K – Köln (Cologne), Germany…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to what I surely hope is Day 11, of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, where we’ll be touching down in Köln (Cologne) on the River Rhine. I was in Köln back in May, 1992 with my best friend Lisa, and it was our second port of call on our great European backpacking adventure. I didn’t know much about about Köln before the trip. However, my grandmother used to wear 4711 Eau de Cologne when I was a little girl, and while it was mesmerising then, it was more of a “granny fragrance” and most definitely not something I’d wear myself. However, you’re welcome to visit the Farina Fragrance Museum near the Town Hall.

4711

When I think back to our time in Köln, the first thing that comes to mind is hunger. The second is food envy. By this stage, our initial stash of bread rolls from our first free night’s accommodation in the KLM Hotel in Amsterdam, had well and truly run out. Ever conserving our pennies, we thought very carefully before lashing out on a punnet of strawberries to share for dinner, which tragically turned out to be sour. So, it take much imagination to put yourself in that picture. Just to rub salt in the wound, we were staying at the Youth Hostel, and a group of German high school students was also staying there and while we were starving, they were all being dished up huge, delectable bowls full of spaghetti. While we were drooling, crippled with growling hunger and covertous food envy; these spoiled brats, didn’t finish their meals. Indeed, the dining room was filled with half-empty bowls and if we didn’t have any self-dignity (or perhaps if we’d been travelling alone and didn’t have an eye witness) we could’ve polished off their leftovers, and even licked the bowls. The irony is, of course, that we were still flush with funds at this point, and I actually arrived home with enough money to buy a return ticket to Europe. However, it was that uncertainty of not knowing what lay ahead, which reigned our spending in (something we know all too well in these particularly uncertain times).

Aside from the hunger,  magnificent Köln Cathedral was absolutely sensational, particularly since this was the first cathedral we’d ever visited in Europe and it was so far beyond anything we have back in Australia , that it blew me away. . Apparently, the cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark. Construction began back in 1248 but was halted in 1473, unfinished and work did not restart until the 1840s, when the edifice was completed to its original Medieval plan in 1880. It’s hard to imagine something being unfinished for so long, and it makes me feel so much better about all my own unfinished projects. 

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There was another aspect to our visit to Köln Cathedral. As it turned out, we were in Köln during the 50th Anniversary of “Operation Millenium” where Britain almost bombed Köln out of existence in retaliation for German attacks on London and Warsaw. Indeed, on the evening of 30 May 1942, over 1,000 bombers took off for Cologne under the Command of Bomber Harris. Köln was decimated. All but flattened, except for the magnificent Cathedral which miraculously survived peering imperiously over the carnage. I’m not going to make any apologies for not liking war or its after effects. This wasn’t some virtual experience in a video game. You can find out more about it here HERE. I’m yet to finish watching this documentary but it seems rather balanced and definitely has some incredible and very sobering footage.

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As part of the anniversary commemorations, there was a small protest outside Köln Cathedral called the “Cologne Complaining Wall for Peace”. I was fascinated by this at the time, particular as an Australian who’d only been in Europe for a week and it really opened my eyes. It’s always good to hear more than one side of any story, and I usually prefer multiple angles to really shake things up. So, now I’m going to peer at these photos from 28 years ago hoping my dodgy eyesight can glean something from all those years ago.

Here goes:

A Monument for “Bomber Harris”.

May 31, 1992 is the 50th Anniversary of the 1,000 bomber attack on Cologne. British Airfield Marshal Arthur Harris ordered the attack. The destruction of Dresden on February 1, 1945 was his work, too.

In May

The British Government plans to dedicate a monument to him in Central London with funds from the veterans’ organization.

“Bomber Command Harris”

KILL ONE,

and you’re a murderer.

Kill 100,000

and you are a hero.

To keep matters straight- Harris’s carpet bombing attacks “to demoralise the civilian population” were a reaction to the raids which Nazi Germany committed against cities like:

Guernica (1937)

Warsaw (1939)

Rotterdam (1940)

Coventry (1940)

Belgrade (     )

Cologne-and-Cathedral-1944

Köln in 1944. 

The display also included photos of Köln after the bombings, showing the monumental devastation. Look at it now, and on first impressions, you’d never know until you  take a deeper look and discern the new from the old.

While I acknowledge bringing up controversial and rather grim details of WWII is rather hard hitting, I do believe we need to know about this things. That we can’t just fill our head with happy thoughts, and hope to acquire wisdom. That as much as we campaign and long for peace, that war inevitably seems to comes in one form or another and we not only need to be prepared, we need to know how to fight and defend ourselves against the enemy. As it stands at the moment, that enemy is a virus but the principles remain, especially if you don’t want to be a sitting duck for attack.

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However, before I move on from its beautiful Churches and cathedrals, I thought we might check out Groß St Martin’s Cathedral. It’s a Romanesque Catholic church and its foundations (circa 960 AD) rest on remnants of a Roman chapel, built on what was then an island in the Rhine. The church was later transformed into a Benedictine monastery. The current buildings, including a soaring crossing tower that is a landmark of Cologne’s Old Town, were erected between 1150-1250.

St Martins 1946

The church was badly damaged during World War II, and there was a question of whether the church should be restored, and how it should be restored, was the subject of debate. Should the church be left as a ruined memorial to the war? Or should it be fully restored? And if so, which period in the history of Great Saint Martin represents the “original” church? A series of public lectures were held in 1946/47, under the theme “What happens to the Cologne Churches?”. These lectures involved artists, politicians, architects and restorers, and mirrored public debates on the issue. In spite of some public scepticism, restoration work began in 1948, and the church was opened to worshippers when the interior restorations were completed in 1985, after a long wait of forty years. The altar was consecrated by Archbishop Joseph Höffner, who installed holy relics of Brigitta von Schweden, Sebastianus and Engelbert of Cologne, in its sepulchre. So, it hadn’t been open long before I was there.

Cologne Hot Chocolate

Lastly, after rousing your sympathy for this little Aussie Battler starving away over in Germany, I do have a confession to make. I did manage to find one indulgence. This was a hot chocolate with whipped cream. I’d never had one before, but a pact was made. It was divine. I absolutely loved its pure indulgence. Loved it enough to endure the disapproval of the skim brigade. After all, everybody needs a little bit of naughtiness.

On that note, it’s time for us to leave Köln behind. Back in 1992, Köln marked a fork in the road. With Germany in the grip of a train and garbage strike with trains difficult to catch and rubbish piling in the streets, Lisa decided to leave Germany and I can’t remember whether she went back to Amsterdam, or headed onto Prague and Budapest. Meanwhile, I continued further South bound for Heidelberg, accidentally leaving my passport behind in Köln just to complicate matters a little more after having my wallet stolen in Amsterdam only days before. However, as we head along to L in the Blogging A to Z Challenge, we’ll be heading somewhere else but you can visit Heidelberg HERE.

Have you ever been to Köln? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

10 thoughts on “K – Köln (Cologne), Germany…A-Z Challenge.

  1. Rowena Post author

    UNfortunately, that trend didn’t start until 2008 long after I left. I had a bit of heartbreak while I was over in Europe, which is better symbolized by the locked padlock being hurled over Pont Neuf in Paris. It’s been funny revisiting this and how I still remember those school kids eating the spaghetti after all these years. I actually met some uni students there and they invited me to stay right down on the Swiss border in a place called Grenzach-Whylen . It was on the border of Germany, Switzerland and France and right near Basel. They were so nice to me and his mum gave me a few bags of lollies to get me through the train trip to Berlin. I hope these freedoms and experiences aren’t going to be stopped for very long and yet I’m so dependent on this social distancing and border closures myself. However, that doesn’t mean we have to like it!! We just need to make peace with it most of the time.
    How are you faring over there?
    BTW the dogs are loving this lock down business. Our daughter took Rosie for a 9 km walk today. She must’ve been in shock.
    Anyway, I hope you’re all well.
    Love,
    Ro

  2. Tails Around the Ranch

    We’re having a spring snow storm today but doing as well as we can. I didn’t realize the padlocks have only been a thing since 2008. Last time I was there, I saw Buddhist monks in full orange robe hanging theirs.

  3. tidalscribe

    My father was in Bomber Command, only old enough to be in the RAF for the final two years of the war. He never talked about it, only to say he would have been more worried if they had known the bigger picture of how many planes were lost. He didn’t talk about it because he knew they must have killed innocent civilians. He certainly never joined the Royal British Legion or had anything to do with veteran things. It is a miracle that cathedral survived, it would have been a tragedy, especially as it took so long to build! I have been to Coventry and it is very moving to see the ruins of the old cathedral next to the beautiful modern cathedral.

  4. Rowena Post author

    It’s a shame, but understandable, that your father didn’t say much. That said, it’s now possible to piece together a reasonable idea of what someone experienced through newspaper references at the time and unit diaries. At least, that’s what I’ve found researching the stories of WWI soldiers here, although there’s naturally quite a variation on how much you can find out.
    As you could imagine, as an Australian my understanding and experience of the war in Europe is quite different and I have also just turned 50, so we’re talking about my grandparents’ generation as well. Our family members fought against the Japanese in New Guinea , although I once met a Veteran who had been a POW in Germany and he was a fantastic storyteller and brought me right into his shoes He was travelling through Germany on a train one night and when he looked out the window, it was a cloudless night with a full moon and as he was thinking that his family back home were also looking up at that same moon from a different perspective, he also realized that he was at high risk of being attacked by his own side. That a clear night was perfect for atack, and indeed the train did get bombed, but he was lucky because he was okay. Yet another example of luck being in your favour, when it could have gone either way.
    I have a friend I meet with for coffee every week and his father was a Polish pilot serving with the British. I think he was a fighter pilot. Gee, I’ll have to follow that up. His father didn’t say much either although he did belong to a Polish pilots association.
    With the research I’ve been doing on WWI soldiers serving in France, I think they saw the ones who lost their lives as the real heroes. Also, that when you are part of something that big, your part can be relatively small and feel rather inconsequential. That it’s the collective that got the job done. Then, of course, as you say there’s that knowledge of the killings, especially of civilians.
    When these soldiers, nurses etc came home, they brought back so much with them. It wasn’t all bad either. During WWI our servicemen went on regular furlough and enjoyed the sights of Paris, London, Scotland and had an experience of travel and the high life, which they didn’t know back home. This gets left out of accounts, because I think all the blowing up suits dramatization but there were always ups and downs, periods of active fighting and periods of rest and even entertainment, fun and adventure.
    This is something I’ve lived with for some time when my health is at its worst, and there are times at the moment where I have to dig deep into these experiences to remind myself that this present crisis will soon pass.
    I hope you and yours are well and staying safe. Somehow, we need to ride it out.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  5. TanGental

    It’s a tragedy that we have such destruction, whether its small or massive in the name of ideals. History certainly suggests carpet bombing did little to win the war or break the spirit, be it during the blitz or fire bombing in 44/45. It’s wrong to vilify Harris though as it was the Allied command that approved it. Churchill, Eisenhower and the rest all played their part. However, in the moment, having been through what they’d been through I think such decisions were understandable. In that moment they believed it would help.
    The other interesting point you raise is the monument. It was mostly
    about bomber command and the fact everyone else had a memorial – fighter command, fleet air arm etc and they hadn’t because of those controversies. It was commissioned when Maggie Thatcher presided, a very nationalistic vaguely anti European sentiment prevailing. The politics of monuments is often the most fascinating commentary on the time they’re commissioned.

  6. Rowena Post author

    I’m glad you wrote a lengthy reply, because I was hoping this post would generate a bit of discussion and elucidate me further. I really know very little about what happened. Indeed, I’d never heard of Bomber Harris before and knew that the German perspective was slanted. It’s hard to comprehend the scale of destruction wrought on Europe through the two world wars or how humans could do such a thing. I always really valued our 1000 Voice for Compassion group. Even though my contribution to world peace was infinitesimally small, it was something.
    It’s interesting with what you say about when and why monuments are built. I’ve been researching two Australians who were shot at dawn for deserting. They’d unfortunately enlisted in NZ while working over there. It had the death penalty while Australia did not. A monument was built to honour all the men shot at dawn in the British Army : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shot_at_Dawn_Memorial
    Have you been out to see this monument?
    Best wishes,
    Ro

  7. Librarylady

    Great post, I loved the details, and especially the recollections about your food free travel budget. Brought back memories of my college days. My roommate and I had meals in the cafeteria during the week but had to fend for ourselves on the weekends. Our friends felt sorry for us and brought us rolls and what leftovers they could smuggle out, but we had some pretty lean days.
    Sounds like you’ve been traveling for a long time. Lots of stories to tell!

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