We’d booked the 10.58 Eurostar train to Brussels, arriving at 14.05, and
there we were due to catch the 14.25 train to Cologne. No seat booking was
possible on the train from Brussels to Cologne so it wasn’t essential to
catch that exact train but, online at least, it looked like we’d be
waiting four hours for another direct train if we missed it.
Catching the tube around 9.00 was pleasingly post-rush-hour if not exactly
seat guaranteed. The departure lounge at St Pancras was pleasantly
sparsely populated, though, compared to the usual peak time hoards. We
arrived at Brussels Midi ten minutes late, which along with closed exit
corridors, non-functioning escalators, and my getting caught behind a man
with crutches on one of the latter, meant that we had a bit of a stressed
rush for our train, which luckily left a bit late.
This train stopped at Liege and Aachen before Cologne and went on to
Frankfurt. It didn't, however, stop at the border so that German soldiers
could get on and check our papers, with the grizzled older soldier saying
'So Herr Cotton, we meet again'. Shame.
Our hotel - The Mercure - was indeed 15 minutes walk from the station, but
by skilful mis-navigation we made it almost twice as far away. Very friendly
staff, nice room, swift unpacking and we were out and back by the Dom and
visiting my first real German Christmas market. And the ones we get in
London don't compare for sparkle and the odd and varied goods on offer. Or
for how flipping cold it is. The woman on the hotel desk had pointed us to
a reasonably local Italian called the Piccola Pizzeria, which turned out
to be small indeed, but special - my pizza with rocket, buffalo mozzarella
and balsamic cream was truly yummy. Back at the hotel the WiFi turned out
to be unuseably slow, which was the first real disappointment of the day.
The organic cinnamon crunchy almonds I'd bought in the Xmas market were
maybe a bit tough on the teeth, but were in no way disappointing
The room was peaceful and I slept well, but I'm not used to trips where
you appreciate the central heating and the tog rating of the duvet rather
than the air-conditioning and free mineral water. Breakfast featured good
orange juice and coffee, a vast range of cereals and muesli and very fresh
little croissants, but no odd local patisserie. When spooning out jam you
could choose from small ceramic dishes or little dish-shaped ice cream
cones, which you could eat after use. Eco!
Today we'd pencilled in the Cathedral and the main art gallery, the
Wallraf Richartz. The Cathedral had lots of people inside, but being so
huge... And it is very big - its clerestory being almost as tall as its
nave. The joy is mostly in the architecture, there's some interesting
looking paintings in the ambulatory chapels but they are all iron-fenced
off. And the highlight Stefan Lochner altarpiece I was looking forward to
was closed up for Christmas, I was told, and anyway that part of the
Cathedral was closed for having its floor cleaned. As the person telling
me this was dressed in robes and I was in a church the instinctive
reaction to this - 'Oh fuck' - was resisted. I got a foldy-outy card of
the altarpiece in the shop, though.
The Wallraf Richartz is divided up into three floors - medieval, what it
calls baroque and the 19th century. The medieval is a comprehensive feast
of early Cologne painting, with a famous and lovely Lochner and lots of
martyrdoms and scenes from the passion. The Netherlandish influence is
strong here, Cologne being so far west. There's no audio guide for the
main collection but the texts on the wall for each room, and by the more
important and/or interesting paintings, are unusually good. We were a bit
wiped out just by the medieval floor, so just trotted upstairs to see the
Friedrichs. We may have to return tomorrow.
Lunch was tomato soup and pesto spaghetti (one each) in the gallery cafe.
Then back to the hotel for the traditional rest.
In the evening we walked to a Christmas market on the river by the chocolate
museum, recommended by the woman on the hotel desk. And it was indeed an
attractive spot, with interesting dock buildings and towers around. I bought some
marzipan stollen (is there any other sort?) and a hat. My first ever hat it was too, in my whole life
so far, bought with the assistance of the very helpful chap on the stall,
easing me into my worrying first purchase with careful sizing judgement
and care advice. We tried a pizza restaurant called La Pizza, which we
found on the way back, and lo it was very good.
Romanesque churches this morning. St Gereon is startlingly close to our
hotel, got visited first, had a nice Christmas tree outside (see above right), was all lit up inside, but was not open.
(A patron saint of the city, St Gereon was a soldier, martyred in Cologne
by beheading - that's a statue of his head in the photo above - probably in the 4th century, along with his companions, a
detachment of fifty men of the Theban Legion. Later legends increased the
number of his companions to nearer 300, much as legend increased the
number of the martyred virgin companions of Saint Ursula (the other patron
saint of Cologne) from 11 to 11,000. That's me with the saint's head
above.) So we
moved on to St. Andrew which was open and is fine inside. There are wall
murals, polychromed capitals, polyptych altarpieces - a couple
authentically closed, a gothic choir and an atmospheric crypt, containing
the remains of the Dominican St Albert Magnus. Jane here peeled off to
look at modern art at the Ludwig and I walked down to the river and along
to St. Martin with its huge crossing tower (see right), second only
in Cologne iconicness to the Cathedral. It's taller, chunkier and plainer
inside than St Andrew. The rectangular pillars between the nave and aisles
are enormous and there's a clover leaf crossing - the apse and transept
ends both being semi-circular. Odd patches of painted decoration too.
There's also a crypt with archeological excavations, which I stupidly
forgot to visit. Display boards show how decorated the interior once was,
and the drastic bomb damage. St Maria Lyskirchen still has its
(13th century) painted
ceilings, with the Old Testament scenes on the north side echoing the New
Testament scenes on the south side (as I read after coming home). This
church is quite small and dark inside, and has an actual gallery rather than the more
usual triforium. Also quite a few altarpieces.
St Maria im Kapitol is nearby and all hemmed around by blocks of flats and
building works, but finding the entrance rewards you with a sweet
cloister, with some flats built on top of one wing. Inside is huge with an
impressive Renaissance screen in front of the crossing and another
clover-leaf choir, a big one supposedly modelled on the Church of the
Nativity in Bethlehem this time.
Back to the Ludwig to meet Jane and head back to the hotel, picking up a
couple of crispy fresh brie and salad baguettes and some marzipan products
on the way.
In the evening we went to check out the train times to connect
comfortably with our Eurostar from Brussels. Not many choices, but one is
indeed a comfortable connection. Then to a 4711 shop to buy some actual
cologne and on towards the river to wander around a couple more Christmas
markets - one with an ice rink and one with some wild tree illumination.
We then stumbled into a shop selling sweet things called Hussel, there to
stock up on marzipan potatoes, cinnamon stars and coconut biscuits. And
Jane even found some cheesy biscuits.
St Gereon was open today and was well
worth the wait. The original
circular church is a big tall large-domed treat. The choir extension,
which doubles the length of the church, cannot be entred, sadly. There's a sweet
though with impressive, if damaged, wall paintings. Here was also the best
crypt so far, with atmosphere, polychroming, ceiling paintings and mosaic
floors of scenes from the life of Sampson, oddly enough. The next church,
the Church of the Apostles was a bit disappointing in comparison. I found
the modern embellishments - painted vaults, sculpture, weird purple
lighting - intrusive. It has another clover-leaf choir, though.
St. Pantalon was much more special. (Visited after
dropping Jane off at the Kathe Kollwitz museum.) It appears inside as a
hall church, with a flat coffered ceiling and added aisles behind chunky
pillars, with a spectacular gothic screen. Behind this is a very baroque
high altar in a presbytery that you can't get, or even easily see, into.
The 17th century choir and 18th century altar are rare survivals from this
period in Cologne.
There's a gilt and painted baroque pulpit in the nave too. So for a
the reassuringly Romanesque you have to turn around and face the
space, with gallery, at the back of the church inside the westwork.
I then made for the Diocesan Museum. We hadn't happened upon it, and I had
no luck finding it based on guidebook guidance. A nice man in the tourist
office by the Cathedral gave me directions and a handy map. It was nowhere
near I had expected, was covered in scaffolding and sheeting, and is now
called simply Kolumba. It's a very modern museum in layout, sparseness of
display and proportion of modern works. So not the rooms full of medieval
altarpieces that I was hoping for. But a lovely big Lochner panel, as
promised, in a light-filled room with a huge window looking towards the
Cathedral. On the ground floor is access to the excavations of the church
on the site - St Columba. It's a huge, somewhat awe-inspiring space, covered and
walled, but cold like outdoors with light coming in through masses of
holes punched into the walls. An unusual experience worth the €5 entrance
in itself. Back to the hotel with a cream cheese and chive sesame-seed
bagel and an almond twist from a branch of a chain called Back Werk discovered
surprisingly close to the hotel.
Our evening walk to and along the Rhine celebrated our farewell to jolly,
sparkling and spicey-smelling Christmas markets, with the help of two mugs
of glühwein (hot mulled wine), a tray of frites and a marzipan crepe. The
latter I had to try, having just learned of its existence, and it was
indeed very nice. We also went back to the hat stall to feedback my very
real satisfaction with the helpful chap's fine product.
We had some time this morning before needing to catch a train, so decided
on a Sunday morning walk to St. Ursula,
supposedly built on the site of the burial of the saint and her 11,000
virgin martyr companions, and housing a Golden Chamber decorated
with all of these bones. A service was on, as expected, but
we loitered in the entrance hallway, behind a metalwork screen, soaking up
the atmosphere and being reminded what churches are for. The 11.43 ICE
train to Brussels got us there a bit early, but a later train wasn't an
option. The Eurostar airport-like check-in and security rigmarole needs