After an all-night sail, we arrived in Cologne. Well, close to Cologne. There was a medical emergency yesterday afternoon and a gentleman had to be taken off the boat and transported to a Dutch hospital. Great care was taken by the cruise line and we were later thanked profusely for our understanding of the situation and the delay. This morning, the cruise line arranged for an early embarkation at an alternate site and transportation by bus to the city of Cologne with a promise to meet us later at the Cologne docks after our day touring the city.
Our tour guide began our tour by explaining just how boring and plain Cologne would be and then proceeded to fascinate us with the history and sites of the city. A university professor of medieval history with a dry wit and perfectly timed sarcasm, he both educated and entertained us over the next two hours.
Cologne, as we learned, is an ancient Roman outpost for what was then Germania. The city was completely leveled by Allied bombing raids in World War II meaning that even when buildings looked old, they were in fact no older than that period. Cologne is a stubborn and traditional city that believes in not changing. As a result, they rebuilt in the style of the original buildings. The city was always and still is built on top of the ancient Roman walls. Cologne’s two main streets lie on the lines of the old Roman Road and their purpose mirrors that of the old Roman city. The building done on the skeleton of those old walls still divide the new city form the old city inside its Roman footprint.
The one very prominent original building is the impressive Gothic Cathedral of Cologne that sits in the city center just up from the old Roman port on the Rhine. Legend says that it was spared by the Allied bombers while others say it was a miracle and God saved the church. Our guide watches our expressions and then at just the right time says “sorry, just not true.” It was bombed just as all other buildings in Cologne, by chance or by accident, and was hit by no less than thirteen separate bombs. So how does it survive? The secret lies in the structure. It is predominately covered with windows and the walls are made of heavy volcanic stone. As the bomb explodes, its energy is dispersed through the windows while the heavy structure of the walls survive the rest of the blast.
There are so many statistics about this building, including the time it actually took to construct, but I will leave them to you, the reader, to research with a little time spent on Google. I will share one thought provoking fact. The windows I spoke of are all original and made of beautiful stain glass. One even dates to 1248 AD when the cornerstone for the cathedral was first placed. After telling you that it was the windows absorbing the blast that ultimately saved the cathedral, how can they still exist? The Nazis as early as 1933, years before the war began, removed the windows and hid them away. In the words of our guide “they knew early on, that what they were doing was going to end in a serious thrashing and took the precaution to save the windows in case they won.” Talk about giving one serious pause.
We finished our day in Cologne with new found friends, sharing a local brew or two, or maybe even three, in one of the open market areas of Cologne. Our toasts were genuine. “To good travel, to a great adventure and to new friends.” This is what travel is about and why it is so important to experience. Travel shows us the diversity of the world and its cultures while reminding us that enemies can become allies and that at the end of the day, we really aren’t that different. We are all travelers going somewhere and when our paths cross we discover that our hopes and dreams sound amazingly similar.
Castles tomorrow. Stay tuned.