After a mere 3 days in Ireland we were off again. This time to Cologne, Germany. The city would be our jumping off point for places further south: Cochem in the heart of the Moselle River Valley, and then to parts unknown.
We chose an Airbnb for our brief stay in Cologne. Our host was unique. She was adamant that we not tell anyone that she was hosting her apartment as an airbnb. An elaborate exchange was arranged. We would arrive two blocks down from her place and enter a corner store. A certain individual at the store would have the key. We would say a phrase to that individual and then would be given the key. Finally we would walk to the real location of the apartment.
It was unclear where the corner store was. After circling the same block of the city for three or four times we found it – or so we thought. The store we entered was the size of a closet. Its claustrophobic qualities were enhanced by the store owner overstuffing racks of merchandise. It could have been a convenience store anywhere except for its tiny size. There was only one man behind the counter – he must be our contact.
“We are here for the key.”
I may or may not have asked in German if he spoke English.
“Uh…so do you have the key we are supposed to pickup?”
This time he glared directly at me.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Now I was becoming frustrated. I turned around to walk out of the store to update Denise, when I heard an eruption of laughter.
“Of course, of course – just a joke my friend!” he said, chuckling. He handed us the key. It was comical, but we were just happy to be arriving.
The next day would be our only one in town, so we decided to head right for the famous Cologne Cathedral. Whenever we visit historic sites, I always want to trace the history back to its origins (if possible). The diocese of Cologne does not disappoint.
The active community here pre-dates Germany itself. A man by the name of St. Maternus (285-315) is the first known Bishop of Cologne. At this time the city was known as “Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium” a colony of the Roman Empire. Maternus built the first cathedral in the 4th century, a simple rectangular building. The foundation for the gothic structure was laid in 1248 by Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden, but was not completed until 1880, 632 years later!
There are many excellent pieces of art inside and out, but do not miss is the reliquary of the Three Kings, said to be the remains of the Biblical Magi who visited Jesus at his birth. This Cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark according to the German tourist board (Deutscher Tourismusverband) with averages of 20,000 visitors per day, and 6 million per year! Somehow this day’s tourist horde was missing in action. Fine with us!
So many momentous events have come and gone in this city, but the diocese of Cologne still stands. The Roman Empire came and went. The Franks came and went. The Holy Roman Empire. Wars. Napoleon. The Weimer Republic. The Nazis. If you visit here, look up at the spires and marvel at the survival of this treasure.
Next up we traded the hustle and bustle of Cologne for a train to peaceful Cochem. This Mosel river town has struck a good balance between tourism and the preservation of its cuteness. It doesn’t appear to look that different from over 100 years ago. There is an excellent promenade for walking. Nine months out of the year Cochem has a nice Mediterranean climate.
The Castle of Cochem today is not the same as the 12th c. original. The French troops of King Louis XIV smashed that one to bits in 1689. The ruins sat unchanged for around 200 years. Finally, A rich Berlin businessman named Louis Ravené bought the rubble in 1868. The same exact year King Ludwig the second began work on Neuschwanstein.
Lots of activities are available for visitors. The legendary Moselle Valley Rieslings can be sampled at any one of the dozens of wineries and wine shops. The Easter Market heralds the beginning of the season two weeks before Easter. It continues with the Moselle Wine Week in mid-June. Over 300 wines are offered for your enjoyment!
Are you a fan of mustard? Well, Cochem has the last remaining traditional mustard mill in Europe. This charming town is a dream for bikers as well. There are enough festivals and activities that young children would love this place. Bike rentals are easy to come by. Or, hop on a luxury river cruise boat and float downstream for a few days. Lots of options.
Hate both wine AND mustard?? Well, that’s ok too. Hike the mountain, grab a bike, or just wander the vineyards. There is also a disco, but if you’re looking for nightlife look for a larger town. Best thing to do is kick back and relax here!