Monday, March 14, 2016

Ein Wochenende in Deutschland: Snapshots from Düsseldorf and Cologne

Meindeg, 14 Mäerz.

One of the things that I miss the most about the United States is my family and friends my car. (Just kidding, fam!) While I am a huge fan of public transportation for many reasons (including environmental impact, cost, and the fact that you can nap while going somewhere), there is something so liberating about hopping in a car and just hitting the road. Need a bathroom break? Want to make an unexpected detour? Decide to extend your trip or head home early? No problem -- you are the driver and you make the rules.

So this weekend, I took advantage of housemates with cars and hit the open road for a weekend excursion to Düsseldorf and Cologne with Vicky and Lucie, two of the newest additions to my student residence. While western Germany isn't exactly Francophone Europe, the trip was too fun not to share with you!


We spent Saturday afternoon and part of Sunday morning exploring Düsseldorf, my housemate Vicky's hometown.

Düsseldorf is the seventh largest city in Germany, with a population of 600,000 people within the city  limits alone. (Quick reminder that the entire country of Luxembourg clocks in at just over half a million.) And we got a bird's eye view of the whole thing from the top of the Rheinturm, the city's telecommunications tower!

The Rheinturm, or Rhine Tower, was inaugurated in 1981 and has been towering over the city of Düsseldorf ever since. It stands at 174 meters, with an observation deck at 170 meters. (That's over -- eek -- 500 feet tall!) Visitors to the tower pay nine euros and take a speedy, smooth elevator ride several dozen stories up to the window-lined observation deck.

From the windows, which are angled outward, you can peer down and see the base of the tower. That is, if you're brave enough to look!

Back down on the ground, we had a wonderful time exploring Düsseldorf and eating everything in sight. (Seriously -- ice cream, pommes frites, and a cheese-covered bagel. What a beautiful city.)

On Sunday, we drove to Cologne -- or Köln, as it's known auf Deutsch. This city, the sworn rival of Düsseldorf in everything from football to beer, is even larger (with over one million city inhabitants) and more historic.

Cologne was first settled by the Romans and Roman ruins, including an ancient Roman sewer system, can be found throughout the city. (But don't worry: we didn't go into the sewers to have a look!) Thanks in part to its strategic location on the Rhine River, Cologne became increasingly important as a political and economic center during the Middle Ages. It even became a center of pilgrimage in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, after the Archbishop of Cologne acquired the relics of the Three Kings (of "We Three Kings" fame) and built the Cologne Cathedral. Since then, the cathedral has become a symbol, both of Cologne and of Germany as a whole, and has become the most visited tourist attraction in the entire country.

Given the immense fame of the cathedral, it was only appropriate that the Kölner Dom was our first stop after arriving in Cologne. And before going any further, let me remind you that I have seen a lot of cathedrals in my day. Between living in Germany and studying in France (where churches are both plentiful and free to visit), I have wandered through more than my fair share of pew-lined naves and peered up at a staggering amount of stained glass. And the Cologne Cathedral ... well, it was something else.

Work on the Cologne Cathedral began in the thirteenth century, after the Archbishop of Cologne acquired relics of the three Kings from Milan and the city of Cologne became a major destination for pilgrims. Inspired by the cathedral in Amiens, church officials in Cologne decided to build their own cathedral in the Gothic style. However, after two hundred years of work, construction slowed -- leaving the cathedral to sit, half-finished, in the middle of Cologne until the nineteenth century. In the 1840s, work began again and the church was finally finished in 1880, over 630 years after construction first began. Fun fact: between its completion in 1880 and the construction of the Washington Monument in 1884, the cathedral was the world's tallest structure!!

Since its completion, the church has become increasingly famous. It was spared during the aerial bombardment that destroyed a majority of the city during World War II and was later named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

One of the most striking -- and definitely the most modern -- elements of the cathedral was its southern window (pictured, in part, above). After being destroyed during World War II, the window was replaced with simple, unadorned glass. It was not until 2007 that the replacement, a kaleidoscope-like feature called "Symphony of Light," was installed. (You can read more about the new window in this article.)

Created by artist Gerhard Richter, the window features 11,500 squares of glass arranged in a stunning abstract pattern. I only wish that I could have captured the way the light streamed through the glass into the church! But don't worry, I took a mental picture. :)

In addition to its cathedral, Cologne is famous for Kölsch, a lager invented and brewed in the city. The Brauhaus Früh, a local brewery just a few steps from the cathedral, is one of only a handful of spots that brews Kölsch and we popped in for lunch. Although beer didn't sound particularly tempting, we did try the brewery's alcohol-free Früh Sport Fassbrause. (In German, a fassbrause is an alcohol-free beverage made from fruit. In the US, it's often called "apple beer.")

I opted for schnitzel with fries and can I just say -- YUM. I am now debating monthly trips to Germany for the sole purpose of filling up on my favorite specialties!

I loved this stained glass rendering of Cologne in the entrance to the brewery!

We spent the afternoon meandering through the city of Cologne and checking out a few more of the city's must-sees. While nothing took our breath away quite like the famous cathedral, there were many other gorgeous spots...

Graffiti around the city promoted "a Karneval with love and without sexism and racism."

Three cheers for ein schönes Wochenende in Germany!

1 comment:

  1. So interesting! I visited the cathedral in 1986 and remember it very well. I'm so glad you were able to see it. What a great weekend! Where will you go next?