Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Deutschland: Part III - Cologne

Deutschland Part III – Cologne

Dom exterior/interior

We arrived at the Cologne train station at 7am on the night train from Munich. When we stepped out of the station we were confronted with Colognes main attraction, the Dom. The Dom took over 600 years to complete (1248-1880) because of several lengthy delays. It also took a beating in WWII, but you can hardly notice.

It’s hard to convey the huge size and immaculate tiny details of this cathedral’s architecture. Each and every time we walked by this area there were hoards of tourists snapping pictures of the Dom, but they could only catch a tiny segment of the building at a time. Here’s Andrea's best attempt at a comprehensive close-up photo using the panorama setting on her iphone:

Here's a shot from the side:

The inside of the Dom was equally stunning. I didn’t recognize most of the statues and stain glass scenes, but those people must have done some great things if anyone would bother to make a statue of them.

We came back for a Sunday service on our last day so I could hear someone play the pipe organ, and I was not disappointed!

Climbing the bell tower

For a small fee, you could climb one of the bell towers, which was a spiral staircase with almost 600 steps! Here's a picture from when we were descending to give you an idea of what it looked like inside:

I was surprised by the amount of graffiti on the walls. We thought the climb would be tough, but living at 5000m above sea level in Fort Collins had kept our legs and lungs in better shape than most, so it wasn't too bad. The view from the top was totally worth it, although Andrea is terrified of heights, so she wouldn't walk over to the edge to see it all.

On our way back down the spiral staircase we were confronted with a decent amount of traffic. Even though walls surrounded us, some people were clinging to the handrail like they were walking on an exposed ledge. There was also an encounter with the most annoying tourist I’ve ever seen. The staircase had windows that lined up in the same direction, so that every dozen steps or so you would be looking at the same view again. The guy in front of us must have had a memory disorder, because he was so amazed with the same view he had just seen, he felt the need to hold up the people behind him and take yet another picture with his huge camera. It probably took about 30 seconds each time he did this.

Eating raw pork

If you know me, you know I’m a “foodie”, but more than that, I like to try “weird” foods. I prefer to think of myself as drawn to culinary and gastronomic adventures (such as live octopus and raw whale). Most of the food in Germany was not what I would consider adventurous, but there was this one exception:

This is the “Cologne Sampler Platter”, which showcased regional sausages. The light pink meat was similar to bologna that you would find in the US. The red sausage in the middle of the plate was made from smoked pig liver, and was the best liver I’ve ever had. The liver had a smooth, not gritty, texture. The dark red meat with white spots at the top of the plate was “black pudding” or blood sausage. This was good, but far from the best blood sausage I’ve ever eaten.

Underneath all this was a pile of raw ground pork! On the menu it was described as “minced pork”, but I wasn’t expecting raw meat. I asked the waiter about this and he assured me that this was the correct preparation. He suggested putting it on a piece of bread with some raw onions and salt. I tried a couple bites of it, and it wasn’t too bad, but eventually the fear of getting sick prevented me from eating anymore. Luckily, I did not get sick.

Chocolate Museum

If you ever find yourself in Cologne, I urge you to check out the chocolate museum. In addition to interesting exhibits about the history and economics of the chocolate industry, the museum houses a fully functioning chocolate factory (with robots!) that takes raw cacao beans and turns them into little chocolate bars. The great thing about this little factory is that you get to peek into every point of the process. There is also a huge chocolate store that we took full advantage of.

Ride on the Rhine

After we checked out most of the other sites in Cologne we decided that we wanted to see more of the countryside, so we took a southbound train to Bingen, and rode a ferry back up the Rhine to Cologne. This section of the Rhine is littered with old castles (see map on the right). Some are just ruins, but others have been well maintained and have people living in them, or have been turned into a hotel.

The weather was a bit gloomy, with mild rain throughout the day. The ferry wasn't very crowded so we got one of the dining rooms all to ourselves. It ended up being a very relaxing day drinking kolsch and taking pictures of the scenery.

We got back to Cologne and walked over one of the main bridges to check out the love locks. If you've never heard of this, the idea is to customize a lock with your names and lock it to the bridge. Then you throw the key off the bridge to symbolize that you're stuck together forever. People usually have some ceremony to go along with it, and sometimes they also do "unlocking" ceremonies, in which they remove the lock with bolt cutters. I'm not sure why you would bother going through an unlocking ceremony if you were breaking up. We thought about putting our own lock on the bridge but we forgot to buy one before the stores closed that day.

K-Town Jam

We spent our last night in Germany back in the barracks at the Sembach army base. We had another jam session that stemmed from an impromptu a cappella session at the local bar with some of the army choir. I was blown away by how good these singers were, but then again, almost anybody can sing better than me! Here's a video of the pre-jam singing session to give you an idea of how awesome these guys were:

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