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April 24, 2022
Cologne, Germany: A Cathedral, Chocolate, Cranes, Keys, and (of course) Cologne

In the year 1164, the city of Cologne received a remarkable set of religious relics: the bones of the Magi (the three kings who visited baby Jesus). As pilgrims began flocking to the city, Cologne decided to create a grand reliquary to house the relics. The next step was to create a grand cathedral to house the reliquary.

Begun in 1248, the Gothic Cathedral was not completed until 1880, more than 600 years later. It is still the tallest cathedral in the world, and Cologne is the largest city on the river Rhine.

Cologne was also one of the most heavily bombed cities in Germany during World War II. Miraculously, the cathedral was spared. It is not because the Allies were sentimental. It is because they used the tall Cathedral as a navigation landmark for their bombing runs. After the war, almost the entire city needed to be rebuilt. Today it is a mixture of traditional and modern architecture, with some landmarks still dating back to the time of the Roman Empire.

We visited Cologne on a Sunday, so we were not able to get inside the cathedral until after 1:00 pm. Gail and Cameron went on the included “Cologne Walking Tour,” while Russell went on the optional “Cologne by Bicycle.”

The reliquary containing the bones of the Magi

Cologne is a city of many interesting sights. Lindt has a chocolate museum here. (It used to be owned by another chocolate manufacturer. When Lindt bough it, they simply changed all of the names on things.) The contemporary Kranhäuser (Crane Buildings) were built in the early 2000s to imitate the look of construction cranes. These 17-story buildings overlook the Rhine and contain the most expensive apartments in the city.

Cologne (the perfume) was also invented here, by an Italian named Johann Maria Farina in the early 1700s. (“Eau de Cologne” simply means “Water of Cologne.”) The fragrance has been enjoyed by everyone from France’s Napoleon Bonaparte to England’s Queen Victoria to America’s Bill Clinton. (Russell sprayed some on his wrist and had Gail smell it. She was not impressed.)

The bridge that crosses the Rhine next to the cathedral features one of Cologne’s most popular sights: love padlocks. The practice originated in a 2006 novel in which two lovers affix a bicycle lock to a lamppost and toss the key into the river. Since then, “love padlocks” have sprung up on bridges and fences from China to the Czech Republic. The practice began on Cologne’s Hohenzollermbrücke bridge in 2008, and today the bridge is adorned with more than 40,000 padlocks.

In the evening, Gail and Cameron went off to the “Cologne’s Beer Culture & Dinner” optional excursion, which features local Kölsch beers and a Brauhaus dinner. Russell stayed aboard ship to hear the evening’s entertainment from a pair of local classical musicians.

As a final treat, we remained in Cologne until 11:00 pm. The longship is docked right across the Rhine from the cathedral, so we were able to see everything beautifully lit up at night.

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