the lead, washing and brushing the glass, cleaning the various colours, making new lead surrounds and rebuilding the panel. After cleaning, a layer of glazing is placed on the outside to protect against the effects of pollution. This layer needs to be one inch separate from the stained glass in order to leave room for it to breathe. In theory, the restored glass should thus remain in perfect condition for at least another 1,000 years. It is because of the potential damage to the glass that the cathedral has not installed a heating system.

5) Dombild: by Stefan Lochner, painted 1440-45. In the last ambulatory chapel, the Marienkapelle. This is a beautiful and fascinating triptych, also known as the Altar of the City's Patron Saints:

Story of St. Ursula (left hand panel). She was a (presumably mythical) English princess who went on pilgrimage to Rome accompanied by her husband-to-be and 11,000 virgins. Some of them are shown here. On the way back home Ursula, her new husband and her retinue were slaughtered by the Huns in Cologne. She is the most important patron saint of the city.

Adoration of the Magi (central panel). It is worth looking at the faces of the Magi. Standard practice at this time was to express the universality of the Christian message by portraying a young man, a middle aged man and an old man, the first an African, the second a European and the third from the Middle East. Here the painting's commissioners wanted portraits of themselves so this wasn't possible. Instead Lochner has given the Magi flags: the Middle Easterner's servants carry a flag with a crescent moon and a star; the African's men carry a full-length picture of a black nobleman; the European flag has yellow stars against a blue background. This last is a motif that has recently been adopted as the new flag of a united Europe.

Story of St. Gereon (right hand panel). He was a Roman soldier of the Theban legion serving in the garrison at Colonia. He was executed for refusing, as a Christian, to take part in pagan sacrifices.

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