Tag Archives: Germany

August 17, 2017 Kőln Germany to the Netherlands: the Perils of Strong Drink

We arrived in Kőln at about midnight. I am very sorry to report that by then I was under the influence of strong drink. Too much imbibing at dinner. I was in a sorry condition. It turned out that was a big mistake, because as a result I failed to rouse myself to photograph the famous church at night from the boat. I got a very brief view of the famous cathedral as I happened to wake up from my slumber, and peeked out our window as we glided by it. It was really too late. Had I been in better condition I could have strolled down the street when we anchored for the night and captured a glorious image. I will never forgive myself.

And yet….I fortuitously woke up from my slumber for some incredible reason, and looked out our window, at the exact moment that that our ship glided past the famous Kőln Cathedral. I did not have time to set up my tripod. Besides the ship was moving and that might not have helped, but I had time for one, and only one grab shot of the magnificent cathedral at night. I captured a very blurry image of one of the finest cathedrals in Europe at night. I did not capture a sharp image, but I did capture the ghost of the cathedral or the essence of the cathedral. I got a picture of its skeletal outline or its bones or its pure essence. I love the image I captured. It was a wonder. Perhaps it was a miracle.

After breakfast we went on another walking tour with a local guide Ernst a sharp-tongued cynical German Ernst. Like all our guides, I enjoyed his commentary very much. It is great to have a local guide when you visit a new city for the first time.

This time we visited the city of Kőln (or Cologne if you prefer the English version). I always wonder why people have to change the name of cities or countries to match more closely, or at least phonetically, how they want the name to sound or look in their language. For example, why do some Europeans spell Canada as Kanada? It makes no sense. They could easily use the correct name with the correct spelling. Why not?




Before we saw the cathedral our guide showed us Gross St. Martin a prominent landmark in the city, but it is not old by European standards. The cathedral was completed in 1880 and a year later the city wall was demolished.

As we walked through Old Kőln our guide Ernst reminded us that in ancient times we would have been forced into constant vigilance that women from upper floors of buildings did not discard their garbage or dirty “water” or worse, onto us on the street below. In those days women dumped out their window onto the streets beneath what they wanted to discard even if it came, from the “night pot.”

Ernst drew our attention to the fact that most buildings in Kőln are “fake.” Forget about fake news, these were fake buildings. That is because 90% of the buildings were destroyed during the Second World War and many were replaced by similar buildings that would fit in better, it was thought, with the historical city centre. Ye they were good fakes. For example, as I said earlier I loved Gross St. Martin and was surprised to learn that it was “fake.” It was a good fake. I took a number of photographs of it, before and after I realized it was a fake.


It was very fortunate that the Kőln Cathedral was saved as a result of poor aim of Allied bombers, and some attributed this to God’s will. Why else would it have been spared? Of course, we might ask, why were all the other churches razed and not saved? Did God not like those other churches?


Like so many cities in Europe, Kőln also suffered at the hands of the Allied forces in their efforts to destroy the Nazi led government of Germany.   By the end of World War II 90% of Kőln was destroyed. Amazingly the Cathedral was largely spared.

Ernst, our guide, was pleased to demonstrate to us the incompetence of military combatants. The Allies used the cathedral in the heart of the city, as their target for bombing the city, and, naturally, that meant that it was saved, because the Allies so rarely hit their target! Everything around it except for the cathedral was completely destroyed. It was actually hit 14 times by aerial bombs, but most of them failed to explode, as so much Allied ordinance was a dud. Of course as so often happened with unexploded ordinance, years later children playing in the streets were attracted to it and it frequently exploded in their hands. The Allies They did manage to break many windows, but the structure was intact. Fortunately, locals spirited away the majestic 14th century stained glass from the church before the Nazis realized it. As a result it was spared too. Was that divine intervention? Or was it just another example of the incompetence of war and warriors? I think the latter.

A good example of a building that was not spared was Gross St. Martin. This church was completely destroyed because the Allies did not aim at it. They only aimed at the Cathedral because it was very large and very central, the Allies did not actually want to destroy it. After all, why bother to bomb a church? But it was their target.

The star attraction of Kőln is no doubt the Cathedral. It is a Roman Catholic Cathedral that acts as the seat of the Archbishop of Kőln and of the administration of the Archdiocese of Kőln. It is a world famous monument to German Catholicism and Gothic architecture. It was declared a world heritage site in 1996 and today is Germany’s number one tourist attraction visited by 20,000 people a day. We had an opportunity to visit it briefly, but declined. That was disappointing because it has been said that this cathedral has the finest interior of any church in Europe. However, we were getting tired and wanted to rest and were getting tired of crowds and wanted to avoid them. So we walked around the cathedral a bit, trying to get a good view for a photo and letting us rest a bit.

The Kőln Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second tallest spires. With its twin towers, it provides the largest façade of any church in the world. The choir has the largest height to width ratio of any medieval church. The medieval church builders wanted a magnificent building to house the dubious relics of the 3 Kings and to fit the place of worship of the Holy Roman Emperor. Only the grand was suitable for the Emperor.

For me traveling is learning.  Today we learned a little bit about Gothic Art. Gothic Architecture is a style of architecture that flourished in Europe during the High and Late Middle Ages. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. It is a style that is most familiar as the style of the great cathedrals, abbeys, and churches of Europe. Many castles, palaces, universities, and town halls also have Gothic style. Gothic Architecture started in 12th century France and lasted up to the 16th century. At the time it was usually called Francigenum (“French work”). Its characteristics include the pointed arch, the ribbed vault that evolved from the joint vaulting of Romanesque architecture) and the flying buttress.

Although many of the great churches and cathedrals were built in this style, some much smaller buildings have embraced this style as well. The style often leads to appeals to the emotions and many of the smaller buildings are considered buildings of distinction. Many of the larger ones are listed with UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

The Cathedral is a world famous example of Gothic art. Gothic art is fascinating. I will never forget my introduction to Gothic Art. That occurred when I watched a spectacular television series called Civilization and it was narrated by Sir Kenneth Clark an erudite commentator. Later I bought the companion book and enjoyed it immensely. It really was my personal introduction to art in particular and even, to some extent to civilization. It was from that occasion that I have developed a life-long interest in civilization. The good and the bad of civilization. It is never an unmixed blessing.

Early on in that wonderful series. Clark stood in front of a magnificent cathedral in France–Chartres. I had never heard of it before. I doubt that I had heard of Gothic art either. Clark saw that cathedral, and other Gothic Cathedral as being “an expression of the Divine Law and an aid to worship and contemplation.” He said, it certainly has this affect on me… this quality of lightness, this feeling of Divine Reason.”

According to Clarke, in Gothic architecture, “The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material.” “This was,” as Clark pointed out, “a revolutionary concept in the Middle Ages. It was the intellectual background of all the sublime works of art in the next century and in fact has remained the basis of our belief in the value of art until today.”

Clark the importance of the Gothic style of architecture, was not only the pointed arch, but the lightness of high windows–what we call the clerestory and triforium. ‘Bright,’ he says, ‘is the noble edifice that is pervaded by new light,’ and in these words anticipates all the architectural aspirations of the next two hundred years.” I love that concept, a structure, a work of art that is “pervaded by new light.” That is the magnificence of Gothic Art.

The height of Gothic art, to Clark, and I accept this, although I have not yet seen it, is the Cathedral at Chartres. Clark marvels at how it is permanent. Remember that is Clark’s benchmark of what is civilization. To the medieval man geometry was a divine activity. God was the great geometer, and this inspired the architect.

We must remember, that to the medieval thinkers geometry was the instrument to explore the mind of God. And architecture–in particular what was later called Gothic architecture–was the manifestation in materials of the mind of God. What an astounding concept. Clark said that in Gothic architecture with its vault and arch the architect “he could make stone seem weightless: the weightless expression of his spirit.” This was an astonishing achievement–to make a stone building seem spirit–i.e. to make it spiritual–part of the very mind of God. That summed up Gothic art.

In many ways, Clark sees the construction of the gothic Cathedrals of Europe as the birth of European civilization. Our intellectual energy, our contact with the great minds of Greece, our ability to move and change, our belief that God may be approached through beauty, our feeling of compassion, our sense of the unity of Christendom–all this, and much more, appeared in those hundred marvelous years in the 12th and 13th centuries.

It fascinates me that the Cathedral of Kőln stood incomplete for so long. The work was halted in 1473, leaving the south tower incomplete but crowned with a huge crane that remained in place as a landmark of the Kőln skyline for 400 years! Intermittently some work was done on the structure of the nave between the west front and eastern arm, but during the 16th century construction stopped completely. I would say, it stopped until the local regained their sense of confidence.

In the 19th century encouraged by the discovery of the original plans and with the commitment of the Protestant Prussian Court to complete the cathedral. Through civic effort that was achieved. The state actually saw this as a way to improve relations with its large component of Catholic subjects it had gained in 1815. Imagine that!

The new unified country of Germany celebrated the completion on August 14 1880, 632 years after construction had begun. It was the tallest building in the world for 4 years until those darn Americans completed the Washington Monument.

In 1996 the Kőln cathedral was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, but sadly, in 2004 it was placed on the World Heritage in Danger List.” In fact it was at the time the only western site in danger, because of plans for a high-rise building near by. That would have visually impacted the site that is already visually impacted by other structures in the area. Most of those other structures are ancient, but some of them were depressingly modern. It is not enough to get a building or an area listed; it must then be protected. In 2006 the building was removed from the site of endangered buildings list because the local authorities wisely decided to limit the heights of near by buildings.

During the evening we travelled 17 Km down a canal from the Rhine River that we had cruised for more than a week all the way to the city of Amsterdam. This was the end of our cruise, though we still had one more day on board and then 3 days in Paris and 3 days in London.


August 15, 2017 Heidelberg & Mainz Germany: wretched Excess is barely enough

            Today our guide was Andreas who wanted to show us his hometown–Heidelberg. “Lets enjoy a beautiful day,” he said. I thought that was a great way to start a tour. He was an enthusiastic guide who obviously loved his country without being blind to all of its faults.

On the way, we drove through Mannheim an industrial city that had been completely destroyed during the Second World War. The Allies bombed it to smithereens because it was so important industrially. Today it is home to Mercedes, Daimler, and Benz. Industry has returned.       Mannheim is a city of factories, transportation, cars, river ports, and railways. It has been completely rebuilt, but there is no old stuff left. So we did not stop in it at all. We just drove through.

The main feature of Heidelberg is course is the Schloss–the castle. The main courtyards with the splendid façade of the Otheinrich Wing (c. 1560) and the Friedrich Building are particularly notable. Andreas made sure we saw the Heidelberg Tun–a wine barrel with a capacity of more than 50,000 gallons of wine. Surely that was sufficient for the students.

According to Andreas, Heidelberg is the city of brains–Universities and other institutions of higher learning. Heidelberg, unlike Mannheim was entirely spared bombing. Not one bomb was dropped on Heidelberg. It makes no sense to bomb books! It really had nothing worth bombing from a military perspective.

It really is a city without a skyline. No tall buildings, but lots of very old buildings. According to Andreas, Heidelberg is the city of science and learning. It is very proud of its universities and scientific institutes. The oldest university in Germany–the University of Heidelberg is found there. This venerable institution was built in 1386. That was 100 years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” North America. Today it is the third oldest university in the world after Prague and Vienna.


In Germany a University education is free for all who qualify on the basis of their marks. Anyone can go to University if they are smart enough or work hard enough. That is the way it should be. That is the only way the issue of gross inequality can be at all meaningfully addressed. Germans believe that it is the obligation of society to guarantee an education to all who want it and qualify for it. It is truly a public institution. Yes there is still some civilization left in Europe if you search for it.

Andreas led us to his alma mater the University of Heidelberg. He was very proud of it. He said that 15 Nobel Prize winners had come from this University. That is nearly half as many as all of Canada, in a city with a population of 150,000 people!

About 200 years ago Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany’s most famous poet, playwright, and man of science stated that there was “something ideal” about Heidelberg’s delightful setting. I think I can see why. It really does seem to be a centre of civilization. Exactly what I was looking for. Heidelberg really is a city of the mind. 30% of the residents of the city are students. It is a true university town. Of course, what could I see by a short stroll through the old part? Perhaps I was just idealizing it.

Mark Twain had similar thoughts about the city. He did not like Germany until he saw this city. He said he liked beer, but hated Germany and Germans. He had expected to stay a night or two here but stayed for 6 months instead. I wish I could have done that. Twain said the site of the University, with its lovely surroundings, was “the last possibility of the beautiful.”



Twain’s’ enthusiasm is still vivid today. Looking out at the city, the old buildings and the view across the Neckar, where it emerges from its steep narrow valley into the Rhine Plain one can easily understand how one can fall in love with the charming old City that nestles below the magnificent ruined castles. Being a bit of an old ruin myself, I can sympathize with old ruined castles. That view inspired many romantic poets, writers, and artists and is still one of Germany’s most beloved sights. That is what it is all about. Respect for knowledge, tradition, and the mind in a lovely landscape. It does not get much better than this!


On our stroll through the old City Andreas showed us a wonderful old church.The church was built to divide Protestants from Catholics a good example of how churches can divide rather than unite. Religion that does that in my view is not real religion. It is ersatz. Or as Donald Trump might say, “Fake religion.” The Germans are expert at building walls. They could teach Trump a lot.

On this trip I really came to appreciate Christian churches. That is a bit surprising since I venture into them so rarely at home. Why did I like these so much? I am not sure. It had something to do with light. The Gothic is all about the light. I find the theology of the churches suspect, but their buildings are divine.



On this trip the madness of Trump was never far from our minds. There were reminders everywhere.

At lunch Chris tried to save me from excess. In other words, from eating and drinking too much. Little did she know that I subscribe to a philosophy learned from a good friend—“wretched excess is barely enough,” he says.



August 13, 2017 Breisach Germany to Strasbourg France: Often little gems are the best

Much to my distaste, I woke up much too early. The causes were probably over excitement. I always have trouble sleeping the first night of a vacation. This is particularly true when I am recovering from jet lag and under the influence of strong drink. I woke up at 4 a.m. After that I took a long shower and wandered off to the early bird riser breakfast. This is a small breakfast offered at 6 a.m. to those fools who don’t know how to sleep properly.

After our breakfast we went on our first and worst excursion. This was a long bus ride to the Black Forest. We also noticed a number of vibrant corn fields as well as fields of flowers. Germans love their blumen (flowers). And who could blame them for that? Not I. As from commercially grown flowers in the farmers’ fields, there were numerous wild flowers throughout the country. This surprised me as I expected Germany to be too civilized for wild flowers. That means there is still hope for the rest of us.

Our destination today was a small village where we stopped at a store that produced and sold cuckoo clocks. For me this was not a highlight of our trip. I hate cuckoo clocks. Who would want a clock that makes an infernal noise every hour? Not me.

I really thought this was a lame excursion. We drove 1 &1/2 hours by bus and then the same distance on the same route back again, and made one photo stop. I know that photography is not the sole criterion for a good excursion but it is certainly one of them for me and, I believe, others as well judged by the number of people that rapidly exit the coach when we did stop. I felt we had spent 3 hours in a bus for very little. I could have done better–much better–by staying in Breisach. I was not mad at anyone. We had chosen this excursion, why I am not sure. I think it was included in the price. So being a cheap Mennonite got me into trouble again.

We saw our first castle as we were driving through the Black Forest. This was a very modest castle, by Rhine River standards, but it was nice to see. It gave us a foretaste of what we would see later. This castle was a ruin from the Thirty Years War. That war had a devastating impact on Germany.

It was waged from 1618 to 1648 and was the deadliest religious war in history. About 8 million people died in that war(s). The war started as a war between various Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire in central Europe. Eventually most of the great powers got involved in the action. When the states got involved the war was less about religion than it was about politics. Just like the Irish Troubles. It really was the continuation of rivalry between the French and the Hapsburgs for European domination.

The states used large mercenary armies to fight their foes. Before the war there was relative peace that had been established by the Peace of Augsburg that allowed Catholic or Lutheran (but of course not Calvinists) to determine the religion of their subjects. There was little or no thought given to allowing the individual peasants to choose for themselves. Why would that be necessary? After all, they were peasants. When it comes to religion there is always someone who thinks that his or her views on religion must be imposed on others. Sadly, that tendency is alive and well today. Thank goodness today the religions have a lot less authority than they used to have.

As so often happens in wars, the 30 Years’ War devastated the entire region. Everyone suffered. That is usually how wars work, though that lesson is often ignored or forgotten by belligerents. War also produced famine and disease common consequences of wars. As a result casualties were high. The war also bankrupted most of the combative powers. Isn’t war glorious? As always, of course, the people suffered. That is what wars do; wars cause common people to suffer enormously while princes wail.

Our destination today was a small village where we stopped at a store that produced and sold cuckoo clocks. For me this was not a highlight of our trip. I hate cuckoo clocks. Who would want a clock that makes an infernal noise every hour? Not me.

I really thought this was a lame excursion. We drove 1 &1/2 hours by bus and then the same distance on the same route back again, and made one photo stop. I know that photography is not the sole criterion for a good excursion but it is certainly one of them for me and, I believe, others as well judged by the number of people that rapidly exit the coach when we did stop. I felt we had spent 3 hours in a bus for very little. I could have done better–much better–by staying in Breisach. I was not mad at anyone. We had chosen this excursion, why I am not sure. I think it was included in the price. So being a cheap Mennonite got me into trouble again.


After lunch we did what we should have done in the morning. We had a most pleasant walk through Breisach. This is a lovely little village. We had caught a glimpse of it from the ship on our way in, but we did not realize the beauty for the village until we strolled through it. To begin with, it was a marvelous afternoon. Bright and sunny. Warm and pleasant. There were surprisingly many people strolling through town. We gathered they were both locals and tourists on a fine Sunday afternoon.



Yesterday our Cruise Director joked that probably most of us signed up for this cruise because we wanted to see Breisach.  Of course very few of us had ever likely heard of Breisach. it is a tiny town. yet, I came to realize the Director was right. Breisach was exactly what I wanted to see. It was a lovely little town with interesting things to see and photograph. We loved sitting outside sipping a beer (me) and a wine (Chris) soaking up the sun and atmosphere. As is so often the case, the little gems of travel are the best. The things we are expected to enjoy (like the Black Forest) sometimes disappoint.

I particularly enjoy photographing the churches and cathedrals of Europe.  This is particularly true when they are perched on top of a hill and I am able to get far enough away to capture it digitally. This was a great day.

August 12, 2017 Zurich Switzerland to Luzern Switzerland to Breisach Germany

In Switzerland politicians are not idolized and people don’t exaggerate their importance either to do good, or do bad. Americans and Canadians could learn from the Swizz. The people elect 220 members of the Assembly who in turn elect the Ministers. That is sort of like Canada. The members of the Assembly also elect the President. With a system like that no one makes a big deal about who the President is. It really does not matter that much. One of the things that our tour leader said I found most interesting. She said that many people in Switzerland do not know who their current President is. I think that is cool and a good sign of a healthy democracy.

Swiss independence was recognized in 1648 during the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the bloody 30 Years War, caused by religious differences that got out of hand. The country is formally neutral, but it is armed. Our tour leader explained that recently the government debated whether or not it should  invest in new fighter jets at a cost of billions. Eventually it decided that it did not make sense to buy jets that could travel right across the country in 6 minutes! Wow, how sensible can you get?



Our first destination today was Mount Pilatus–a mountain that rises 6,981 feet. From the gondola we took to the summit we had glorious views of the mountain. Below we could see hikers, coniferous trees, cows (with bells) and numerous varieties of wild flowers. For a flower child like me, it was very difficult not to spend all my time there. I would love to hike it some day. Perhaps when I am not so old. To get down the mountain again we took a cogwheel train

The ride on the cogwheel train is amazing. The cogwheel train that we took down the mountain was incredibly steep. Apparently it drove down at 48° at some points. I wish I could have seen that from the outside. From inside the rail car it is not easy to see.

When we got down to the bottom of the mountain we got back on our coach and drove along the Lake of the 4 Cantons to Luzern. I really think the city centre is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Chris to my disappointment was not quite as enamoured of it as I was.


I think that Luzern is one of the great cities of Europe. Mark Twain was in my camp. He thought that when he visited Luzern in 1878 that he had found a place of enchantment. He loved the way the town “scrambles up and spreads itself over two or three hills in a crowded, disorderly, but picturesque way.” I love disorderly and picturesque. Crowded not so much.


I have been told that Luzern has not changed that much from 1878. It does have a stunning combination of a romantic city set in lovely mountains. There was magnificent beauty to be found here. One only had to look around the tourists. I think it is one of the most beautiful city centres I have ever seen. The old buildings, bridges and churches were stunning.

A highlight was, of course, the ancient bridge called Kapellbrücke with Wasserturm. This is an outstanding feature of this sparkling city. It is a wooden bridge that stretches more than 660 feet long on stilts over the River Reuss.

Luzern has a strong claim to civilization. Its magnificent preservation of history is powerful evidence to support its claim. It likes to be considered the ‘City of Music.” If that is true it is truly civilized. Music is certainly one of the important markers of a civilized society. The city refers to itself as a city of festivals throughout the year.



The Hapsburgs purchased the town (how do you purchase towns?) in 1291 from the owner of the town Murbach Abbey in Alsace. In 1332 Luzern joined the Swiss Confederation. The people of Luzern were not always enamoured of their Hapsburg “owners.” In 1386 they were so unhappy with the Hapsburgs that they won their freedom in the Battle of Sempach. After the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century Luzern became a Catholic of the Counter -Reformation challenging the Protestants.

Near the end of our walk we encountered a loud group of boisterous marching young men banging drums and shouting incomprehensibly. It looked like the revolution had begun. We wondered if this was a political group protesting an injustice or a soccer team celebrating their own greatness. Soon we realized it was the latter. While we were glad to be safe, we were sorry to have missed out on history. As I have always said, “Start the revolution without me.” I will join later—when its safe.

Our walk was pitifully short for such a wonderful place, but is one of the hazards of travel. Good things are of too short a duration; pain last interminably. Too soon we were herded back into our coaches to continue our journey. Everything led to the ship.

In Basel we moved in to our Riverboat Imagery II operated by Avalon. We loved the ship. We particularly loved the large open windows that in effect made the entire cabin a balcony. We had been “sold” on this in Canada but were a bit sceptical that it would work. It worked wonderfully. The best things on the ship though were outstanding food, copious amounts of wine or beer served with meals, and the amazing group of friends that we made.

After we checked in with front desk we went directly to the bar without passing go. Chris had a Jameson and I had dark rum. This was a start of things to come. Frankly, and I must tell the truth in the chronicles, no matter how scurrilous that truth is, on this trip we drank too much. Part of the problem was the many good friends we made on this trip. My mother always said that I was a very nice boy but bad associates were leading me astray. I have always agreed with this unbiased assessment.