Final Days: Cologne, Kinderdijk, and Amsterdam

Reliquary in the Cologne Cathedral

Our final three days began in Cologne, a large city (1.1 million people) on both sides of the Rhine.  In 39 BCE a a Germanic tribe, Ubii, entered into an agreement with the Romans to establish a military camp in this location.  In 50 AD the Agrippina the Younger, wife of the Emperor Claudius and native of this area, asked for her home village to be raised to the status of a colonia — a city under Roman law. It was then renamed Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensis (colony of Claudius and the altar of Agrippina), shortened to Colonia Agrippina (Colony of Agrippina).  It was the Colony part of that long name that stuck and hence Cologne.  The central city was effectively destroyed during World War II.  It has been rebuilt to create the look and feel of what was there before the war including several Roman ruins scattered around the city.

Cologne Cathedral

The signature image of Cologne is the cathedral.  While it sustained some damage during the war, the Allies never directly attacked this or other Cathedrals.  The stained glass windows were removed for safe keeping and were reinstalled after the war.  The Cathedral is considered a masterpiece of High Gothic architecture.  This monument of German Catholicism was named a World Heritage site in 1996.  It is visited by 20,000 daily and is the most visited site in Germany.  It is the tallest twin spired church in the world.  Construction began in 1248 but was halted 300 years later.  It remained unfinished until the 19th century and was completed in 1880 according to the original Medieval plan.  While it was unfinished,  it was being used as the Cathedral.  The main part of the church was complete, but the twin spires were absent.  When Prussia ruled Cologne, it provided the funds to complete the spires as  symbols of the power and prestige of Prussia.  Our guide told us that any photos we took of the Cathedral were special.  There is constant maintenance underway which typically requires scaffolds that mar the view of the building.  For the previous twenty years, scaffolding has been present on the front of the building.  Beginning next year, more scaffolding will be installed and will be in place for another twenty years.  Hopefully those renovation projects will be completed in time for the bimillennial celebration in 2050.

 But why is there such a magnificent structure in Cologne in the first place?  The answer lies in the photo at the top of this blog.  The reliquary.  Indeed, the answer literally does lie there.  In 314, Emperor Constantine gave the "relics of the Magi" to Eustorgius I, the Bishop of Milan, who brought the relics to Milan.  In 1164 the Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa took the relics from Milan and gave them to Rainald of Dassel, the Archbishop of Cologne.  In 1180 work was begun on the reliquary and was completed around 1225.  The business of relics seems strange to moderns--both believers and unbelievers--but there were extremely important during Medieval times.  They were especially significant draws for pilgrims or tourists as we could them today.  This magnificent cathedral was built to provide a home for the relics and a locations for the thousands who would come to be near them.  Of course, today it is the church that draws visitors.

The Richter window.  Note the light
reflections cast on the wall to the right
The south transept contains a contemporary window.  It was commissioned by the cathedral chapter to replace a window damaged during the war.  It was designed and fabricated by Gerhard Richter.  "From a palette of 800, Richter chose 72 colors that were also in use in the medieval windows of the cathedral and those of the 19th century.  The squares were arranged by a random number generator. Reflections and repetitions were predetermined, the lanes 1 and 3, 2 and 5 as well as 4 and 6 mirror each other. At a few spots Richter made corrections to the distribution, for example where the arrangement of the pixel was suggestive of meaning, for example in the lower part the number "1". "This interaction of chance and calculation created an abstract 'colour-tone carpet' whose particles glow in the light of day and are not held together with lead cames, but fixed on a support disc with silicone gel, so that the coloured facets interact without the usual lines in the glass painting. In addition, the different incidence of light continually changes the colour effect of the window." (Wikipedia)

A worker showing how hollow chocolate
figures are made

After our walking tour, we returned to the ship for lunch and then set out to find the other big attraction in Cologne:  The Chocolate Museum.  We didn't have far to go because it was less than a quarter mile from the dock.  "The Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum was opened by Hans Imhoff on 31 October 1993. It is situated in the Cologne quarter of Altstadt-Süd on the Rheinauhafen peninsula. The exhibits show the entire history of chocolate, from its beginnings with the Olmecs, Maya and Aztecs to contemporary products and production methods."  It is so extensive that we decided not to see all of it.  Of course, we did go through a production area that showed the chocolate making process from bean to finished product.  We able to get small samples from the production line.



The next day as we headed toward Amsterdam and the end of our cruise, we spent an afternoon at Kinderdijk.  Kinderdijk is a village in the the Netherlands' South Holland province, known for its iconic 18th-century windmills. Its water-management network features 19 mills and 3 pumping stations, plus dikes and reservoirs that control flooding in the polder (low-lying land). Waterways, footpaths and bike trails crisscross the area, leading to the main visitors center and museums in preserved working windmills. (Google)

Over half of the Netherlands is below sea level or with in three feet.  Floods threaten from the ocean and fresh water rivers and streams.  To protect low lying lands from flows, the Dutch use a variety of dams, levees, and pumps to manage water.  The windmills were constructed in the 18th century to progressively move water to higher levels so it could be directed over the levees.  This management process was originally called a "war on water" by the government which gives an indication of how serious the problem was.  Management is the newer and more apt term.  Effectively, all water in the Netherlands is managed since in its natural state it would be destructive.

The major management project was the creation of a 30 km dam that closed off the Zuiderzee, a huge shall bay of the North Sea.  This created a freshwater lake.  It was completed in 1928 and since then the Dutch have created arable land through the use of polders or a piece of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea or a river and protected by dikes.  More recently the Dutch have proposed damming the entire North Sea from Scotland to Norway and France to England.  Seems a bit extreme but they have a lot of experience with managing wat.


Amsterdam is a city of water and bicycles.  There are canals throughout the city.  Since the 1960's, people have been living in boats--of all types--harbored along the canals.  The vast majority of these never move.  Some don't even look like boats but in a growing city with limited space, the canals provided a solution.  As for the bicycles, they are everywhere.  Visitors are warned to be aware of the cyclists because they don't give way to pedestrians  

Amsterdam is a very walkable city and we did our share.  On our first day we logged eleven miles and nine the next.  I also learned after we got home that I was probably exposed to COVID on our first day.  I received an alert from the contact tracing app on my phone three days after we got home.

On our second day we spent the morning at the Rijksmueum, the national museum of the Netherlands.  We did the heart of the collection tour lasting about two hours and then had lunch in the museum restaurant.  It was a sunny Saturday in Amsterdam and thee museum and indeed the whole town was jammed with people out and about.  In the Vondelpark, the iconic Amstedam public park, a large crowd was gathered to show support for protestors in Iran.

The Begijnhof

We also spent some time visiting a beguinage. "The Begijnhof is one of the oldest hofjes in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A group of historic buildings, mostly private dwellings, center on it. As the name suggests, it was originally a Béguinage. Today it is also the site of two churches, the Catholic Houten Huys and the English Reformed Church."  (Wikipedia)

Hope you have enjoyed these as much as I enjoy sharing them.  So long till our next trip.


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