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November 29, 2018

Germany: Cologne

The Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne crosses the River Rhine. It is the most heavily used railway bridge in Germany with more than 1,200 trains daily.

Like all large cities in Germany Cologne was transformed during World War II. Allied bombing effectively flattened the city. Pretty much all of the historic city was lost. The result today is a city that is a mix of mid-twentieth century structures, historic buildings rebuilt in their original style after the war, and one a very large and spectacular Gothic cathedral. Cologne’s cathedral is the most notable building to survive the bombing.

Construction of Cologne’s cathedral, officially the Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petrus (in English: Cathedral Church of Saint Peter) was commenced 1248. The cathedral was not finished quickly as construction was halted in 1473. The church was left unfinished until work restarted again in the 19th century. The building was finally completed to its original plan in 1880, more than 600 years after the first stones were laid.

Cologne’s cathedral

Inside Cologne’s cathedral

It was worth the wait. The result of the several-century-long construction project is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. The two huge spires that form the church’s twin towers result in the largest façade of any church in the world. The choir is also notable. It has the largest height to width ratio, 3.6:1, of any medieval, or medieval-designed, church. Celebrating the grand achievement of its construction, UNESCO has designated the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, the Cologne Cathedral, as a protected World Heritage site.

With all of the damage that occurred around it, it is remarkable that Cologne’s cathedral remained intact through World War II. I’ve heard a couple of theories for why this church remained relatively unscathed. One theory says that the church was used as an aiming point by allied bombers who only released their bombs after passing over its steeple thus assuring that it was missed. The other theory is that Cologne’s distinctive cathedral was intentionally left standing so that pictures of the destroyed city would have a distinctive landmark. The presence of the landmark would assure that truth about Cologne’s destruction was not lost in post-war propaganda. In any event the allies seemed to often try to avoid hitting Germany’s large churches. For sure there was some luck: The allies aim during bombing runs was far from perfect, especially during night raids.

Numerous commercial barges pass through Cologne on the Rhine.

Cologne’s busy central railway station

Cologne today has recovered from the war. Its bombing-forced urban renewal program has produced a modern city that is the fabric for a vibrant culture. It is a happening, hip city with one massive old cathedral as reminder of its past.


We visited Cologne Germany in October of 2017.

The facade of the cathedral

Inside the train station

The tower of the Romanesque Great Saint Martin Church in Cologne

One of the 1,200 daily trains crosses the Rhine on the Hohenzollern Bridge.

A barge pushes its way downstream on the Rhine.

The love lock epidemic strikes the Hohenzollern Bridge

Inside Cologne’s cathedral


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