Tag Archives: Cologne

Travel Log: Köln, Part II

My introduction to Köln was fairly sobering and somber, but there is more to the story.

Köln stands as a city of contrast: Relics of Roman rule are juxtaposed with modern shopping centers. Remnants of bombed out buildings are woven in with impressively contemporary architecture.

There is even a constant crowd of teenage skateboarders in front of the Dom.

It’s not as though the people of Köln are ignoring history. Just the opposite… They are living with memories and respecting the past, but they are also growing from it and moving on.

Note: I am now making a transition from the “intellectual” part of this post to the fun stuff.

One of the greatest pleasures about visiting Köln is the Rhine River. Promptly at 6:30 every morning, my friend, Rebecca, and I would hit the riverwalk, for an energizing run.

My view for a daily "Run along the Rhine."

It never ceases to amaze me how helpful a new route can be during a run. When I don’t know what’s ahead, curiosity takes precedence over tiredness, so I end up pushing myself a little farther than usual.

After freshening up for the day, the whole group of students would always meet for a banquet-style breakfast in the hotel.

In traditional German style, breakfast was complete with full-fat yogurt, muesli, Nutella and Leberkäse (translation: German Spam). To my sensitive stomach’s delight, there was no mandatory ingestion of the plastic-packed meat.

Our days in Köln were a mix of sight-seeing and Freizeit (translation: free time). For me, the highlight of it all was hiking up nearly 600 steps to reach the top of the Dom.

Post-workout at the top of the Dom.

The panoramic view of the city from the top of the Dom was certainly worth the blood, sweat and tears it took to get there.

As far as introductions to Germany go, I’d say Köln is one of the best places to begin.


Travel Log: Köln, Part I

Back home, in Midwestern America, I always believed I was surrounded by history: Roads originally carved out by wagons carrying pioneers west. Scars left behind from decades of civil unrest. And memories. Lot’s of memories.

But, for as much history as I was surrounded by, it was just as easily avoided.

And then I came to Germany…

Here, many scars are not yet bandaged. Many memories are not yet reconciled. Everyone, everything has a story.

This revelation came to me not long after de-boarding my plane in Munich (German name: München). I was navigating my way through the Hauptbahnhof (translation: Central Rail Station), awkwardly lugging two-months worth of clothes and essentials.

Then, in the midst of frustration and exhilaration, I caught a glimpse of an older man, sitting solitarily on a bench.

I reasoned he was in his late-70s or early-80s. Nothing that would be attention catching back in America.

Then it hit me: This man didn’t only hear of the war, the division of Germany and the pain of loss through stories re-counted. He lived it.

Throughout the next few days, I was flooded with similar realizations: Here, history lives, breathes and stretches its hand out to every man, woman and child.

After a few days of quiet awareness, the group I am traveling with set out for Cologne (German name: Köln).

In Cologne, the most visible landmark is the “Kölner Dom,” sitting in the middle of the city.

First I noticed the remarkable architecture. Then I noticed that the old building was out-of-place, among hip clothing stores and restaurants. That was kind of strange, I thought. Why aren’t there more historical landmarks?

A quick story: It’s the early 1940s in Northern Germany. Anymore, it seems that midnight air raids are just as common as bedtime stories…

With each raid comes new devastation. The loss of friends and family. The destruction of homes. The sowing of a seed of ever-building fear that next time you wouldn’t be so lucky.

In all, 20,000 civilians were killed. The city was virtually flattened. Post-war,  the primary city planner referred to his task as sorting through “world’s greatest heap of debris.”

Yet, among it all, the Dom still stood.

Cologne in the wake of the war. The Dom is pictured in the back left.

I looked around at the faces of my friends. It was as if we’d all been simultaneously slapped by history.

The pain we felt was both good and bad, in the way that pain often is. It was sad to have such a reminder of the loss and ruination. But it was also empowering to know that history is acknowledged, embraced and learned from.

As I thought ahead to all I would experience in the coming weeks, I knew I was in for the experience of a lifetime.