DM and MM's Germany 2007 Diary

Day 19 - Cologne

Wednesday, 9 May, 2007

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The day has dawned grey and wet. Luckily much of our plans for the day involve being indoors - first at the Köln Chocolate Museum, and then exploring the inner depths of the almighty Kölner Dom.


We have seen the most amazing holy shrine of worship in existence. Flocks of people came from far and wide to share the majesty of one of the most powerful and moving forces in the world. This magical place calls to all and none who hearken to its drawing power go away disappointed. I refer, of course, to the Köln Chocolate Museum. Sponsored by Lindt, the three-storey mecca to chocolate lovers sits on a small island in the Rhine, reached over a short bridge from one end of the riverside promenade. It would have been a very nice walk, but the drizzle and chill made it merely somewhat pleasant. On the way we passed the church of Groß St Martin, a handsome multi-spired brick structure that jutted appealingly from behind a row of coloured buildings near the river.

Kirche Gross St Martin
Kirche Groß St Martin

At the Chocolate Museum we checked our bags and cloaks and brollies, and I checked with the lady there about the meaning of the sign that I could see referred to photography, but I couldn't read enough of it to tell if photography was allowed or forbidden. She said in a friendly tone that personal photos were okay, but that permission was needed for commercial photography, so I grabbed my camera before checking in my gear bag.

The ground floor displays gave a natural history of the cocoa plant, how the beans grow and are harvested and so on, and had several exhibits showing beans and fruit, as well as harvesting and transport tools, including a large wooden canoe and lots of photographs of the trees and fruit growing and being harvested. Out a double glass door, through a temperature/humidity lock, was a tropical greenhouse containing a selection of plants from the cocoa tree's native environments. The cocoa tree in there was just producing tiny new flowers and had no fruit unfortunately, but it did show the intriguing thing I'd learned already - that cocoa fruit grows directly out of the trunk of the tree, not at the ends of - or even along - the branches. Also, the fruits have to be carefully cut off the tree by hand to avoid damaging the site on the trunk where the next season's flowers and fruit will grow.

Is she allowed to taste?
Packing chocolates

Further along, the ground floor passed into a circular section walled with glass from the elements outside. Inside, it contained various chocolate processing and making machines - many of them actively working. The most popular was a moulding machine which was squirting molten chocolate into small Lindt moulds, shaking them to remove air bubbles, cooling them in a large chamber, then tipping them out on to a conveyor belt where a suction arm robot would pick them all up (except sometimes one or two of them) and transfer them to another belt that rearranged them into a rapid fire single file stream to get to the wrapping machine, which individually wrapped them in gold-foil-lined paper and sent them off to be bagged. Hordes of children watched each step with eager anticipation. A lady in a white factory uniform with "Lindt" embroidered on the back in gold sat inside the fishbowl-like display area, surrounded by perspex walls, and manually weighed and adjusted each bag of chocolates and sent them off to be sealed and packed.

Other machines on display showed vats of molten chocolate being mixed. Another popular spot was the chocolate fountain, where a Lindt lady dipped handfuls of wafers in to get them coated on one end with the warm liquid delight, then handed them out to eager queues of kids, and the few grown-ups present who could mix it with the kids. Naturally, we wanted to have our rightful share of warm, liquid chocolate too, so we joined the queue behind what must have been a school group of 30 or so kids, about 8 years old. As soon as we joined the queue, another group entered and 30 more kids about the same age lined up behind us, leaving us the only adults, smack in the middle of a yammering bunch of 60+ kids. But it was worth it, as we were handed our wafers which had been ceremoniously dunked in the rich, sweet fluid from the fountain.

Chocolate fountain
The chocolate fountain


We have just returned again from another attempt at night photography. The weather was significantly better tonight, but not perfect by any means. And as I write the rain outside is getting heavier and producing a melodious pattering that promises to help send us to sleep soon.

But at the Chocolate Museum, we moved up from the ground to the first floor, which gave an eagle's eye view of the chocolate making downstairs, plus some new areas where a Lindt worker was filling moulds with molten chocolate from a small fountain, while another was creating personalised chocolate hearts by sorting out chocolate letters and pasting them on to large chocolate hearts of a different colour. Another woman was taking orders for the personalised hearts. Further inside, away from the glass room, were more displays and exhibits, this time on the chocolate making process, including the fermenting and drying of the cocoa beans, grading, grinding, conversion into cocoa paste, which is then pressed to extract cocoa butter and leave behind cocoa cakes, from which cocoa powder is eventually made. The various machines for these processes were all on display, as were the results of the steps in the processing.

Lindt production
Chocolate pieces after moulding

Also on this floor were examples of several varieties of Lindt chocolate, displayed with watchglasses containing the various raw ingredients: sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa powder, milk powder, vanilla, etc. Then there were historical displays showing cocoa and chocolate packaging through the ages, from steel cocoa tins to modern Easter bunnies. One display showed the mathematical transformation needed to map a flat sheet of foil on to the wrapped shape of a chocolate Christmas figure, with gridlines and then with the actual artwork of the figure. Another showed the evolution of chocolate Easter bunnies. Then there were two complete mock-ups of old time chocolate shops, populated with shelves and displays full of colourful cocoa tins and chocolate bar wrappers from throughout the ages.

Having worked our way through two-thirds of the floors, we dashed out for a quick toilet break before continuing, flashing our receipt at the woman at the cashier's desk before re-entering the museum and proceeding up to the final floor. Here we found a surprising and very well presented display of ancient Olmec and Aztec artefacts dating from as far back as 1200 AD. Informational signs in German and English explained the origins of chocolate in the drink the Olmecs first prepared from the beans of the cocoa fruit. Some of the artefacts were merely sculptures or vessels, but some related directly to the chocolate story, being preparation and serving tools for chocolate.

Chocolate lobby
Lobby of the chocolate museum

From there, the narrative moved to the European discovery of chocolate in the 16th century, and the first tools used in Europe for serving hot drinking chocolate from that time. The displays pointed out the fact that the three hot drinks of tea, coffee, and chocolate all reached Europe at about the same time, and up to that point, Europeans had only ever had cold drinks, so they weren't quite sure how to deal with hot ones. The cups of the time had no handles and couldn't be held with a hot drink in them, so at first they were served in flat saucers so that they cooled quickly. But eventually someone invented handled cups and people could start enjoying chocolate in public serving places - the very first "chocolate bars". Engravings and pictures of such chocolate bars from Industrial Revolution times showed upper class people in the costumed finery of the era enjoying hot chocolate in what otherwise looked like a pub.

Following this were silver and fine porcelain ware produced from then through to the Victorian era for the private serving of chocolate: specialised hot chocolate preparation pots, drinking cups and serving trays - there were dozens of them of various designs and intricacies. A famous painting of a serving girl presenting a tray of hot chocolate was reproduced along with a life sized wax model of the girl from the painting, dressed in a black maid's uniform with white apron. (La Belle Chocalatière) The upper level of the museum ended with an interactive children's area with chocolate themed video games, a small cinema showing chocolate videos, and giant models of Lindt gold bunnies, Lindt balls, and the Milka cow.

Thus sated on the knowledge of chocolate, it was time to browse the shop on the ground floor. It was full of more types and brands of chocolate than I thought possible. Lindt was prominent, but many other brands were also represented, as were a small selection of other sweets such as marshmallows and gummi bears. I was boggled to see a Lindt 99% Cocoa variety - the highest we get at home is the intensely bitter 85% - I can't imagine what 99% is like. We picked up just a few Lindt balls and some other small individual pieces from the fill-a-bag section - just enough to do us for a few days. Thus supplied for the future, we decided to check the cafe and stop for drinks and a cake.

I scouted the cakes and spotted the most interesting and delicious looking chocolate cake, called a dreikönigstorte. Deciding to try that, I noticed that it was in a separate category by itself before all the other cakes on the menu, labelled "Purer luxus", and cost over €1 more per slice than any other cake. Undaunted, I ordered it and some mineral water, while Michelle ordered a cappuccino. The cake was impressive when it arrived: three layers of chocolate mud-like cake, separated by a dense chocolate cream, all dusted with a thick layer of cocoa powder, and finished with tiny flecks of bright purple glitter - edible coloured silver, one presumes. It looked almost too good to eat. But eat it, I did - it was very rich and very filling. Being 12:30 by now, it basically filled me up, serving as my entire lunch. Jenny would have been proud to see I'd adapted to the German way of having lunch.

Roman rock
Remains of a Roman column in the Praetorium

We left the Chocolate Museum and walked back towards the Dom in a welcome respite from the rain. The Rhine was grey and gloomy, but still scenic to walk along. We turned inland towards the Rathaus, which is actually a very modern office-type structure here in Cologne. The historic aspect is restricted to a mostly unimpressive facade along the west side. But below the Rathaus is a most amazing piece of history - the Praetorium, an original Roman building. You can access it via an entrance a block away that leads downstairs to a cashier and cloakroom.

Cloaca Maxima
Cloaca Maxima

Paying €2.50 gets you into a display area with dozens of Roman artefacts recovered from the immediate area, as well as maps and architectural drawings showing Cologne as it was as a Roman settlement almost 2000 years ago. From this room a tunnel leads about 20 metres to the Cloaca Maxima - an original Roman water tunnel running under modern Cologne for at least the 100 metres or so that we walked along. It was an arched tunnel comfortably wide enough for one person and with a roof height that forced me to be careful with my head for a short section in the middle, but otherwise allowed walking upright. Near the beginning a modern concrete series of steps led up and over what I guessed is some obstruction or modern installation running across the Cloaca. But after that you can walk through it undisturbed on the Roman flagstones for about 100 metres. A sign at the entrance warned claustrophobes against entering and one could see how they might have problems, but we were fine with it.

Foundations of Köln
Roman foundations under the Rathaus

Returning to the display room, we used the second exit, which led to a circuit around the underground excavation of the remains of a large Roman building. A walkway overlooked the Roman stone walls and a dirt floor between them, while overheard loomed the concrete slab foundation of the Rathaus above. It was all lit dimly by coloured lights, which gave an interesting effect. Overall quite awesome and definitely worth the visit.

After the Praetorium we wound our way back to the almighty Kölner Dom and took the plunge inside. The interior is enormous - high and lofty, with light streaming in from the many vast stained glass windows high above. The rows of windows from just above head height to above 15 metres depicted detailed scenes and people, while those higher up bore tiled geometric patterns. A cherry-picker was parked inside in one corner, with two men up in the basket doing some sort of repair or cleaning work to the inside of one of the windows. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people inside the cavernous space, milling about, gawking at the sight, or sitting contemplatively on the massed pews - yet everyone had heaps of space to move freely and it felt more empty than crowded.

First impressions
Interior of the Kölner Dom

After some initial sweeping photos of the whole from the rear, we went on a walking tour around the inside, beginning by approaching the main altar up the central aisle. The altar is positioned at the centre of the cross-like arms of the cathedral, with pews facing it from both sides as well as from the front. The altar itself we barely actually noticed amidst the rest of the amazing sights all around - not one, but two organs perched precariously halfway up different walls.

Just the floor
Inlaid stone mosaic on the floor

On the left side of the altar dais were stairs leading to the crypt. They descended straight, then turned right at a landing bearing an octagonal labyrinth design inlaid in black and white stone in the floor. Inside the crypt was a small chapel and some inscriptions of the various bishops or whatever they are here in Cologne. The ceiling was decorated with carved reliefs in stone tiles. Exiting the crypt, the next thing was an offering chapel in part of the northern cross arm, where thousands of votive candles were burning and petitioners kept walking up and adding more before kneeling to pray before the representation of Mary and Christ.

Heading around to the rear of the main altar, we first passed an exit leading to the Domschatzkammer - the museum housed in the vaults below the Dom - then around over an intricately mosaiced tile floor with several large circular designs showing images mixed with Latin text in geometrically arranged patterns. The rear area was semi-circular and contained several small chapels arrayed along the outside wall. In the centre was an area walled off by a heavy iron fence and gates. Inside that sat a large glass display case and inside that was a stunning gold box, glowing in the glare of dozens of lights aimed at it.

Shrine of the Three Kings

The mysterious glowing gold box was the Shrine of the Three Kings - a reliquary purported to contain the earthly remains of the Three Magi: Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar, who travelled to pay homage to the baby Jesus. The relics used to be in Milan and were spirited away to Cologne in 1164 in a wooden reliquary, which was replaced with a new custom-made gold one which took an artisan thirty years to complete. It was about the size of a coffin but taller - a metre or so - and completely covered with ornate sculpture and decoration. This is considered to be the prime relic kept at the Cologne cathedral and it was certainly treated and presented as such, with several spots around it with places for offering candles. Around it, the semi-circular walls held more amazing stained glass.

Doing the best you can
Stained glass windows

Continuing around the main altar, the cross arm to the south was less impressive, as renovation work was being done and some of the stained glass was covered by scaffolding and tarpaulins, and part of the floor area was roped off, but it nevertheless held one awesome and colourful giant window that was still visible. Next we did a circuit around the northern and southern aisles, parallel to the main central aisle, to get a good look at all the stained glass along the inside walls. This feat accomplished, we took another minute to drink in the overall effect before heading out to the Domschatzkammer.

A combined ticket to this museum and a climb of the Dom tower cost €5 each. Michelle wasn't sure if she wanted to climb the tower in case it involved tight passageways and staircases. The guy assured us it was wide enough for two people to pass all the way, so she decided to do it.

Soft light
Dom interior

The Domschatzkammer, however, came first. We descended into the depths of the vault below the cathedral to a level where some of an original Roman wall remained as part of the vault wall. The deep vault was split into two floors by a new mezzanine level. The bottom level had two rooms featuring various artworks and sculptures that had been part of the cathedral but have been replaced during restoration work, including decayed old stone statues from over the doorways leading into the building. The second room held priestly vestments - robes and mitres and stoles and so on, richly decorated with gold threads and detailed embroidery, dating from various parts of the last thousand years.

The mezzanine floor above held jewellery (crosses and rings worn by high clergy), gilded crosiers galore, processional crosses, altar crosses, candlesticks, chalices and cruets, and so on. The big thing on this level was the original wooden casket used to bring the remains of the Three Magi to Cologne from Milan, which was decorated with enamel plates portraying the story of the Three Wise Men on one side, and older scenes from the Old Testament on the other. All of this was stunning enough, but the top floor of the vault held even more amazing things. This was the reliquary store where dozens of reliquaries contained the bones of various saints. There were three reliquaries displaying what were allegedly small pieces of the True Cross, one containing a nail from the cross, and one with a crystal cylinder supposed to hold a thorn from the Crown of Thorns. There was also a staff used by St Peter himself.

Peter Bell
St Peter's Bell

With the Dom museum out of the way, the only thing left to tackle was the climb up the tower - 509 steps, 95 metres. It began with a tightly wound stone spiral staircase that was indeed wide enough for two people, but not by much. It climbed up and up and up and up. A few times we paused to catch our breath or let descending people past. Eventually, after several minutes of climbing, we reached a landing with a doorway leading into a large open chamber housing the giant St Peter's Bell - all 24 tonnes of it, and the largest working bell in the world. It was housed in a draughty room with a couple of smaller bells and a bored looking guy in a booth to watch over it. We walked around a one-way loop around the bell, passing through some tight passages around the corners of the room, and pausing at the viewing stations in the four sides. The tower could be seen steepling far above us, supported here on the inside by heavy wooden beams.

The tour of the bell chamber done, we continued up more spiral steps. This time they did not last as long before depositing us in a large empty space directly below the spire above, through the edges of which a light sprinkle of rain fell from the grey clouds that were miraculously higher up still. A doorway led from this room, marked "Do not enter", while a sign marked "Round trip circuit" pointed up a modern steel staircase ascending directly up in square spirals to the stone ceiling about ten metres overhead.

Spire view
View from the spire

We headed up, trusting our weight to this frilly latticework of steel, and passed through the ceiling into another room, where rain pattered down through the filigreed holes on the great stone spire ascending into the heavens directly above. The portal led into a single-file corridor of stone which passed us up a few more steps and to the exterior of the spire, where the rain was a little thicker in the air, but still prevented from free access to us by the heavy stonework all around us. We had magnificent views across the grey city and the Rhine River far below, interrupted by numerous decorated mini-spires, filigrees, and carvings protruding from the central structure. The amount of detail in the building is enormous - it's almost fractal in nature containing ever more detailed and small ornamentation at each scale at which you examine it.

Gothic window
View out a window near the top

The great shame was that this sublime viewpoint was ruined by the copious presence of graffiti scrawled densely on every single square centimetre of surface accessible to fingers from inside the safety cage around the walkway. The fact that people could be so idiotic as to defile a place of both such spiritual significance but also simply of unsurpassable cultural heritage and stunning beauty with their name scrawlings made me angry. It was a display of the very worst of human nature in a place that should only be presenting joy and wonder. One hopes that at some point the ongoing restoration of the cathedral will get around to removing every last scrap of graffiti and putting some effort into preventing it from reappearing.

After walking a circuit of the viewing platform around the spire, which afforded good views of the roof of the main section of the building from far above, we reached a descending spiral staircase, this one narrow enough to require single file and making passing very difficult. It seems they added the steel steps and made the route one way to avoid any such problems on this section. The downward spiral deposited us back at the "No entrance" doorway in the room with the steel staircase. From there, it was all the way back down the wider spiral stairs - a descent that took a good few minutes merely because of the large number of steps to be traversed. With the tower completed, we left the Dom, some three and a half hours after entering it.

Köln gargoyle
Gargoyle on the Dom

I was hungry, having had nothing but cake for lunch, so grabbed an apfelschneckeberliner (special €1!) from a bakery and devoured it with gusto. It was almost 18:00 by this time, and I looked in the Cologne locality guide that our hotel had given us for a possible dinner location while Michelle perused a few more shops along the main shopping drag. She found a leather shop that had some jackets and coats that she liked, and tried on a light brown thigh-length coat with the eager help of a friendly shop assistant who was quick to point out that all items were 20% off, and even quicker to point out how marvellous Michelle looked in the coat. Michelle was standing in front of a mirror, while the shop assistant looked bored and disinterested and kept saying, "It looks wonderful on you," in that sort of drawly stereotypical European fashion designer voice. It did look good on her, but she tried a size larger for comparison, before finally settling on the smaller one as the best fit. As the lady rang up the purchase, I enquired about a tax-free form so we could claim the 19% European tax back at the airport on departure. There was some paperwork to be completed, which took a few minutes, but we left with the coat and claim forms that should be good for a significant refund.

Hohestraße night
Looking down Hohestraße from Domplatz

For dinner I'd found, of all things, a Hard Rock Cafe, which Michelle jumped at as soon as I broached the possibility. As it wasn't far away we walked over and were shown to a table by a guy who spoke pretty good English (for the tourists no doubt). The waitress arrived with menus in English and never used a single word of German with us as we ordered burgers - a vegetarian for Michelle and a blue cheese hamburger with additional mushrooms for me. They were of course huge, but we were hungry and finished them off easily. As in all Hard Rock Cafes, we scouted the walls curiously, looking for any really cool rock memorabilia, but the section seemed pretty sparse until we explored for the toilets and found an entire other floor upstairs (currently unused with the few customers present), which held shirts worn by Elvis and John Lennon, a Madonna bustier, the drum head used by Larry Mullen Jr to record U2's Angel of Harlem, a U2 guitar, and the leather jacket worn by George Michael in the Freedom video.

With our food and rock memorabilia appetites sated, we wended our way back to the hotel. I noticed the weather was fine - at least not raining, and not windy - and tonight would be a better night for photography than last night. Michelle rolled her eyes but agreed to come along if I went out again. We rested in the hotel for about an hour until it started getting dark, then did a check on the state of the weather. With no rain or wind, the decision was made to give the photos another try, and we returned to the Domplatz for some tripod work.

Convenient shelter
The Dom at night

Unfortunately, it began sprinkling lightly as I set up, but not enough to prevent a few good photos that should turn out considerably better than the ones from the night before. The rain slowly got heavier until I was protecting the camera with an umbrella between shots and exposing it to the elements only during exposures. A bunch of teenagers loitered for ages, goofing off right in front of the main Dom doors, preventing me from taking a decent photo with no people in it for several minutes, during which time the drizzle grew in intensity and I got fairly wet, since I was protecting the camera and not myself with the umbrella. Eventually I got tired of waiting and took a last series of shots as the rain became quite heavy and I decided to give it up for the night. At least it wasn't windy.

So accomplished, we trudged back to the hotel through the rain, which made the streets slick with reflections of lights and leant a magical air to the bustle of the city.

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