After three and a half days in Berlin, I was off to Cologne, which my father enjoyed pronouncing in German (“kern”-or something like that). He was also pretty excited about the train we would take there. I believe it was the bullet-style train that is popular in Europe and Asia. We departed from Berlin’s Hauptbanhof after having coffee with an American friend of my father’s who is living in Berlin. The station was immense and modern, housing clothing stores, convenience stores and restaurants. Our train was comfortable, that’s pretty much all I can remember as I went to sleep not long after we left Berlin. Napping became a familiar theme on this trip, but my poor, overworked body needed the rest. The ride was restful and uneventful, though I’m sure my dad would have enjoyed some conversation-but maybe he fell asleep too. We arrived in Cologne, to a smaller, but just as modern station as Berlin’s. Cologne’s Dom (cathedral) greeted me as we emerged from the station. It shares a large plaza with the train station and several hotels. Cathedrals are my bread and butter. I’m not crazy about castles, but Gothic architecture makes me swoon. We settled into our hotel, which was my favorite of the three we stayed in over 8 days. Clean and modern is the way to make me happy, although I have decided on my next visit to stick with the American hotels. I need predictability in where I bed down. The hotel had a nice bar where I had a Jack and Coke. Our hotel in Berlin didn’t even have a bar, which dashed my hopes of chatting with guests. Our first tourist activity was a bus tour. Jet lag had me tightly in its grip; walking the equivalent of a few Chicago-style blocks had me beat. We saw the original roman walls of Cologne, busy boulevards lined with shops and restaurants, which included a Mexican restaurant. That’s one thing I would not try in Germany, Mexican food. It couldn’t possibly taste good, could it? The cathedral was open to everyone and it is IMMENSE. It masters the darkness and gloominess of Gothic times perfectly. So much so, it made the light if a cloudy day as intense of direct sunlight. I explored some nooks and crannies and donated two American dollars to light a candle in the memory of some loved ones.
Off we went to lunch, and afterwards, the highlight of Cologne, the Chocolate Museum, or the Schokoladen Museum. The museum appeared to be built on some fortress-looking barge on the Rhine, accessible by a small footbridge. We walked on a scenic path between the Alstadt (old-town) and the Rhine. It is safe to say that most Alstadts in Germany and Europe are replicas, the originals having been bombed during World War II. The museum’s architecture was quite schizophrenic; consisting of a small, yellow-brick structure that must have been a castle or fortress in a past life, attached to an all-glass portion. Upon entering, you receive a piece of Lindt chocolate with a line drawing of the cathedral on the wrapper. I was impressed with the detail of the exhibits.The exhibit begins with the cocoa plant and its cultivation. Exhibits show where the plant is found around the world and its place as a commodity. Room after room told the story of how civilizations used the plant and its products, as well as the vessels used to consume it from. Europeans drank chocolate from fine, decorated china while central and south American tribes consumed theirs from pottery made from readily available clay. Shall I call it the money shot? Yeah, why not. As you walk into the glass-walled part of the museum, you pass a glass-enclosed assembly line. The chocolate you received at the door is made in-house. But centered at the end of the room, overlooking the Rhine is an over-sized replica of a cocoa plant. Underneath it is bowl of silky, melted chocolate. An employee dips wafers into it and passes them out to visitors. I made three trips, perfecting my “danke” pronunciation.
I would highly recommend Cologne, and I need to make another trip there as well. My visit was fairly short and I did not see the the main shopping area or sample any memorable cuisine. I did eat Italian, but I don’t have a clue if it was pasta or a panini. Another reason to get over to Cologne, especially if you are a Chicagoan, is that you can take a direct flight from Chicago to Dusseldorf, which is only thirty minutes away. Berlin was quite awesome, but you have to get there by way of Newark, Madrid, London or Istanbul.