Germany August September 2008
I hate night flights, but unfortunately there is really no option if you are flying from Canada to Europe. Like many people I have trouble sleeping on an aircraft and the prospect of continuing a journey of some distance the following day, already had me worn out for anything more strenuous than fighting to get between clean sheets and grab a few hours of deep sleep.
With this in mind, when traveling some distance within Germany, we usually break the journey by staying at the Intercity hotel (Sud) in Frankfurt, then continuing the following day. You can use one of the free designated shuttle buses that arrive outside the airport. We have stayed there many times and found it to be ideal for what we wanted and reasonably priced, but this time due to a booking glitch we were unable to make those arrangements and so it meant hanging around until 10:24 for the ICE train to Cologne.
This trip we were visiting two places in Germany, the town of Solingen, known for centuries for the quality of its fine steel products and the fabulous city of Cologne (Köln). I never allow the business aspect of a trip to detract from the enjoyment of once again visiting these towns, of meeting old friends and business associates and enjoying the fine food, beer and wine that is abundant in Germany. We had also planned on taking one of the KD Line Rhine cruises on the second Monday.
So after the usual, comfortable high speed service of the ICE, we arrived in Cologne, did our usual pause in amazement at the spectacular Dom and headed for the Drei Koenige am Dom Hotel on Marzellenstrasse. Unfortunately I must be honest and say that I was not impressed with this hotel, in fact after a cursory look around, I was left wondering who comes up with the star rating given to some of these hotels.
Cologne as usual, was full of tourists and business travelers so finding an hotel at the last minute had not been easy, but I confess that the 3 Star rating for the hotel is a little misleading, (1) because of its location, situated between a back-pack hostel within a few metres on the one side and a methadone clinic on the other, (2) it is located on a rather plain narrow street and (3) there is the constant sound of trains entering and exiting the Haupt Banhoff (immediately behind you) and the voice of the PA announcer can be heard advising passengers about each departing train for the better part of 24 hours.
I will say that the rooms are clean but the showers are amongst the deadliest I have ever encountered and once again there are three factors that contribute to this, (1) the size of the shower cubicle itself, (2) a shower floor that would be the envy of a good ice hockey arena, (3) an adjustment lever for the shower being so close, it means that it is very easy to turn your back, while trying to maintain a foot hold and accidentally bang the lever. The subsequent result is either piercing jets of instant cold (if you are lucky) or quite the reverse which is a spray of very hot water. Strange to say that when you had everything worked out just perfect, towel on the floor, feet spaced for balance, the water decides to go immediately to cold without any help from the user.
The other thing I noticed is that there are four floors in the hotel and I estimated there were approximately 30 to 40 rooms, however the breakfast area offered seating accommodation for no more than 20 or 30 people. This meant that depending upon the time you came to breakfast, you might have to share with someone you had never met before and likely would never meet again. Now I don't know about you, but at an early hour of the day I am not in the mood for a fractured conversation with a fellow traveler from Poland, Italy or Germany, whose command of English was as good as my command of their language. I noted that many of the guests felt the same way, because they would wait in the adjacent lounge area until a table became free. Sadly we were booked back into the same hotel for the last 5 days of our return trip.
I am going to start our trip from Cologne or if you prefer, Köln. This city is famous for many things including the fact that it is the premier convention capital of Europe. It also boasts a magnificent Cathedral that took several hundred years to complete, and as if that is not enough, it is also one of the oldest cities in Europe. Built by the Romans around 38 BC and granted city status in 50 AD, it was known originally as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium after the Empress Claudia, consequently some of the finest Roman artifacts have been excavated in the city and they can be seen on display at the Roman German museum near the Dom. I don't really know what you can say about the DOM that hasn't already been said a thousand times, but it literally dominates everything around it, a large imposing man made structure dedicated to the glorification of God and boy oh boy did those ancient masons get it right?
Started as a Gothic Church in 1248 and finally completed in the 1890's, it has remained unfinished for 300 years, due entirely to a lack of funds and was even used by Napoleon as a prison. Yet finally the twin spires rose to a height of 157 metres (approximately 515 feet) and were at one point, the tallest man made structures in the world, until the Washington monument was built.
In all of the times I have been to Cologne I had never really taken a moment to walk through the Dom, or look at the many historic artifacts on display, this time I made a point of doing that and in fact went back 4 times while I was there. To say that I was enthralled by the structure would be an understatement, from every angle and every buttress it cries out with the strong sense of faith that the builders who laboured over the centuries felt and you can imagine what a sight this must have been to the millions of pilgrims who came to pray and look for miracles, yet the building in itself is a miracle of construction and ingenuity. Like any of the great Cathedrals, you are immediately overwhelmed with the utter sense of peace and tranquility, then as you look up at the huge columns and realize that the masons built this with nothing more than block and tackle, sweat and muscle. It must have been breathtaking for anyone who witnessed its gradual climb toward their literal heaven. To this day it remains as the largest Gothic structure in the world and was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
It would seem that there is not just one faith or one church that lays claim to keeping the bones or religious relics of a past saint, priest etc and the Dom is no stranger to that. One of the most interesting of these has to be the gold covered shrine, which was completed in 1225 to house the (supposed) remains of the Magi, or 3 wisemen. Originally the bones were kept in Constantinople, and were taken to Milan by Eustorgius, a bishop of the church in 344. In 1164, the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa took them from Milan to Cologne where they have been kept until this day. In 1199, King Otto gave three gold crowns as a gift to the church, a symbol that makes up a part of the Coat of Arms for the city of Cologne. l must say that whether any of this is true is not really the point, but the age of the shrine coupled with its beauty is quite remarkable. On the subject of relics and artifacts, for many centuries churches and cathedrals across Europe made outrageous claims about having the remains of Saints, or artifacts, all supposing to have the miraculous power to cure the sick. From the shroud of Turin to pieces of the original cross, each church tried to outdo the other in a bid to attract pilgrims and thereby money. Today the Catholic Church frowns upon the sale of relics, but there are some that still change hands from time to time. Some have even appeared in of all places, Ebay.
An interesting website with 360 degree panorama's of popular German cities
For our business trip to Solingen we took the train from Cologne Hauptbanhoff, a short run of no more than 20 minutes or so and a far cry from the ICE trains (the ICE does run to Solingen). There are two stations, Solingen Hauptbahnhof and Solingen Mitte and traveling from Cologne the train always goes to Solingen Hauptbanhoff which is furtherest from the town itself and this means a taxi ride.
I must say for a building due to meet the wreckers ball, the room we had was very comfortable and the view outstanding. Unlike the Drei Koenige am Dom Hotel, the shower was fine and the beds comfortable. Writing about it now is somewhat pointless because whether the carpet was brand new or needed replacing, isn't going to happen and whether the plumbing worked is not going to change a thing. I realized this, but wanted to stay here for the last time and keep some memories of what was a grand hotel in its day. I believe the photo's of the town, taken from the 11th floor speak for themselves.
Solingen is a very clean industrial town, one that has been at the very heart of sword making for centuries, in fact historic remains found around the town show that metal working has been carried out in this region for over 2000 years. Swords from Solingen have turned up in such places as the Anglo Saxon British Isles and Solingen's weaponry, was prized so much, that it was traded across the entire European continent. Solingen today still remains as the premier knife making, edged weapon (cutlery) center of Germany. History records that when the Romans arrived in this area of Germany, steel forging and the making of fine edged weapons was already well established. It is believed that the Romans brought the fine art of making Damascus steel with them, after being stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean. Charlemagne certainly knew about this town and outfitted his entire army with swords and knives made here and with the town having access to the Rhine river, via the Wupper, it is extremely likely that the Vikings were well aware of the skills of the sword makers of Solingen. While Sheffield steel may be generally better known than Solingen steel, it is entirely responsible to Solingen that Sheffield went into the the steel making business. Guild members from Solingen left Germany and took the skills of their trade with them, settling in the Sheffield area. It now seems poignant that when Wilkinson swords, closed their factory in England, they moved their head office to the town of Solingen to make razor blades, such is the quality of the steel produced in this region. I am not sure how many factories and small cottage industries are located in either Solingen or Hahn, but over 80 to 90% of the cutlery etc, purchased in Germany is made in this town.
One of the best values for money has to be any of the Rhine cruises, unfortunately in order to see the best of the Rhine, (in my opinion) you need to start your trip further up river, but KD Lines offer a great day on the Rhine with a two hour stop over at the village of Linz. It leaves at 0900 hrs and returns at 1800 hrs. I am not sure if this is a year round trip, but we have made it several times and have always been lucky to have excellent weather and this year was no exception.
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