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Germany A-Z travel guide 2019: Cologne

Cologne has so many faces it is difficult to characterise. How does a city become known for both beer and perfume, both carnival and culture? What matters to the traveller is that Cologne is an intriguing place to visit, a German city known to English-speakers by a French name that goes back to Roman times.

The city’s place on the Rhine and transport connections make it one of the first stops in Germany, which was part of its attraction for the French before Prussian expansion finally secured a German border west of the river. But the political story goes back much, much further.

Cologne was a creation of Rome’s power in the region about the time of Christ. From the plans of the emperor Augustus to dominate Germania a garrison town was born, elevated to city status at the petition of a native, the empress Agrippina the younger. That city, Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, has left many remains for archaeologists and museums and today visitors can follow fragments of the still-standing Roman wall, including towers. The city became the capital of the province Germania Inferior late in the 1st century.

The plan of the Roman city is clear in the modern street plan and a recreation of the surviving arch of its north gate stands before the city’s famous cathedral. The full structure would have been impressive at more than 30m wide, about three times the size of the present fragments, replete with colonnades and powerful flanking gate towers. Its central arch admitted the north-south Roman road (on the line of today’s main shopping street, Hohe Straße). The original, inscribed with the CCAA initials of the city, is now in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum and parts were later incorporated into various medieval structures and, eventually, the cathedral’s chapter house.

The surviving north-west tower of the Roman town wall is today part of a building at the west end of Zeughausstraße between Am Römerturm (named after it) and St-Apern-Straße. The stones of the tower, which was fought around during the last street battles of World War II, preserve their almost mosaic appearance. Parts of the Roman north wall stretch back toward the cathedral along Burgmauer, where remains of a fountain are at Appellhofplatz.

After the end of the Roman period, ecclesiastical power was established early in Cologne and by medieval times prince-archbishops were power brokers, helping elect the emperor in a new German empire. The first church buildings were from early in the 4th century, built over a Roman structure. The cathedral’s shrine of the Three Magi became an essential part of the processional rituals of imperial coronation, which took place in Aachen.

But the magnificent Gothic cathedral of Cologne took more than 600 years to take its present shape, one of the world’s biggest churches with a vast interior space and treasures that require books of description. The towers today top out at 157m but in 1869, 11 years before completion, were still just over 50m high – meaning the cathedral is a mixture of Gothic and Neogothic. It took a great effort in the Prussian era to complete the towers. The view from the south-west tower at almost 100m is two-thirds of the way up, a prime perch for viewing the old town. The observation platform in the south-west tower is at the top of more than 500 steps.

The cathedral’s inner space is more than 400,000 cubic metres and the plan is about the same area as London’s St Paul’s. Much of the stained glass is from the 19th century, but the 14th century windows are the biggest of their period in Europe and the choir stalls and high altar are contemporary. The precious golden shrine (1225) is the central treasure and the floors commemorate the burials of centuries of bishops and archbishops. What seemed miraculous after World War II was the sight of the cathedral scarred but unbroken amid city ruins. What seems remarkable today is the gilt appearance it often takes on in photographs. Five or six masses take place daily as well as special events and the cathedral is closed to visitors during these. Tours in English meet inside the main west portal.

Less well known are the older treasures, Cologne’s 12 Romanesque churches, most on the sites of Roman buildings, some heavily restored after the bombing of World War II. Each is remarkable to visit and quite different, but the ensemble is without parallel in Germany. These churches go right back to the roots of German Christianity and a few display the rare trefoil-plan apse. Anyone interested in medieval buildings can tour these and find intriguing variety.

St Severin at Severinskirchplatz houses the relics of the saint, the late 4th century bishop of Cologne, where he founded a monastery in 376. Archaeology has revealed the original building. Parts of the present 13th century church, including the crypt, are from a 10th century predecessor. The present tower reaches 79m. The present reliquary shrine of the saint is from early in the 19th century.

Of all the Romanesque churches, it would be a shame to miss the Basilika St Ursula with its Goldene Kammer, a macabre display of human bones in the roof vaulting that forms symbols and spells out Latin messages, connected by legend with the church’s saint and her 11,000 virgin handmaidens. But the chamber is kept under lock and key until visitors inquire and pay a small fee. The arched interior of St Maria im Kapitol is also a compelling sight, despite the loss of its vaulting to bombing.

Beneath the 12th century trefoil plan of Groß St Martin, largest of the Romanesque churches, are the remains of Roman warehousing that may also have been used as a sports complex and this makes an interesting short museum tour. The site was part of the river port that used a former island in the Rhine. Today the tower, in Gothic, stands 75 metres high, but the Benedictine monastery it was built for has vanished.

The monastery church Basilika St Kunibert was consecrated to an early 7th century Cologne bishop and counsellor of Frankish kings. His relics were laid in a church of the period, followed by the interment of two early missionary martyrs, around which a late Romanesque church was built in the mid-13th century.

A 10th century church was consecrated on the site of today’s Dominican church of St Andreas on Komödienstraße on the line of the old Roman north wall. But the surviving church of 1220 holds special importance, not just for its architecture and original Romanesque paintings. In the crypt is the sarcophagus of the great church and natural philosopher St Albertus Magnus, who had a close association with Cologne late in his eventful life and founded the city’s university.

The 13th century Basilika St Gereon is a Romanesque adaption with a large oval dome on a complex plan with origins in a 4th century Roman mausoleum. Roman stone and walls were reused in the medieval structure. St Gereon, from Cologne, was a leading figure of the 3rd century story of the Theban Legion, whose martyrs were worshipped on the site, and his relics were unearthed in 1121. There are galleries, valuable mosaics and the early 11th century St Gereon tapestry that formerly hung inside is the oldest known to survive in Europe.

The 12th century Cäcilienkirche was little changed by 15th century renovations. The towerless church replaced a 9th century home for women built over an even earlier Roman building. It today houses the Museum Schnütgen and its medieval and religious art and the interior was modified accordingly. In post-World War II restorations the 13th century wall frescoes were repaired.

The collegiate church Basilika St Aposteln, dedicated to all 12 apostles, was successor to an earlier Byzantine-plan church built just outside the main west gate to Roman Cologne. Parts are from the 11th century church founded by the archbishop Pilgrim, who is buried within. The tower is mid-11th century and the trefoil apse from the early 13th century. A Baroque atrium and frescoes were introduced in the 18th century.

One of the oldest of the Cologne churches, the 11th-century St Maria im Kapitol, was built with the first of the city’s trefoil apse plans over an 8th century convent church and the remains of a 1st century pagan temple. Its many internal arches create an almost Mediterranean feel but the overhead vaulting was wrecked by World War II bombing and never replaced. The large crypt contains the relics of St Plektrudis, who established a convent that served the Cologne upper classes for hundreds of years.

The small Romanesque St Maria in Lyskirchen near the Rhine bank was completed early in the 13th century and there are galleries and high-quality paintings of Old Testament stories from the same period in the vaults, either side of the altar and above the door. The wooden 15th century Madonna, about 2m high, became an object of worship for Rhine boatmen, who adopted the church.

The simpler 11th century church of St Georg is basic in its Romanesque appearance after extensive post-war rebuilding did away with a Baroque tower. Its site, which had been used by a post-Roman building, was the former south gate of the Roman town wall. The forked crucifix inside is from the 13th or 14th century.

The 10th century church of St Pantaleon was founded in the by the archbishop St Bruno as part of an abbey shows Byzantine influence and in an altar tomb is buried the Byzantine princess Theophanu, empress of Otto II. The flat ceiling was returned to its original form when Baroque vaulting was replaced but the coffering with decorative panels and others depicting saints is a recent addition. The building was later used as law courts and even stables but later became a Catholic parish church.

Successive medieval wall circuits also left their mark on Cologne’s street plan and remain in the form of preserved towers and gates. The outer ring had more than 50 towers and there were 12 gates. The wall’s semicircle is easy to pick out in the city map of today.

Two standing wall sections survive, one, from the early 13th century, to the south of the city centre. The main south medieval gate Severinstorburg at Chlodwigplatz still has an attached wall fragment that shows what Cologne gate structures were like beyond the central arch and towers. The Bayenturm, the Rhine south end tower, is freestanding on the river bank across Bayenstraße. Not far away, the footing of the basalt round tower Bottmühle on Severinswall was first planned as a gun emplacement in the mid-16th century but defensive strategies quickly superseded it. The Ulrepforte was formerly a 4m wide twin-tower gate, narrower than the main fortified gates. The gate was walled up in 15th century and the tower converted to a mill. To the west, a section of wall parallels Kartäuserwall between Prinzen-Garde-Weg and the tower at Blaue-Funken-Weg. The defences include signs of the old defensive outer ditch that in medieval times was up to 9m.

The powerful Hahnentorburg at Rudolfplatz was Cologne’s medieval main west gate. Its imperial eagle faced the Holy Roman emperors who proceeded from their coronations at Aachen through it toward the cathedral. Later it became a jailhouse.

The substantial Eigelsteintorburg, to the north of the city centre, was another built in the 13th century. Today the remains of a lifeboat are suspended from it, in memoriam of the hands of the German cruiser Cöln, named for the city but sunk during World War I.

Cologne is also a museum city. Near the cathedral is the Römisch-Germanisches Museum with its collections of Roman and post-Roman finds, built over the site of a Roman house with its superb, intact floor mosaics. Among the features are collections of memorials to city dignitaries, one over 5m high.

The remains of the Praetorium and part of the Roman sewer are nearby, showing the work of post-war archaeology. More recent old-town excavations continued unravelling the story of the medieval city, including its Jewish baths, the mikveh, the medieval synagogue and the associated Jewish quarter. A new museum planned around these is expected to open in 2021.

The old town hall next to Alter Markt was extensively damaged in World War II and the early 15th century tower of 61m, with 133 statues of historical figures including empress Agrippina and St Severin, was completely rebuilt. The facade of the Italian-influenced Renaissance portico (1573) at Rathausplatz survived with parts of the 14th century Hansasaal, used for Hanseatic League meetings.

The art museums present their own variety, an extraordinary array of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and treasures of ethnography. The collections of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum sweep from medieval works to the 19th century with many great masters in between. Museum Ludwig picks up the story in the 20th century and about 700 Käthe Kollwitz works have their own museum.

Strangely joined are the Museum Schnütgen in the shell of the Romanesque Cäcilienkirche, with its delicate devotional sculpture, and the extraordinary Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, a modern complex that combines precious cultural objects collected during the exotic travels of German adventurers in the late 19th century. The exhibits have been added to since to create a rare assemblage for anthropological curiosity.

Completely different, in true Cologne fashion, is a museum of chocolate, including both its history and manufacture.

The carnival period leading up to Ash Wednesday in February is the signal for street celebrations, a city parade and extended opening hours for bars and pubs.

An 11-page guide to Cologne is available for download at the Great Cities of Germany section below and the updated 2019-20 guide will be published in coming weeks.

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● The Romanesque cathedral, the opulent bishops’ Residenz palace, and its Renaissance predecessor dominate the old town

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Rothenburg travel guide PDF in 4 pages

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● The guide includes 17 sites and museums and an excursion to the Franconian open-air museum at nearby Bad Windsheim

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Almost 30 sites and museums, including the nearby Walhalla gallery of great Germanic figures of history

● Information on essential services, transport links and urban transit and fares plus listings of travel essentials

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Würzburg travel guide PDF of 7 pages

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● Summaries of Würzburg’s grand residences, the medieval cathedral, churches and other sites

Museums and galleries including one of Europe’s prominent Jewish museums

Tours, essential services, transport links, transit services and fares and food tips

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● Explore Heidelberg’s cobbled streets in search of the essence of the city – Germany’s oldest university, the churches, monuments to its religious struggles, and its restaurants and cafes

● Discover the castle, its history, and thefunicular railway that makes the climb – and vantage points above the city – much easier

● Several budget hotel and private hostels that help make Heidelberg accommodation affordable, plus hyperlink access to other accommodation and tourist information sites

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19 sites and museums including the finest town houses

● A town walk and Rammelsberg tour

● Information on transport links plus listings of travel essentials and hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

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● The commercial and civic culture of the city through guides to 30 sites, museums and galleries

Tours, the best views and food options with other travel essentials

● Information on transport links and transit services including fares

● Hyperlinks to further tourist information and to websites for city accommodation


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● A complete guide to what to do in Berlin, including tours, cruises, parks and the best views

● Separate sections for the districts Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg and Neukölln, Schöneberg-Tempelhof, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf and Spandau, with local food and accommodation lists and quick guides to essential services

● Summary of major transport links with Berlin

● How to use urban transit services including Berlin U-Bahn and S-Bahn, with their differences and the fares

● Summaries of more than 50 Berlin museums of history, art and culture, and information on all major performance groups including orchestras, opera and theatre

● Short history of the city and its precincts

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● The ancient St Petri cathedral and 11 other sites including the giant Roland figure

17 Bremen museums including art and the remarkable Übersee-Museum, with exhibits of the wonders of the continents touched by Bremen’s worldwide trade interests

Transport links and the city’s complicated transit system explained

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Dresden travel guide PDF in 11 pages

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● The exquisite, rebuilt Frauenkirche

● The Saxon ducal and royal summer palaces of Pillnitz and Moritzburg

● In all, 30 museums and galleries of art and culture

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Germany’s mighty port city attracts travellers from all over the world and was the departure point for generations of migrants. ● 25 sites, ships, museums, monuments and churches that reflect Hamburg’s maritime and trading traditions

● The UNESCO world heritage Speicherstadt, centre of Hamburg’s former free port

● Essential services are listed with a choice of tours, including port tours

● Information on transport links and extensive urban transit services including fares

● Listings of essential traveller services

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Nuremberg (Nürnberg)

Nuremberg travel guide PDF in 8 pages

Modern Nuremberg has preserved or restored many walled and historic areas. The city’s leading late medieval citizens were some of the best known German personalities. Then came the Nazis.

● Guides to 20 buildings, historic streets and monuments, among them the Kaiserburg, the castle of early imperial German assemblies

● 13 museums, including Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Germany’s leading cultural history museum

● The courts of the post-World War II war crimes trials, now also a museum

Transport links, urban transit, tours and essential services

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites

Cologne (Köln)

Cologne travel guide PDF in 11 pages

Cologne is Roman, medieval and modern all at once, a city known for piety, carnival and perfume. Travellers can walk the historic centre and the remains of the Roman wall.

Germany’s mightiest cathedral, which took more than 600 years to complete

● Cologne’s Roman and medieval walls and gates picked out for travellers

● 12 precious Romanesque churches with historical background

● In all, 25 sites and 17 museums of art, history and culture including the Römisch-Germanisches Museum and associated archaeological sites

Transport links and urban transit services including fares

Tours, parks, views, food and performing arts

● Hyperlink access to further tourist information and accommodation websites


Stuttgart travel guide PDF in 6 pages

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● 10 sites including Stuttgart’s castle complexes, Schloß Solitude and the magnificent palaces of Ludwigsburg nearby

● 10 museums and galleries of art

Tours, walks through the city’s extensive parks and views

● Guide to essential services and hyperlinks to tourist information and accommodation house websites and a guide to performance art

Munich (München)

Munich travel guide PDF in 13 pages

Munich was founded by monks and built up by dukes and kings, but became a centre of revolution as well as a home for arts, industry and travellers enjoying the good life.

● Germany’s largest museum, Deutsches Museum, and some of its richest art museums

● The city’s extensive palaces and palace gardens are featured

● Almost 30 museums of history, art and culture

● 30 historic sites in and around the city

● Information on major performance groups including orchestras and opera

Accommodation, food and a guide to essential services including transport links and urban transit services and fares

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