Travels & Traditions: Cologne, Germany - #704

BURT WOLF: Cologne was built by the ancient Romans in 38AD at a point where the Rhine River crossed a major east-west trade route. It was an ideal spot for commercial development and by the Middle Ages Cologne had become the largest and one of the richest towns in northern Europe.

Today, it's home to the largest university in Germany with more than 60,000 students living and from time to time even studying in the city. 

In general, the citizens of Cologne have done a good job of preserving and honoring their art and architecture.

A thousand-year-old Romanesque church in the middle of a shopping street that was put up in the 1980s. It's an unusual mixture of the very old next to the very new.

Since the Middle Ages Cologne has been a religious center and a destination for pilgrims. Pilgrims came from all over Europe to visit “Holy Cologne”, and the city’s great pilgrimage site was its Gothic cathedral. Even today, over five million visitors come here each year, which has made the Cathedral Germany’s main tourist attraction.

These days, more and more people are using their vacation time to make a pilgrimage, but a pilgrimage is really designed for more than just holiday travel. A pilgrimage is also a sacred journey. It’s a way of healing yourself. Physically you travel to a new place, but the big voyage is the one you make inside, the one that might transform you. 

CARL ANDERSON ON CAMERA: To really understand the medieval cathedral, you have to understand the medieval Christian's vision of life as a journey, as even a pilgrimage, and how different that was to what had come before. The medieval Christian didn't think about a golden age in the past. He wasn't interested in getting back to the Garden of Eden because he was on a journey to something completely new, the new heavenly Jerusalem and the place on earth where he could glimpse where his journey was headed was within the cathedral. The massive walls of the cathedral divided the outside, the worldly and secular from the inside, the heavenly and the holy. And the way to enter into this sacred space were through the great western door of the cathedral often called the Gate of Heaven where you could see the angels and saints depicted over the doorway, and on the doors themselves you often saw scenes from the life of Christ, the journey which the believer, too, had to follow, if he, like Christ, was to follow and meet him in heaven. 

DR. KLAUS HARDERING ON CAMERA: Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic Cathedral we have in Europe. It's kind of high point in the development of Gothic architecture.

BURT WOLF: Construction began during the 1200's and did not finish up until the 1880s. A time span of over 600 years.

DR. KLAUS HARDERING: The choir stalls are the largest in Germany we have of that Gothic period. And they are richly carved. There are more than 500 figures and reliefs. We made an examination of the wood material so we can say all those things must have been carved between 1308 and 1311, that means within 4 years.

In the mosaic floor there is a representation of the wheel of life. It's shown that a young man is going to move that wheel with all his power, he reaches the high point of his life as a rich man, he can give alms to the poor but the wheel moves on and he looses his hold so he falls down, all his money is lost, he wants to stop the movement of the wheel but he can't.

We have almost 10,000 square meters of stained glass windows inside Cologne Cathedral and about 1,300 are original Gothic. So that's a treasure because we don’t have so much medieval glass in Germany. In 1939, that means in the first year of the Second World War they were taken out. So they survived the Second World War.

We have several funeral monuments of tombs of Cologne archbishops and they

are normally placed in the so-called choir chapels. One of the most important funeral monuments is the tomb of Archbishop Conrad von Hochstaden who laid the foundation stone in 1248 and he got a very beautiful bronze tomb. 

DR. KLAUS HARDERING ON CAMERA: In the chapel of St. John's you find a monumental medieval drawing, the largest we have in the world, more than 4 meters high and representing the main facade of Cologne Cathedral with the two monumental towers as they were built in the 19th Century but as they must have been planned in the Middle Ages because that drawing was made before 1283.

BURT WOLF: The Cathedral's greatest attraction for pilgrims is the gold shrine said to contain the remains of the three kings. In 1164 the Emperor Barbarossa, who was living in Milan, gave the remains of the three kings to the Archbishop of Cologne. As soon as he got them back to Cologne work began on a golden shrine to hold the relics. The shrine of the three kings became the most important pilgrimage site in northern Europe. 

CARL ANDERSON ON CAMERA: In the New Testament, the three kings are referred to as wise men who traveled from a distant land to bring gifts to the Baby Jesus at his birth. In the Third Century, the Christian writer, Tertullian, refers to them as almost kings. And as time goes on, the "almost" disappears. The three kings are tremendously important for the development of Europe because, as time goes on in the West, they become identified with the Feast of the Epiphany which is the manifestation of Jesus as Lord to the Gentiles.

And this comes at a very important time in European history because during the Middle Ages Europe is beginning to see itself as a Christian society, even as the Christian society because the Holy Land now is under the control of the Muslims. The three kings also have an important political meaning. You might say, on their trip to Bethlehem, the three kings were on a divine mission, maybe even as divine agents. And if those three kings could be divine agents, then, maybe, kings in medieval Germany could also be divine agents and even have a kind of divine authority.

BURT WOLF: When the Three Kings discovered the Christ Child they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Frankincense and myrrh are gummy resins that were used to make perfumes that were part of religious services. During biblical times they were considered quite valuable.

They are still around but their value is considerably diminished. Gold however has kept its value quite well.


BURT WOLF: During the 400s, the Emperor Charlemagne made Cologne an archbishopric and since then the city has been an important religious center. It has 12 Romanesque churches that have been built on the graves of martyrs and early bishops.

One of the most interesting is St. Ursula’s.

Father Dominik Meiering is in charge of St. Ursula's

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING: Well this is the wonderful church St. Ursula here in Cologne one of the twelve romantic churches. One of the most wonderful and one of the most important because here is the place where the 11,000 virgin martyrs are buried as the legend of St. Ursula tells us.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The legend of St. Ursula goes like this.

Ursula was a British princess who lived during the 4th century and with a group of her friends made a pilgrimage to Rome. On her way back, she passed through Cologne, where she and her companions were murdered by a group of nomadic tribesman and generally unpleasant people, known as the Huns. 

BURT WOLF: In 1155, an ancient Roman burial ground was discovered and designated as the spot that contained the relics of the legend. Ursula was elevated to sainthood and became the patron of the Ursulines, a congregation of nuns dedicated to educating young girls.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING: The Golden Chamber as we call it here is a wonderful place. It is absolutely unique, it's a reliquary but very special because you enter into a place where many busts of the virgin martyr's with the skulls inside look onto you.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING ON CAMERA: That means you go into the place of holiness, you are surrounded by the holy spirit of all these people who are buried here. 

In the upper part we've got a decoration for you made out of bones. And there are even inscriptions you can read for example, Saint Ursula ora pro nobis, that means holy Ursula, pray for us, and this is built out of bones.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING & BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You can find the relics, the bones not only here behind this Gothic architecture but you can find it also here in the hat, you can open the hat, and underneath this wooden plate, you find a skull of one of the virgins.

BURT WOLF: Wrapped in cloth.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING: Wrapped in cloth of the Middle Ages which is very precious. We have got in this church two old golden shrines. One is the relacory of St. Ursula and one is of Aetherius who was the man who should become the husband of St. Ursula.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING ON CAMERA: The specialty of Cologne is also that you have the possibility to go under the shrines.

FATHER DOMINIK MEIERING & BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: So now we can go underneath the shrines as the pilgrims of the Middle Ages

did and we can say our prayer and we can hope of the benediction of the saints and of God.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Very unusual to have it above you like that.



BURT WOLF: The Excelsior Hotel Ernst directly across the street from the Cathedral was built in 1863. The owner was part of Cologne’s high society and the hotel became a favorite hangout for the rich and royal. It's an ideal spot for tourists and business travelers, the hotel is within walking distance of theaters, museums, concert halls and the opera. It offers excellent service and a high degree of individual attention with a number of Presidential suites.

I always wondered who stayed in these Presidential suites since most traveling Presidents stay in their embassies. I was recently reminded that corporations also have Presidents and many of them have bigger expense accounts than small nations.

The hotel is home to two of the best restaurants in the city.

The first is the Hanse Stube. The food has an upper class French accent and it has been awarded 16 points by the Gault Millau food guide.

The Excelsior Ernst is also home to an Asian restaurant call Taku.

Taku is a great idea. It’s one restaurant but it has four different cuisines.

One team of chefs prepares Japanese dishes. Another Chinese. The third is Thai.

And the fourth is Vietnamese.

And all the dishes are on the same menu. You can order from all four kitchens at the same time.

Besides being a religious center Cologne has been a cultural focal point for hundreds of years. Today, it has 118 galleries and 36 museums.

And the sweetest museum of all is the chocolate museum. Built in the shape of a futuristic ship, sitting on the banks of the Rhine, the three-story museum presents the history and technology of chocolate.

Martin van Almsick is the marketing rep ---- sweet guy.

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: This is the factory. It's the main attraction of the chocolate museum here. It can be part of an entire production line. We produce hollow figures, we produce pralinees, normal bars, all this you can see here.

BURT WOLF: What does this machine do?

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: Well here we are producing pralinees, it a mousse a chocolat filling, very nice and you can see here beautifully how it originally consisted of two halves.


MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: The mold consists of two halves, we are stirring, spinning, and now we filled it with mousse a chocolat filling you can see that very nicely here and now we make a little decorative element here, we give it some chocolate marks on top so it looks nicer. Ice first they call it in English, we say _____ in German. Okay you see we fill it in here and give it a liquid chocolate mix over it.

What we do here is we turn it in circles, you could just as well do it with forks but this is of course more economical to do it like this with this machinery, you develop a very special design.

So Burt what we see here is the cooling tunnel. The pralinees are almost ready.

They have their coating, their design, but we need to cool it for another say 10 minutes or so. Then they come out on the other side and are ready to be shipped.

Burt what we see here are the ready to eat pralinees. This is the final product, looks beautifully.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Can I have one?

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: Sure help yourself, real nice aren’t they.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And that's the coating?

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: That's the coating, mousse alla chocolat and it's surrounded by milk chocolate.

BURT WOLF: What holds it in place there?

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK: Oh this is the bliss that we call it.

BURT WOLF: Beautiful thank you.

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: This is our legendary chocolate fountain, the one and only 200 liters of liquid chocolate bars. It's paradise isn't it?!



BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: This is known as hand dipping.

MARTIN VAN ALMSICK ON CAMERA: And if it's warm and fresh it's a lot better than normal supermarket chocolate. Can you tell the difference? This must be paradise huh, 200 liters of liquid chocolate and it's great.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I'll go for a swim later.


BURT WOLF: The entire place is in keeping with Cologne’s history. The scientific name for chocolate is “Theobroma cacao”, which means “Food of the Gods”.


HEINRICH BECKER, JR N CAMERA: Cologne is famous for Kölsch which is the local beer. There are several different brands but they are always called Kölsch and it can only be produced within Cologne. Naturally it's being shipped all over the world. We sell it the United States and in China and Russia but it's mostly being sold and of course it can only be reproduced here within the city boundaries.

It comes in an extremely small glasses, they are only 0.2 liters which is approximately 8 ounces of a glass which has an advantage of our competitors in Bavaria which drink out of the big steins because this beer always stays fresh. The waiter always keeps bringing you glasses until you've had enough but he doesn’t know when you've had enough so as a matter of fact you have to take this little coaster here and put it on top of your glass, then when he's walking around through the restaurant he would actually see that you've been served, literally.


BURT WOLF: Even before I knew there was a city named Cologne I knew the word Cologne from the bottle of Eau de Cologne on my mother's dresser.

Eau de Cologne is French for water of Cologne which is a form of light perfume. It was originally developed in 1709. It’s primary ingredient is alcohol which is mixed with citrus oil and herbs. The objective was to make a perfume that smelled like a spring morning in Italy, after a rain. Napoleon was a big fan of the perfume.

In 1794, a French army under Napoleon occupied Cologne. At the time, houses were not marked with numbers, which was a constant source of frustration for the French General in charge of the city. So he sent his troops out to mark each building with a number. The number 4711 was assigned to a house where a family was making their own version of Eau de Cologne and it's became a world wide brand. 

The manufacturing process consists of mixing a series of scented oils into alcohol and letting the blend steep for a least three months.

During the 1950s, the company began using television commercials to promote its products.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Eau de Cologne was originally sold as a medicine that would cure every known illness and it was made from a secret formula. Secret formulas are fascinating. They give the holder the power to alter the forces of destiny to change his fate. It’s like giving somebody a hit of love potion number nine. It’s magic.


BURT WOLF: For almost 2,000 years, this city has been celebrating the Feast of Saturn in one form or another. Cologne's Carnival is known as the “Fifth Season”, and it has become world famous for the “three mad days” at the height of the celebration. Every year on Rose Monday more than a million people watch the Rose Monday Parade as it winds its way through the streets of the city.

Carnival is always chaotic: it turns life upside-down. It destroys the structure of daily life---people are encouraged to cross over barriers, break rules and violate customs

---Carnival literally demands excess. It's a time to make fun of famous people, respected cultural symbols and traditional social events. It is a time to satirize everything the society values. But the party only last for a short time.

To a certain extent, Carnival is designed to show people that chaos is not what they want to live with on a regular basis. And that a structure is essential for the survival of a community, and at the end of Carnival a structure is always reestablished.

For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.