Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Köln (Cologne), Germany

Our second trip, was to Köln, Germany or Cologne as it is generally pronounced in English. This was a last minute trip for us and we really lucked out using to book our hotel. Yes, priceline works in Europe. We got an amazing room in the middle of Cologne for $45 that had a normal room rate of 90 Euro. I don’t think I even need to convert that for you to know how awesome of a deal it was.  So we hopped in our car and headed the 2 hours north, using less than a tank of gas for the entire trip (also a big plus!).

Cologne was one of the hardest hit areas in the bombing raids during WWII so the city is an interesting mix of old and new. Along the Rhine River, which splits Cologne in half, there are brand new, very modern buildings. The biggest part of the Cologne skyline however, is also the oldest, the Kölner Dom Cathedral. It was built between 1248 and 1880 and though it suffered damage during the war, is standing in nearly the same condition as when construction finished in 1880. Not only is this cathedral massive, beautiful, and old (all the best things about Cathedrals) but it contains 2 different museums inside as well as an opportunity to climb 509 steps to the top of the bell tower for a view you just can’t beat.

The Dom is the home of the Shrine of the Three Magi which is a reliquary (a shrine that generally contains some physical remains of saints such as bones or clothing) that is believed to contain the bones of the Magi. There is also a room filled with other reliquaries such as nails from the cross that St. Peter was cruicified on, and bone shards from a variety of saints.  You can also go into the cathedral vaults and see vestaments, chalices, jewelery, crosses, and all sorts of things used during mass throughout the time that the Dom has been in existence. Unfortunately you can’t take pictures of any of the things in the museums but here are my favorites in and around the cathedral. Both museums are included in one price, and if you go when the bell tower is open, you can get admission to all three at a lower price.

The tower closes early, so we climbed the tower the morning of our second day in Cologne, all 509 steps up and ten back down. It is a narrow spiral staircase for about 475 steps which makes it pretty interesting when people are trying to go up and down at the same time. It’s a good time to practice saying “Entschuldigung” or “I’m sorry/excuse me” in German. The travel guide books I have all suggested you stop and look at the bell, but it was locked up behind a door about half way up. On our way down it was ringing and not only was it loud but you could also feel the vibrations through the wall and steel door. 

The spectacular views at the top made it all worth it, even on a hazy day like what we had.  The churches below are the St. Gereon church (from the 4th century) and the Gross St. Martin (completed 1240).

Germany is often thought of as a country of hard choices…. BMW or Mercedes? Schnitzel or Bratwurst? Wine or beer? In Cologne, the answer to the last question is almost always beer, and to be specific, Kölsch. Kölsch is the type of beer brewed only in Cologne. It is served in thin glasses that hold .2L of beer and the servers bring out the glasses on round serving platters by the dozen. My husband and I decided to do an impromptu “pub crawl” and try as many varieties of Kölsch as we could get our hands on. Most of the brands of beer are all brewed in the basements of the brauhaus (brew house) sporting their name.  It is a light tasting beer without much of an aftertaste, and definitely no bitterness.  It was during this pub crawl that we decided to keep a coaster from all of the brauhauses we visited throughout Germany and write the date we ate and drank there. By the end of our 3 years we should have a great art/conversation piece to remember our time here. 

Our favorites? Päffgen and Früh Kolsch. Those were also the places we had the most fun meeting locals and just enjoying the nightlife of Cologne. The Früh am Dom is a great restaurant in the shadow of the Dom that had great beer and a very affordable breakfast. 

Probably the most interesting stop in our trip to Cologne was to the EL-DE Haus. It was the former headquarters of the Gestapo in Cologne and housed a prison in its basement. Today it is a museum documenting the Nazis in Cologne before, during, and after WWII. It took about 3 hours to complete the audio tour, but it was worth it! The displays are all in German, and since we don’t read German, it was a great help to have someone telling us all about it in English. My husband and I were both shocked and in awe about how little we knew about what happened in and around Germany during that time. What we learn in history class in the states is only a small, small fraction of the horrible things that were done.  For example, we were shocked to find out that thousands of people were involuntarily sterilized for a variety of reasons including living alternate lifestyles (maybe they were gay, maybe they were just a free spirit) or mental retardation or any level of insanity.  These sterilizations weren’t just for adults either, many children were also sterilized. There was also one of the biggest short stay concentration camps on the other side of the Rhine. Thousands of Roma were sent there to await trains to the larger and more deadly concentration camps.

The basement was extraordinarily preserved. While the prisoners were kept in their cells, often up to 30 in a 5x10 ft cell, they wrote on the walls. Some of the writings attempted to give inspiration to those that would follow, some were long letters to love ones, and some were just tally marks to keep track of the days and weeks that passed. It was said that the prisoners were allowed to go the shower/toilette room once per day and were otherwise given a bucket in the corner to use. The smell was so terrible that people on the street above could smell it. Many of these prisoners were killed by hanging in the courtyard of the haus. They would kill up to 10 at a time with a specially designed portable gallows that could be assembled and removed as needed. The crimes these people committed were the things you would expect, going against the Gestapo, helping others escape, etc.

I am a firm believer in learning from the past so that we can all have a better future. This day was a big lesson in the past and how important it is to protect people from this happening again.

Cologne is a great city! Most everything is in walking distance, and when you are tired of walking, taxies are not hard to find. There are about 10 other museums that we didn’t get to see. Lots of art museums, a museum about the history of chocolate, and a museum dedicated to Olympic sports in Europe, just to name a few. There are also several more churches that we saw but didn’t tour (such as the two above). We fit it a lot into two days, but to really see Cologne in all its glory I think you need at least 3 or 4.  Since there are so many tourist attractions, many things in Cologne are open on Sunday, including museums and the Cathedral.
 Finally, here are some of my favorite pictures of people and things around town while we were exploring. 

Trier pictures

Here are the rest of my favorite pictures for our day in Trier, Germany. 

St. George and his dragon
The Cathedral, some of its beautiful reliefs, the organ pipes, and the room where Jesus's shroud is incased.


The Electoral Palace

The Roman Baths

Sydney showing off her skills and ability to scale walls

The Amphiteatre: my husband conquered the beast!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Trier - Germany's oldest city

Note: Midway though writing, the add a photo option stopped working. And even though GoogleChrome insists it has translated everything to English, all of the buttons/notifications are in German so I don't know what happened or how to fix it. If I figure it out, I'll post more pictures. :)

A few weeks ago, we ventured out on our first excursion outside of Kaiserslautern. To be fair, it was my first excursion out of Kaiserslautern but Matt had been to Trier in one of his first weeks in country.  Apparently, they had the best caesar salad known to man there, so we returned. Trier is the oldest city in Germany and was originally settled by the Romans. The highlights of the trip (aside from the caesar salad) were relics from the Romans.

The best part about Trier is that the train drops you off very near all the highlights. Before you even leave the train station there is a great bakery that serves fresh squeezed orange juice. Due to not knowing German well enough, we accidentally ordered 2.5 liters of OJ for 3 people. But at least we didn't pay for anymore drinks the rest of the day!

We started at the Porta Nigra (Black Gate) and the tourist center to get an English walking guidebook which was a life saver!

According to my handy-dandy guide, while the gate itself is older, the name Porta Nigra dates back to 1060. It is the largest surviving Roman city gate in the world.  

The next stop was to find the rumored best Caesar salad ever tasted. Sadly, neither of the guys could remember the name or exactly where it was, so we wondered around the downtown area until we found it. And find it we did! Not only was the caesar salad excellent, the rest of the food was too!

After we had fulfilled Matt's sole purpose of returning to Trier, our next stop was the Trier Cathedral. It's only 1/4 the size of the original church that existed about 336-380 but the core, one of the giant columns and two smaller columns are all original. The rest of the gorgeous cathedral was built over the last 1500 years when construction ended around 1900.  It also houses what is believed to have been Jesus's tunic or "Holy Robe" which is kept behind lock and key in a grand chapel. We were bummed you can't even see the case that it is kept in. But at least there was a picture of it near the chapel. It looks like a robe/tunic of that time period, but that's about all I can say. You can tour pretty much everywhere in the cathedral (other than the Holy Robe Chapel) including various alters and bishops' graves in the lower level. My favorite part, it was free!

In our wanderings, we also saw St. George's Fountain which featured St. George with his sword through a dragon's head. It was pretty and I am fond of St. George since I went to school at a place called St. George and it was one of my favorite books growing up. 

Next we passed by the Electoral Palace on our way to some Roman relics. It is a gorgeous building and on such a nice day there were lots of people in the gardens and on the big lawn in front of the building. It was built in the 1600s and is still used today as the seat of the District government. The lawn also featured a great place to people watch (which we didn't do much of as we mostly passed through) as it featured 2 people practicing tight rope walking, a bunch of kids practicing parkour, and lots of 20-somethings hanging out. 

Our next stop was at the Roman Barbara Baths that date from the 4th century and are the 5th largest baths in the Roman Empire. They had excavated a seriers of underground service tunnels and since we were the only ones investigating them, we let Sydney run free. She was a very happy dog. And we were happy people since it was underground and a nice break from the sun. Later we tested out Sydney's "hard core parkour" abilities and had her running and jumping allover the place. No worries, we weren't breaking any rules and she loved being off the leash for a while. 

Our last stop was the Roman Ampitheater that dates from the 2nd century. It held about 20,000 people and hosted many bloody games and executions. Matt conquered the beast Sydney with the greatest of ease before we toured down below. I was most disappointed of this stop. Not only was it the most expensive, it was also the most "modern". The cellar area is obviously supported by all new beams and has modern lighting as well. You definitely lost the feeling of seeing something from the 2nd century when you went down there. But again, it was cool and a break from the sun.

Trier was overall a very cool place to visit. We got to see things older than I could even imagine, and would never see back home in the good old USA. It is amazing to me that things could even be that old. Nothing in our country even goes back past the 1600's. Definitely a great place to start this German adventure!!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of this great trip where I backpack through a large percentage of Europe seeing all those museums and monuments and experiencing little tastes of European life along the way. However, as I have also been a poor student for as long as I can remember, these dreams have yet to come true. Until now. 

My husband, Matt, and I are living in a little village near Kaiserslautern, Germany. Instead of backpacking and seeing only the "highlights" of what Europe has to offer we can now travel and experience Europe the way it should be. Already we have discovered many little things that certainly would have been over looked in a whirlwind backpacking trip.

I decided to write the blog so that all our family and friends could follow along as we get to travel to as much of Europe as possible. We currently have a goal of 12 countries in the next 12 months. Thankfully, countries in Europe aren't so spread out and where we live happens to be just a couple hours drive to 5 or 6, so we are hoping to make it happen. I hope you enjoy following along with our travels. I'll be sure to post lots of pictures!