I’ve taken a while to write this post because Cologne was complicated.  It was the city we spent the most time in, and the city that I pretty much explored on my own (as James was busy being at Gamescom).  When I travel I tend to do a lot of reading about the place I’m in, or certain landmarks as they take my fancy – and even notable people  (well statues to them).

There is a lot of history in Cologne, not to say that there wasn’t in Paris or Amsterdam, I just got to experience a lot more history in Cologne.  From it’s Roman occupation in 50AD (I’m sure the local Germanic Celts were really happy with that), to the modern day, Cologne has an incredibly wealth of history that I could go and touch, and see, and marvel at.  Really in Cologne I did history, and a lot of it.

95% of the centre of the city was destroyed by bombing in World War 2:

Cologne during WW2
An aerial black and white photograph of a heavily damaged city (Cologne), most buildings have lost their roofs or been destroyed due to bombing. The centre of the photo is Cologne Cathedral - Photo from TheRocketeer

Despite a large swathe of the city being destroyed, after WW2, with the help of the British, the Kolners decided to rebuild, and rebuild almost everything.  I’m not sure how some things, particularly mosaics in very old churches survived.

Mosaic in Cologne Cathedral depicting a bishop holding the previous church building

Though in this case, the Cologne Cathedral was used as a visual landmark to identify to the bombers that’d they’d arrived at Cologne, and therefore destroying it was not on the agenda.  This mosaic from Great St Martin was not so lucky.

Mosaic from Great St Martin which is mostly destroyed

Many of the churches in Central Cologne (and I didn’t realise how Catholic Cologne was until I got there) had photos and images of how badly damaged the building was before it was restored, and in some cases details of how the decision to restore the church was made – this was particularly true for Great St Martin, for which restoration was completed in 1985.

One tiny sliver of silver on the fact that Cologne was almost wiped from the map during WW2 was that they rediscovered much of their Roman heritage – and this I spent a lot of time going “oooh” over.  Fortuitously while digging a bomb shelter the Dionysus mosaic was unearthed – which they later build the entire Romano-Germanic museum around – so they didn’t have to attempt to move it.

The Dionysus Mosaic (partial shot) showing pattern work as well as a peacock, bucket of grapes and other figures

In building new municipal offices, the foundations of the Praetorium were (re)discovered, and a major archaeological dig (still ongoing) unearthed various relics, the majority of the foundations, and the reason the Praetorium was abandoned and levelled (major earthquake damage in about 790AD).  The local government build a dome over the foundations and built their offices on top – creating a museum, with bonus access to the remains of a section of a nearby Roman Sewer.

Roman Praetorium Foundations - crumbling rock walls
Roman Sewer - a long brick and stone tunnel with lights at regular intervals

Walking along the narrow sewer is an experience, and certainly not one for those with claustrophobia.  In some ways it’s easy to forget that it was ever a sewer, with it being dry and smelling of nothing other than damp rock and mortar.  It was a bit disturbing while I was there the second time (this time with James) to find names and dates written in pencil on some of the bricks.  The dates were during WW2, and I couldn’t read the names, so I didn’t know if they were from people hiding in the sewers during bombing, or people being detained there.  Given the former Jewish district wasn’t too far from where the sewer is, were members of Cologne’s Jewish population hiding or detained here?

Every day while I was in Cologne I looked things up in Wikipedia and learnt a lot about the history of a city which had only ever been a name generally associated with perfume (and yes, Eau de Cologne did originate in Cologne).  I learnt about the rich history of many different groups of people who lived in the region, saw what remained of where they worked, worshipped and played.  I read about Archbishops who’d had their own militia and the most chilled funerary statue ever.

A very relaxed Engelbert (Martyr) - a statue of a man in full Bishop regalia reclining on his side with his chin propped on his crooked arm.

I really enjoyed my time in Cologne, and discovering so much.  Next time though, I’m actually going to do some shopping, after I found all the plus-size shops I wanted to shop in on my last day there – which was James’s only free day to explore the city himself so no shopping for us.

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