One of the sidelights of spending stretches of time in Europe is that I can actually make plans to do things in the future, as opposed to merely trying to see as much as possible in a short period of time. As you may know, I have been a long-standing fountain pen aficionada and a regular attendee of the pen shows in the US. Over the last year I have managed to attend eight pen shows (yes, eight), seven in Europe and one in the US. But before you think I’m going to put you to sleep with tedious details about filling systems or the merits of ebonite feeds over plastic ones, let me hasten to add that visiting the most recent pen show brought me back to Cologne, a city I first visited in (kaff kaff) 1974 when dinosaurs walked the earth and I hopped the pond for the very first time.
Cologne is an old old city, dating back to roughly 50 AD, with the kind of history (Gallic Empire! Frankish Empire! Hanseatic League!) that makes me swoon, but I’ll leave the details for you to explore on your own should you wish. I was charmed that I saw a bronze plate in the sidewalk that gives visitors an idea of how the current city overlays the original one:
That there remain any Roman artifacts at all is rather astonishing, as in 1.) they are really really old and 2.) Cologne was one of the most heavily bombed German areas during the Second World War, with the RAF (thanks, Uncle Bob) dropping nearly 35 tons of bombs on the city and resulting in some strange civic reconstruction. But artifacts there be, the city gate below being treated in a slightly less respectful manner than one might wish, but with very charming results:
But the sight that defines this city, and truly must be seen in person to be appreciated, is the Cologne Cathedral, der Kölner Dom, the towering Gothic structure that was started in 1248…halted in 1473…restarted in 1842 and finally completed a whopping 632 years later after its origination…in 1880. (No wonder the locals call it “the eternal construction site” – die ewige Baustelle.) Here is a shot that shows some of the contrast in civic architecture:
I am such a sucker for cathedral towers. On that infamous first trip to Europe in 1974, I clambered to the top of Notre Dame and decided then and there I would dog my way up every such edifice I came across. The 463 steps of Il Duomo di Firenze were no match for me, and I certainly wasn’t going to be daunted by Cologne’s 533 steps…up a crowded, claustrophobic, and seemingly endless circular stone staircase. Happily one of my pen buddies decided to join me on this mad adventure so I can actually document our achievement with one of his artful shots:
…and here’s the reward…a stunning view over the Rhine River and a bit of the city below:
In addition to the view from the top, one should not miss the breathtaking interior of the cathedral. Although I don’t relish sharing my rare spiritual moments with literally hundreds of others, there’s every reason in the world that as many people as possible should be able to experience this magnificence. Here’s a shot of the afternoon sun illuminating one of the naves:
Literally a stone’s throw from the cathedral are two of Cologne’s other must-see’s. The first is the museum that holds most of the Roman artifacts, and the second is the Museum Lugwig, a modern art collection with one of the largest Picasso holdings in Europe. We didn’t have time for both and we opted for the Ludwig, but here’s a picture of the Roman museum, complete with a jolly and well-attended pro-EU rally in full progress on that lovely spring afternoon:
Well, not surprisingly, all that excitement can make a girl rather thirsty. And thankfully Cologne is the kind of place that doesn’t let you suffer for long. Just around the corner from the cathedral and the museums we stumbled into a charming cafe that seemed to be calling our names:
The name of the local brew and its varients is “Kölsch” and it resembles the pilsners and lagers served elsewhere in Germany but with an interesting twist. It’s always served in small glasses, .2 liter to be precise, roughly 3/4 of a cup. Trust me that this amount can go rather quickly if one has been climbing cathedrals or covering football-field-sized museums. So the game historically has been that *the little glasses just keep coming until you tell them to stop.* The server keeps a penciled tab on your coaster until you (or your bladder) decide that you have had enough and then you set said coaster on top of the glass to signal “Basta!” as below:
So, replete with history, exercise, soul-searching, and artistic enrichment, it was time to head back to Berlin and regular-sized beer glasses that don’t get you so buzzed. Before I caught my ICE train that evening, though, I took note of a little local tongue-in-cheek humor gracing the walls of a Hauptbahnhof watering hole I happened to be passing…wrapping into one charming poster the key elements of my visit:
Until next time….be thee very well.