Cologne: Germany’s Most Diverse City

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I’m not sure why, but looking at Rhine River cruise itineraries, not much time is spent in Cologne. We were there for only five daylight hours, which limited what we could see. Since it is one of the great cultural cities of Germany it was disappointing. But we had a nice tour of the Cathedral and the old city with an excellent guide who was passionate about her city.

Cologne (spelled Koln with an umlaut in German) was founded not long before the birth of Christ and became a major Roman outpost in the early first century after Christ. The city was named for Agrippina the Younger – Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensis – who was born there but left while still very young. The great granddaughter of Emperor Augustus, she was ambitious so she seduced and married her much older uncle, the Roman Claudius. While she was Empress she had her birthplace renamed. Claudius was plotting to disinherit his wife and her son Nero, but Agrippina managed to poison him. This was reputedly not the first time she had murdered a family member.  Her son Nero did not like having his meddling mother around, so he had her killed, though it took several attempts according to some sources. Despite this notorious history, Kolners still honor this fascinating woman as their founding mother.

The city was the largest city in Europe north for Alps for much of the Middle Ages which explains the stunning Gothic cathedral.

The Gothic Cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark and features the world’s tallest twin spires. Construction was begun in 1248 and only completed in 1880 using the original design. It is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The vaulted interior is breathtaking as were the stained glass windows of many eras. These were hidden from the Nazi’s throughout World War II. It is also famous as the location of the relics of the Magi (the 3 kings of Christmas) which are housed in a stunning gold reliquary. As with many medieval buildings in Europe, the Cathedral is being repaired almost continuously.

Next to the Cathedral is the Roman-Germanic Museum, built over a near flawless Roman Dionysus mosaic, features archaeological items from early Cologne history. We viewed the mosaic from the outside window since the museum is closed Mondays.

The rest of our tour was a nice walk through the old part of the city and to the river which features many Romanesque churches and buildings, including the Great St. Martin Church, built between 1150 and 1250, which along with the Cathedral are the main features of the old city skyline.

The riverfront of the city offered parks and a mix of well taken care of ancient and modern buildings. Cologne is considered Germany’s most diverse city with almost 20 percent of the population non-German. Half of these immigrants are Turkish and there are large numbers of Italians, Poles and Serbians as well.

When cruising there are some places that you feel like you got a nice overview of the city, but some like Cologne deserve a longer visit. We will be back.

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