Romans, Franks and Vikings all left their mark on Cologne (or Köln, to give the city its actual German name).
The Romans made it a colony in the 1st century AD and the Franks attacked and finally took it in the 5th century. In between it was the capital of the Gallic Empire for a mere 14 years. As for the Vikings, well, they (characteristically, one might say) burned it down in 881/2.
In the early 10th century, Cologne became a city of the Holy Roman Empire. Work began on its most famous monument – the Cologne Cathedral (the Dom) in 1248. If you arrive in Cologne on the high speed train service and alight at the Cologne Hauptbahnhof, as I did, it’s the first sight to grab your attention when you exit the station.
My hotel was ‘am Dom’ that is, near the Cathedral – and also the historic Rathaus (town hall) which I could see from the window of my room. Both buildings can be explored during daylight hours, but it is at night that they take on a special magic under the glow of floodlights.
The main purpose for my stay in Cologne was to see the city’s most famous historic sights and to have proximity to Phantasialand at Brühl.
Michael Jackson visited Phantasialand in 1997 and opened a roller coaster ride there. Like a lot of fans, I had seen the video footage and still photos from this event, and I wanted to visit the park and see the roller coaster for myself.
For a period of time it was even signposted as The Michael Jackson Colorado Thrill Ride. But, not having permission to use MJ’s name, the theme park had to remove the reference to him and change the sign accordingly. Now it’s just called the Colorado Adventure.
But first, Cologne and its history.
Staying close to the Cathedral means that there is history all around you. In particular, Roman history. The Romano-Germanic Museum is right beside the Cathedral, located over a mosaic that has been preserved in situ.
Many other local finds are also on display here – but the famous Dionysus mosaic (AD 220-230) and the sepulchre of Poblicius (AD 40) that now overlooks it, can be viewed through the window of the museum without going inside. But of course, little MJ and I went inside!
Nearby another museum – the Praetorium, takes us beneath the level of the modern city streets to the remains of the official residence of the Imperial Governor of Cologne when it was the capital of the Roman province of Lower Germania.
Having taken the elevator down to the museum level of the building, you can walk along the (empty) Roman sewer tunnel.
Even on the surface of Cologne’s historic old town, bits of Roman architecture crop up on street corners and car parks.
But the World Heritage Listed Dom dominates everything else with its souring spires. This, the largest gothic church in Europe, even had a spell as the tallest building in the world between 1880 and 1884. Though building work began in 1248 there was a long spell of 400 years when work halted. Finally, in 1842, the nave and towers were completed using more modern building methods.
Repair work had to be undertaken following World War II due to the Cathedral’s having suffered 14 aerial bomb hits.
The cathedral is as awesome inside as out, with its towering nave and many treasures on display. A couple of our favourites were represented amongst the statuary, namely a medieval St Christopher and St Michael the Archangel.
The Shrine of the Three Kings (which legend says contains the relics of the Magi) is also located here, and is the reason the cathedral was originally constructed, making Cologne a place of pilgrimage for the faithful. The shrine is clearly visible behind the high altar -in fact, I thought I’d come across the lost Ark of the Covenant when I spotted it.
Just when all this history started to become overwhelming, it was time to head off to Brühl and a day at Phantasialand.
The theme park is reminiscent of Disneyland with its main street and central hub providing access to different themed areas – Berlin (adjacent the entrance), Fantasy, China Town, Mexico, Africa and Mystery.
The rides range from gentle toddler-friendly boat and carousel rides to extreme thrill rides.
There are also plenty of food stalls and cafes, and I had one of the best meals of the entire trip at the Restaurant Mandschu in China Town, overlooking water dragon fountains. (NB: my Tibetan astrological sign is the Water Dragon).
Of course the Colorado Roller Coaster was a major attraction for me to see – but since my body rebels at the very thought of roller coaster rides, I was content with taking copious photos.
At the time of my visit, a new themed area, Klugheim, with two new extreme coasters, was in its final stages of construction. So, at the end of a very full day, I left Phantasialand with quite a bit left to see on a return visit.
That’s always the best way to end a holiday, I think.
Except… my trip wasn’t over yet. Dubai was still to come on the homeward leg, with some very specific Michaeling locations to visit.
Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan July, 2016