Cologne: Germany’s Jewel of the Rhine

Cologne started as a Roman colony on the banks of the Rhine and is best known at the time as the birthplace of Julia Agrippina, sister of Caligula, wife of Claudius, and mother of Nero. Agrippina was born in 15 AD in the garrison town that had been established 48 years earlier. When she became the Emperor Claudius’ wife she persuaded him to rename her birthplace after her. It didn’t take long, however, for ‘Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium’ to get shortened down to ‘Colonia’. In German it’s now known as KÃ?¶ln.

In the year 785, the Emperor Charlemagne created the Archbishopric of Cologne. Throughout the Dark Ages the Archbishops of Cologne gain more and more power, some of it secular. Construction on its famous cathedral began in 1248, just 40 years before the archbishops lost power to the guilds at the battle of Worringen. The first municipal university in Europe was founded here as early as 1388. After a long series of pogroms, the Jews fled the city in 1423 to the right bank of the Rhine. Cologne became a Free Imperial City in the 15th Century and continued to prosper.

The cathedral was left unfinished, but the city remained staunchly Catholic. In the 16th century, Protestants were persecuted and in the 17th century, many women in Cologne fell victim to witch-hunts. The French invaded in 1794 and occupied the city. When the Congress of Vienna ended the occupation the city was annexed by Prussia. During the nineteenth century the city industrialized and continued to flourish. After five centuries, the Prussians completed construction of the towering cathedral in 1880.

The First World War slowed, but did not interrupt, the growth of development in Cologne. By that time Cologne’s population had swollen to over 600 000 inhabitants. In 1917, Konrad Adenauer, later to become chancellor of the Federal German
Republic, became the Lord Mayor and served office until he was removed by the National Socialists in 1933. During his tenure, he presided over the refoundation of the university, extension of the outer green belt with M�¼ngersdorf stadium and construction of the K�¶lnMesse exhibition and trade-fair center. Many of the current parks and green areas date from this period.

Cologne’s economy was robust enough to ride out the economic downturns between the wars, but could do nothing against Allied bombing. It has been estimated that 95% of central Cologne was destroyed. It was not until the late 1950s that the city regained its prewar population. In the decades following the conflict, enormous effort went into clearing the ruins and rebuilding the city. Today, Cologne’s economy is powered by the automotive and pharmaceutical industries; these twin engines have helped it recover from its wounds to become the fourth largest city in Germany.

Cologne Cathedral

With its soaring twin spires, 157 meters in height, this is the Mt Everest of cathedrals. The first was built in 313 AD, the year
Constantine officially recognized Christianity. The second church, the “Old Cathedral” was finished in 818 D. Construction of the current cathedral began in 1248 and continued until 1560 when construction paused for almost 300 years. In 1842 construction resumed, following the original Medieval architect’s plans. Finally, in 1880, the cathedral was completed.

The artistic and spiritual focal point is a gold, church-shaped sarcophagus, the Shrine of the Three Holy Magi. It contains the relics of the three Magi, Gasper, Melchior, and Balthazar, plus the remains of three other martyrs. The Shrine, which is about the size of a large trunk, was crafted before the present Cathedral was begun. One can find the Shrine just behind the high altar, at the east end of the Cathedral, inside a glass and metal security chamber. The Shrine sarcophagus is made of gold and encrusted with gems and displays beautifully crafted reliefs of the adoration of the Magi, and Jesus’ baptism, scourging and crucifixion.

Behind the Shrine, and across an aisle, are a series of small, ornate chapels. One of them contains the tomb of Archbishop Philip von Heinsberg, decorated with walls and towers by the citizens of Cologne in thanks for his provision of the medieval city wall. Other artistic highlights include a statue of Mary and baby Jesus called the Milan Madonna, which is at least 900 years old, and a statue of St. Christopher carrying a small child. The beautiful Bavarian stained glass windows, one of which depicts the Pentecost and the other the Magi adoring the Christ child, were given to the cathedral in 1842 by King Ludwig I of Bavaria.

R�¶misch-Germanisches Museum

The best known artifacts in this museum are the Romanmosaic with scenes from the world of Dionysos, dating from around 220 to 230 A.D., and the reconstructed tomb of the legionary Poblicius, dating from around 40 A.D. The museum’s collection has profited from the archaeological legacy of Cologne and the surrounding region which spans a period from prehistoric times to the early Middle Ages. The worldwide largest collection of Roman glass vessels and a unique collection of Roman and early mediaeval jewelry are the highlights of this museum.

Numerous artifacts, illustrating everyday life in the Roman Empire, lead visitors into the heart of the Roman city. Fragments
of Roman architecture, inscriptions, portraits of, amongst others, Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia, ceramics and a great deal more provide visitors with an insight into the urban development of Roman Cologne from a major settlement of the Germanic tribe of the Ubii to a city that had become the capital of the Imperial Roman province of Lower Germania. Mosaics and mural painting show the rich decoration of the Roman houses. The various religious cults of Roman Cologne which are of Italic, Oriental and local origin come alive in the depiction of deities in stone, bronze and clay. Prehistoric finds
from Cologne, the Rhineland and other selected European sites dating from the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages are also exhibited.

Imhoff-Stollwerck Chocolate Museum

For something a little different, this museum examines the three thousand year old history of chocolate. It starts with the old Mayas of South America, who were the first producers of chocolate, and continues with the introduction of the lovely, sweet confection to Europe and it’s place in society. During the European rococo era, eating and drinking chocolate was a sign of prosperity. Old billboards and commercials are on display as well. But beside the history of chocolate the top attractions of the museum are the tropical room, the production center and the chocolate spring.

The tropical room contains cacao palm trees and other tropical plants. In the production center one can view the production of chocolate bars or chocolate figures like Santa Claus’. The chocolate spring is the number one attraction especially for kids. A hostess of the museum holds waffles into the liquid chocolate spring and serves the chocolate waffles to the visitors. It is as close as one can get to visiting Willie Wonka’s factory.

Visiting Cologne

The city is serviced by an international airport situated half way between in and Bonn. Cologne is also accessible by road and rail.

Cologne is never a problem has a well-developed bus, tram and subway system makes it fairly convenient to get around. The numerous sightseeing attractions in Cologne’s city can also be explored conveniently on foot.

Cologne is also the perfect jumping off point for a cruise down the Rhine, which can be done as a day trip or longer.

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