As a history teacher, Mike has often said that U.S. history is merely current events. And after several weeks exploring ancient fortresses, cathedrals, and castles throughout Europe, it’s easy to see what he means.
As part of a month-long European road trip, our around-the-world adventure led us from Luxembourg to Cologne, Germany. First settled in 38 B.C., there are still Roman ruins in the city dating back to 50 A.D.
Not all of Cologne has fared well through the years, however. Well over half of the city — and nearly all of the city center — was destroyed by almost 45,000 tons of bombs dropped during World War II. In 1945, Cologne was described as “the world’s greatest heap of rubble” by architect and urban planner Rudolf Schwarz, who designed the city’s reconstruction plan two years later.
There is one structure that has stood the test of time, though: Cologne Cathedral, officially known as Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petrus (Cathedral Church of St. Peter).
Begun in 1248, construction of the cathedral wasn’t completed until 1880 but remained true to the original plans. Repairs were necessary after 14 WWII bomb hits, but the structure was one of the few things left standing in central Cologne after the war.
Cologne Cathedral was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and is the most-visited landmark in Germany with more than 20,000 visitors each day. Entrance is free, but for 8€ (approximately $9.25 USD) per person, you can take a guided tour that includes a look at the treasure chamber and the cathedral’s incredible historic bells.
The church offers a free virtual tour via its website, but the scale of the structure and the incredible patina it’s acquired over the years are worth seeing in person. We arrived shortly before sunset, and the glow of the stained glass as it shone on the ancient stone, metal, and wood was breathtaking.
While German architecture hit the spot, German food would not, so we sought culinary variety on Marzellenstraße, a Cologne street lined with sidewalk cafes. Ben was craving cheese dip, so we were looking for Mexican food when Enoteca la Cantina caught our eye. Turns out it’s an Italian restaurant (it means “wine cellar” in Italian), and an incredibly good one.
The drinking age in Germany is 16, so Ben got to order his first beer, which he enjoyed with a huge antipasti platter and freshly made pasta with Italian sausage. Saluti and prost!
Our adventure continued the next day in Brühl, Germany, the site of Schloss Augustusburg.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984, the castle was built in the 1700s and is a masterpiece of Rococo architecture. The beautiful gardens are based on French designs, and they are one of the most authentic examples of 18th century garden design in Europe.
We took a lovely stroll through the formal gardens and adjacent woods before heading into the village in search of lunch. Still on the lookout for Mexican food, we found Seasons Cafe, which did indeed have some south of the border dishes on the menu (and I don’t mean Switzerland).
Despite the presence of nachos, we opted for several other selections from the international menu and settled in for a lovely lunch at an outdoor table in the shade.
While we waited for our food, the owner of the restaurant introduced himself and asked where we were from. We told him about our around-the-world adventure and said our next stop was Belgium.
His name was Marc, and he had wonderful recommendations for our time in Brussels and also suggested we visit Ghent if we had time.
Read our next post to see how it all worked out!