Cologne & The Rhine 9/02

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Cologne and Germany's Rhineland - castles, cathedrals & art...

Cologne Cathedral at night from across the Rhine

I had an opportunity for a European holiday in conjunction with some business in southern Netherlands. Cologne was beautiful, artsy and an excellent gateway to the Rhine and its cities. The all-day cruise down the Rhine and back was worthwhile, but slow paced. The weather was nearly ideal in mid-September, allowing me to visit numerous German town squares in all their outdoor cafe glory. I continued my pursuit of art on this trip with museum stops spanning the Roman empire through modern periods.

Friday, September 13th

My trip began with an overnight stopover in London. That's all the excuse I needed for a pub dinner and to book the show "We Will Rock You" in the west end. Outstanding performances, and an incredible concert/play experience for anyone who enjoyed the music of Queen. There were two encores and three curtain calls at the performance I attended. A weak story line may keep this play from having legs after the original cast disperses. My hotel, the Chancery Court, was in a good location for a tube trip from Heathrow (3.6 GBP) and walkable for the play, but otherwise undistinguished.

Rheinfels Castle above St Goar on the Rhine

Saturday, September 14th - Cologne

My first day in Cologne (spelled Köln in Germany) began with waiting around CGN airport for the currency exchange office to conclude their hour break. With the Euro now in place, currency exchange spots are getting more expensive and lowering their service levels. I took a quick taxi ride to the Hyatt (~20 Euros), situated across the river from the Cathedral, and began to explore the city. Cologne is a compact, walkable city, rebuilt near its original form after total destruction in WW2. The park by the river (first picture above) was full of people. It was a short walk to the Cathedral ("Dom" in German) (outside: second and third pictures above, inside: fourth picture above and first picture below). Also inside the Cathedral, the second picture below is the Shrine of the Three Magi, designed in gold and silver in the outline of a basilica, with biblical scenes in relief. The Roman Gate across the plaza from the Cathedral (third picture below) dates from A.D. 50, when Cologne was a northern boundary of the Roman Empire. I grabbed dinner at a local restaurant near the plaza and then headed back to the Hyatt, where I took some night pictures by the Rhine River facing the city (fourth picture below and large picture top left of page).

Sunday, September 15th - Cologne Museums & Aachen

On my second day in Cologne I set out to visit its museums. First up was Museum Ludwig, beside the cathedral, with four floors of 20th century art. Next up was the Wallraf Richartz Museum which spanned several centuries before the 20th, segregated by floors. Neither of these first two museums allowed pictures, a beef I have with museums in general. The Kathe Kollwitz museum was the third, a small but wonderful find, placed on the fourth floor of a shopping mall. Kathe was an expressionist influenced by the Nazi rule of her time (first picture below and more in the Art section).

In the afternoon I headed to Aachen by train to see Charlemagne's residence and cathedral and to learn how to use the trains for my upcoming destinations. Aachen is about an hour west of Cologne near the Netherlands border and was the capital of Europe in A.D. 800. The Aachen Cathedral dates from Charlemagne's time and was a 20 minute walk from the train station through a modern, deserted and uninspiring city. The cathedral (inside: second picture below, outside from its courtyard: third picture below) is tucked between many buildings and was partially covered due to restoration. It is built around an octagon center with pews backed by the alters. Charlemagne was buried here in A.D. 814. There is a handy English guide book available for free at the door.

Next door is the Treasury, where artifacts from Charlemagne and Christianity in general are kept. The treasury was worthwhile for the 5 Euro entrance fee, having an English guidebook which was comprehensive, lacking only a map of where the items it described were. The Altstadt (old city) area near the Cathedral had a beautiful square backed by its medieval Rathaus (town hall) with outdoor cafes filled with people. The town hall stands on the original walls of Charlemagne's Hall of Kings (fourth picture below). I grabbed an early dinner at a cafe there and then headed back to the train station to return to Cologne.

Monday September 16th - Rhine Cruise

In order to see the highlights of the Rhine, it is best to begin the cruise in Koblenz, which is about 50 miles south of Cologne at the intersection of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. I took an early morning express train through Bonn to arrive in Koblenz for an 8am K-D Cruise departure. The paddlewheel ship heads south, which is upstream, past castles and towns at around 15 to 20 miles per hour. The first picture below is the yellow and white Schloss Stolenfels. The second picture below shows the black and white Marksburg castle, the only surviving medieval castle on the Rhine. Next up was Rheinfels Castle (large picture top of page right). The third picture below shows Burg Katz with its castle above a small town, which was characteristic of most of the sights along the cruise. The Loreley is the slate rock formation shown in the fourth picture below, marking the deepest and narrowest spot on the Rhine. It was once a holy site, but most of its fame is in the legend of Loreley who tempted sailors to their death on the nearby reefs. Frankly, it just looks like a rock.

The classic Rhine view often shown on postcards is the one shown in the first picture below, Pfalz Castle on its island in the Rhine backed by Burg Gutenfels on the hill behind it. Just beyond Pfalz castle, I got off the boat and toured the small touristy city of Bacharach (translated: alter to Bacchus, the god of wine - second picture below). There were wine tastings and shops there, but I was never impressed by any of the Rhine wines. Weingut zum Gruner Baum is a good wine bar in the center of the town with tastings starting in the late afternoon. Rhine wines are mostly whites, have a low alcohol content, and as such can not be aged for long. They tended to be overly sweet and lacking in character.

Having had no exercise for the day, I decided to hike up to Stahleck Castle above Bacharach. From the Castle, which is now a youth hostel, I had a picture taken of me with the Rhine valley behind me (third picture below).  This turned out to be a pretty good hike - for a perspective, see the fourth picture below taken from the Bacharach dock showing Stahleck Castle on the hill in the upper left corner. I returned to Koblenz on the K-D cruise ship just in time to watch a sunset in the park where the Mosel and Rhine Rivers meet. I grabbed the express train back to Cologne after a walk around the city.

Tuesday September 17th - Cologne & Düsseldorf

On my final day before beginning the business part of the trip in the Netherlands, I caught the places I had missed in Cologne and did some shopping, picking up some Eau de Cologne at the spot where it was invented (4711 Glockengasse) as well as souvenirs for the family. The "pedestrianized" streets of Cologne around the Cathedral are filled with shops and people (first picture below). I made a quick stop at the Chocolate Museum on the Rhine and ate a good lunch at Fruh am Dom, an outdoor beer tavern near the Cathedral (second picture below). Fruh am Dom is an example of a unique way they serve beer in taverns in Germany. Fruh am Dom has its own brew like many restaurants, which they bring around on a carry tray in .33 liter glasses which look like tall, straight shot glasses. When your glass is empty, they write a tick mark on your coaster and give you another glass of beer. When you are ready to go, they count the ticks and add any food ordered on the coaster, which becomes your bill.

Since it was only mid-afternoon, I decided to take the 30 minute train ride north to see Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf has a reputation for being fashion conscious and high priced. Most people I saw on the streets were definitely well dressed. Düsseldorf's Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen Museum was having a big surrealism exhibition covering 1919 to 1944 which I wanted to see featuring Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Picasso and Dali. The exhibition was very good, but no pictures were allowed in the museum. The third and fourth pictures below show the "Ko", a nice shopping street, and the old-town area. Düsseldorf is also famous for "Alt Bier" in their cafes, which is a dark beer that must be consumed shortly after it is brewed. The outdoor cafe in old town that I stopped at used the same coaster tick marks that I described above at Fruh am Dom. To me, Alt Bier tasted like a good micro-brew beer in the States.

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