The ABCs of Cologne: Day 4 – Cologne’s Churches and Museums

So, the day of thunderstorms that has been predicted for the last week may have been greatly overstated. Not a complaint as such, because it’s better to see a city when it isn’t tipping it down all day. Although, to be fair, there were some incredible downpours that threatened to derail a few things. But it all worked out as we completely wore out the shoe leather on this full day in Cologne. 

Breakfast was a roll from the Kamps in the train station. I know this is going to probably make some Germans cringe, but I am a sucker for a Kaiser roll no matter what it in it. The fact that it was fleischwurst just sealed the deal. As I ate this outside the currently shut museum of Roman-Germanic artifacts, I couldn’t help but think that I would be happy to have this for breakfast everyday. 

I mention this museum as being closed as, on another visit, this would have been our first proper destination. Instead, we boarded the light railway to where part of the collection is being held in light of the museums refurbishment: the Belgian House. 

The collection here is a fraction of what the main museum has. For one thing it has none of the column fragments that you can see in the closed museum. Still though, this is a good stop-gap and allows for some of the things to still be enjoyed such as some brilliant glasswork and a rather ominous depiction of Medusa. I mean, thanks to this I learned that the name Cologne dates back to Roman times – as it is a corruption of their word for colony. Cool, right? Definitely something to include the next time I make a quiz for the work newsletter. 

Our next destination was, luckily enough, opposite us: The Schnutgen Museum. This museum, partially housed in the old church of St Cecilia, specialises in medieval religious artwork. That alone, for me anyway, is interesting enough. However, it is the they are displayed in this museum that really gives them a new life. 

Stained glass windows especially shine here as they are brilliantly back lit and at eye level. There is also an selection of impressive wood and stonework. A piece depicting the raising of Lazarus is especially haunting, as are the many smaller pieces depicting the danse macabre. It was a little bit weird that, alongside this, was a temporary exhibition about a graffiti artist from Geneva. Like…  talk about opposites colliding. We’re not even talking really complex pieces of street art, like vague doodles of skeletons mostly. I prefer.my skeletons medieval, carved and as a memento mori. 

It was starting to rain a bit now, plus we had a little time to kill before the churches were set to allow onlookers in (given it was a Sunday and these are working buildings). So a quick lunch at Merzeich it was. As the husband had salami for his breakfast roll, I couldn’t not have a salami pretzel roll for lunch. By golly I love the food of my ancestral land. 

Next on the list was a visit to the Great St. Martin church. This is one of three places of worship on the list for today. It is fairly typical on the inside, although there are a lot of good examples of mosaic work to be found on the floor. Also, if you pay 1€, you can go downstairs to see the remaining foundations of the Roman temple that used to be here. 

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 95/100Sight: Cologne Cathedral
Location: Cologne, Germany
Position: #297

Now it was time for the big dog: Cologne Cathedral. The towering black outside (which I was later informed was not dirt, but how the sandstone has reacted to acid rain) can be seen from anywhere in the city and, the closer you get, the more imposing it is. It was a bit of a queue to get in and, once inside it was absolutely heaving. 

We may have chosen a bad day given the number of people inside. Didn’t help that there were tourists taking selfies next to shrines and religious artwork, including one which had someone praying nearby. Like, these are places of worship and, whether or not you believe, there are people there who do and… like have some respect. Never saw it this bad, even in Notre Dame before the fire. 

As someone who has seen a lot of churches and cathedrals in their lifetime, I have to admit that Cologne Cathedral on the inside left me a little cold. Like it was really grand with beautiful stained glass from different eras, had stunning pillars and some exquisite pieces of artwork. But, the outside alone makes you think the insides are going to be less reliant on the architectural grandeur and have something a bit more ornate. I sound like such a church snob, I know, but I guess this is what happens when your formative experiences in Catholic churches are those found in Italy. There’s a very different feel to it. 

We dropped some things of at the hotel before making our way to St Ursula’s, the final church of the day. Sadly though, whilst technically open, the interior gates were closed so all we could do was have a sneaky peek at the insides. They were fine. Nothing compared to the spire that has a literal crown on it. 

Final museum of the day: Wallraf-Richartz Museum. This is the oldest museum in Cologne and, over the three open floors, had some pretty varied pieces of artwork. What is really neat about this museum is that, on each floor, the rooms are arranged in some sort of chronology with a lot of interesting back story to explain how styles and fashions developed. 

Starting at the top was the Baroque collection, whose first room contained two amazing pieces – including a piece by Rubens depicting the myth of how the peacock for the eyes in their tail feathers. As the floor progressed, it started to go further into the type of art that I don’t like as much – mostly portraits and Baroque landscapes. However, it was so interesting to see how art moved from grand mythological paintings to those smaller pieces. 

The next floor down as Middle Ages art, which I would have had more time for if we hadn’t spent a lot of time at the Schnutgen Museum. It was interesting to see some of the more experimental pieces, like an odd one combining painting with sculpted heads, but for me the best floor was the final one containing 19th century art. 

I am a bit of a sucker for good Pointilist artwork, and there were some beautiful pieces by Paul Signac and Maximilien Luce on display. These were towards the end of the floor because, again, the museum was trying to explain how Pointilist and Impressionist art developed from the then status quo. We spent so much time on the bottom floor that we missed a major rainstorm and closed out the museum. 

As we saw some blue sky, we decided to make one final stop for the day: Cologne Triangle. Like with nearly all city trips I want to get a high up view, which for Cologne is this particular building. After riding an incredibly fast lift, you are greeted with the best view of the city landmarks – as they are all across the river from you. The way that the signs are, it sounds like on a super clear day you’d be able to see Bonn from up here…  but I remain unconvinced. Still though, this was the best way to finish off the day.

We made our way across the river via the Hohenzollernbrucke – their iconic bridge which has now become totally inundated with lovelocks. As I am not sure I’ll be crossing this bridge by train, I wanted to make sure to cross it somehow before leaving the city. 

It was getting late and we were getting hungry. We found ourselves near the town hall for dinner again and did my dream thing when dining out on holiday: both order different mains and swap halfway through. So as the rain began to beat down on the parasols, I started out with a half plate of käsespätzle before swapping over to an order of (literal translation) Heaven and Earth. In brief, this is mashed potato with fried onions, blood sausage and apple sauce. Both dishes worked surprisingly well together, like a full plate of either would have gotten samey – this way I never got bored of either. 

Dessert was another visit to Kamps at the station as it was to late to find somewhere that would do a bit of German cheesecake. I picked the apple cake whilst my husband had his eye on something literally translated as a ‘nut corner’ –  think of it as a chocolate and nut covered shortcrust pastry. Both really good and would go over well in the UK. 

As you can imagine, this was an exhausting day. But I can say that we did our best to see a lot of Cologne before we start to venture off to other cities on day trips to see what they have to offer.

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