Friday, March 20, 2015

Cologne - Germany.

Cologne. Every Indian of a certain age will know Cologne. If you had a raging fever your mother - and if she was incompetent a duffer or a fool - your grandmother, placed a handkerchief soaked in ice cold water to which a few drops of `colon water’ were added. This brought down your fever. If you are very old, say 65 and more the `colon water’ was 4711 from Cologne. If you were younger it was TATA Eau De Cologne called Prince.

Yes my friends Eau De Cologne or water of Cologne or as we Maharashtrians say `colon water’ comes from Cologne. In fact in our vocabulary the word `Cologne’ signifies perfume. It has become a generic term for scent. In 1994, the Mülhens family which owned the iconic 4711 Eau De Cologne sold the company to Wella AG. In 2003, Wella AG was taken over by P&G. Then in 2006, Procter & Gamble announced it would sell the 4711 brand which was then bought by a German Company Maurer & Wirtz, who own it today. The flagship store is on Glockengasse where we went.

The original 4711 store at Glockengasse

We are in Cologne. This was our final stop on the Eurostar – Thalys/DB train journey from London. Cologne is a great city. Situated on the mighty Rhine Cologne is one of Germany’s largest cities. It has much commercial importance. Today it hosts world famous trade fairs and exhibitions like the Photokina. Getting to Cologne by train from London is very easy. It is a scant 4 hours away and the trains are most convenient. Far cheaper than travelling by air and much more fun too. Probably takes as much time.

The most striking and important monument in Cologne is the mighty impressive Cologne Cathedral. This sits right in the centre of town right next to the main train station. This is the city’s focal point. The Old Town or Alte Stadt is around the Cathedral as are most of the main shopping streets and restaurants.

The Cathedral is huge, massive and built to a scale that boggles the mind. Construction of Cologne Cathedral commenced in 1248 and was halted in 1473, leaving it unfinished. Amazingly, work restarted in the 19th century and was completed, to the original plan, in 1880. The towers are 157 meters high which is well over 500 feet! It is the second largest religious building in Europe and an estimated 20,000 people visit it every day. It is the most visited monument in Germany. Pretty impressive figures.

A Black & White photo

While the Cathedral is indeed massive, there was a problem. There was just too much construction in very close proximity to the Cathedral. A lot of this construction is new. The Germen History Museum and the Ludwig museum both are in the same area. The train station is alongside. You simply cannot get a real picture of the Cathedral. This is sad, and rather surprising. I don’t know how the German architects and historians did not realise this. Of course with a monument so old, you are bound to have repairs. This was a damper too. Some of the photos have really ugly scaffolding. . As a matter of fact, the Cologne Cathedral has been referred to as the eternal construction site. 800 years of construction work with a 300 year gap in between. There is always some repair work on in some part of the tower.

More than a World Heritage Site or the seat of the Archdiocese of Cologne, the Cologne Cathedral is a monument to Gothic architecture and held the record for World's Tallest Building from 1880-1884. The interior of the church is truly magnificent and soaring with glorious stained glass windows. One window especially stood out with its modernistic stained glass work. Behind the high altar, the Shrine of the Three Kings rises up; the relics of Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar-the city patrons of Cologne-rest here alongside the relics of Saints Felix and Nabor and Saint Gregory of Spoleto. This impressive work of medieval gold craftsmanship is a focal point of this magnificent Cathedral.

The most famous stained glass window - The Bible Window

The newest and most controversial - It is modern design in the old Cathedral

Despite all this grandeur, I thought that the Aachen Cathedral was much more beautiful.

A payment of 8 euro gives you a ticket to climb the South Spire and visit the Cathedral treasury. It’s well worth it to climb the 553 step circular staircase over 500 feet into the air to view the city from the peak of the stained black marble cathedrals bell towers. Winding worn stone step by worn stone step up past gargoyles and saints, through literally hundreds of years of constant construction. There really isn’t much of a view from the top, but it’s a good workout and well worth the effort. The Treasury is also worth a visit to see how it is possible to preserve and display seriously old religious artefacts.

The Church Bell

Cologne is also famous for its local beer called Kolsch. Kölsch is a local specialty beer brewed in Cologne. It is clear with a bright, straw-yellow hue, much like any normal lager, and is less bitter than the standard German pale lager. Kölsch is defined by an agreement between members of the Cologne Brewery Association. Thirteen breweries produce Kölsch in and around Cologne, anchored by Früh, Gaffel, Reissdorf and Kölner Verbund. A Kolsch is served in 200 ml straight sided narrow tall glasses. Each of these brewers have one or more `Brauerei’ where the beer is brewed on premises. Kolsch is also served in Biergartens and Brauhaus’s. You get standard Brauhaus food, but more of that later in a food post. The bar staff, called Köbes, clad in blue shirt, dark trousers and apron, patrol the Biergarten or Brauerei bringing Kölsch to the waiting customers. The glasses are carried in a circular tray (Kölschkranz) with holes for the glasses and a handle in the centre. This is much like `Thaali’ restaurants in Mumbai where waiters run around with the 4 container serving dish. The Köbe will usually make a mark on your beer mat / coaster for each glass you receive so that your bill can be easily reckoned when you want to pay. They take your food order which is transmitted to the kitchen by way of a PDA that they all carry. Your food is brought to your table by a separate set of runners. The Kobe do not handle food, just the Kolsch.

4 glasses done

11 till the end of the evening.

Another big attraction is the Ludwig Museum with its collection of Modern Art. Two other places worth a mention are the Chocolate and the Mustard Museums – both across the road from one another. Of the two, the chocolate museum was truly impressive. It was full of fun and interesting information on the origin, geography, history, growing, making and marketing of chocolate around the world. Loads of interactive booths for further information and test-your-knowledge games. Also, a re-creation of a tiny tropical forest with cacoa trees and other flora from the same geography. On the higher floors is an actual working factory by Lindt and Sprungli where you can see chocolate being made. Very nicely done and a well spent 1 hour.

A massive chocolate fountain where you can sample freshly made chocolate

Chocolate machine control panel.

Cologne Alte Stadt is a busy pedestrian area with historical monuments and churches interspersed with large shopping areas. An absolute pleasure to walk around. Like many European city, Cologne is made for walking; whether it’s a walk around to see the many monuments dotting the Alte Stadt, or a leisurely stroll along the fast flowing Rhine with its hundreds of tiny Cafes and restaurants.

The Town Hall & Mikvah

Close up of the Mikvah wall

St Martin Church

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3 buildings along the Rhine. Called `The Crane'. 

Lovely buzzing city. Definitely worth a visit.

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