Our first day of cruising down the Rhine would take us to the city of Koln, which had been leveled during WWII and somewhat hastily rebuilt afterwards. First, however, we enjoyed the scenery that unfolded as we made our stately progress downriver. I think most of the passengers were startled, as we were, to see a number of families, children and young people, swimming or splashing around in the Rhine. There were also many Germans on holiday , camping, fishing and boating. During our cruise, we would pass a number of large campgrounds filled with the smaller European trailers on the river banks. Perhaps the water quality is better than it looked, as I know the European Union has strict rules about water pollution in Western Europe.
Today we would enjoy our first tour to the Kolner Dom but because the Maria Teresa wouldn’t arrive there until 4:30, the ship made a technical stop right after lunch, at 1;45. In other words, the MT stopped, lines were secured, the gangplank was set up, and those who wanted to tour Koln, disembarked and walked to our busses at the town of Zons,Germany It seemed like a pleasant place, but some of the gentle walkers were taken aback to find we had a long, mostly uphill walk to our bus. Uniworld always makes provision for cruisers who have trouble walking but in this case, we had no choice but to suck it up if we wanted to go on the tour. The Senior Rambler was having trouble with his back, and it took him a while to get to the bus, but several passengers kindly made sure they didn’t leave without us.
The ride to Koln was a relatively brief one, as the roads were straight while the Rhine made a serious of twisty bends on its way to Koln. Our destination was the very heart and soul of the city, the magnificent Dom or cathedral which is the largest and one of the most beautiful in Germany.
Although building started in the 13th century the Gothic cathedral was not finished until 1880. Until the 19th century, Koln was Germany’s largest city and is still the center of Germany’s Catholic population. After the creation of the German nation state, with its capital in the Protestant north,
Bismarck’s government provided funds to complete the building, using the medieval plans but with 19th century materials to gain the loyalty of the Catholic south.
One of the reasons it was originally built was to house the relics of the Magi, the Three Kings who came to pay homage to Jesus.The Archbishop of Koln acquired their relics in the 12th century from the Holy Roman Emperor Plans were made to build a cathedral to house these precious relics and the cornerstone was laid in 1248. Even though the church was not completed, it became an important place of pilgrimage. As the centuries passed, the Dom was visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who came to venerate the relics of the Magi. It was second only to Rome in popularity as a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years. It still attracts thousands of visitors every day although not all are believers or even Christian.
There are many reasons to visit the Dom; its architecture is magnificent, its interior is beautiful and it is filled with medieval and modern stained glass, art and sculpture. The building is so large that it swallows up the hundreds of pilgrims wandering the interior at any given time. Of course the main attraction is the large gold casket which serves as a reliquary for the bones of the Magi. No matter the authenticity of the relics, the casket is a magnificent work of gold-plated silver over wood. Of course, it is incredibly valuable and consequently protected by iron bars and no doubt several hidden alarms. This made it very difficult to take a decent photo but I tried.
The Dom has a very high vaulted ceiling which is beautiful in its simplicity. On the left side, a swallow’s nest organ juts out from the side wall. It was added to celebrate the 700th anniversary in 1998. It does look like a precarious perch for the organist.
One of the oldest artifacts in the Dom found near the main altar is the Gero cross, a large crucifix carved in oak with some paint and gilding. It was thought to be have been commissioned around 960 AD, for Gero, the Archbishop at that time. It is the oldest known free standing crucifix still extant in Northern Europe and was moved from the earlier Romanesque church which stood on the site.
There are many sculptures both old and new, both beautiful and grotesque but my favorite was the effigy of a long dead Archbishop. His likeness reclines somewhat nonchalantly on top of his tomb, attended by a cherub, waiting for the last judgment.
As you may have guessed there was much to see in the Kolner Dom and the Rambler suggests strongly that you visit if you have a chance, . It is as you might expect, a UNESCO World Heritage site. One caveat, because it is so popular, pickpockets lurk in the crowds, hoping to relieve the unwary of their valuables. Ironically, although Koln was flattened during WWII, the Dom itself received little damage. It seems that its towering spires were an excellent landmark for the pilots.
Today athletic and determined tourists can climb 500 plus steps to the top of one spire, where I’m sure you can see for miles. The Ramblers did not avail themselves of this pleasure.
After our tour, we had a choice of going back to the MT or strolling around the Alstadt (a short distance away) . Uniworld thoughtfully provided shuttle busses for those who wanted to stay later. Most decided to return to the ship, as many were still adjusting to the time change and working off their jet-lag.
For those who go, there is a tourist information center across from the Dom and a McDonald’s’ around the corner. The most famous local product is the Eau de Cologne. Only in Koln can you find the original , but elsewhere you will see the 4711 Eau de Cologne, which is similar. This cologne has been around for a long time; I remember seeing it around our house when I was growing up, but it is not a scent the Rambler enjoys.
Tomorrow more cruising along the Rhine!