Culture and art await visitors in historic Cologne

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Cologne, located on the Rhine River, is Germany's third largest city. Towering above the city are the steeples of the worldfamous Koelner Dom or Cologne Cathedral. This splendid church is a perfect example of high Gothic style architecture -- few large buildings in the world have been built in such a uniform way.
 
It took 632 years to construct the cathedral, which was completed in 1880, and by that time it was the focal point of the city, towering above the famous Rhine-side panorama. 

Among the many treasures in the cathedral is the Gero cross, which dates back to A.D. 975, the Occident's oldest large sculpture, the Shrine of the Three Magi (1180-1225), an outstanding example of goldsmith's work from the Rhine area and the largest winged altar painting called the Dombild. It was created by Stephan Lochner around 1450 and is a real masterpiece of the Cologne Art School.
 
The beautiful choir fittings have been entirely preserved, as have the statues of the 12 apostles in the choir. These are sights not to be missed. Anyone entering the cathedral is overwhelmed when looking up at the tall windows and steep vaulting.
 
The main thoroughfare of Roman times, Hohe Strasse, today is Cologne's most famous street for shopping. The most prominent evidence of the Roman times are the remains of the city walls, the Roemerturm, and the 14-meter high Poblicius Tomb in the Roemisch-Germanisches Museum, which dates back to around A.D. 40. This museum presents everyday Roman life and shows wonders of art, such as glass and ceramics -- 2,000 years of Cologne history. 

Cologne is a city where people find their way around easily. A discovery tour may start from the Dom into the pedestrian paradise Hohe Strasse and Schildergasse, or into the old part of town. 

There are many famous Romanesque churches surrounding the city. The Wallraf-Richarts and Ludwig museums, between the cathedral and the Rhine, house the World of Paintings. Cologne's famous, and fairly new concert hall, the Philharmonie, can also be found here. The Altstadt, or old city, offers a 19th century atmosphere with its romantic buildings, pubs, bars and ale-houses waiting to be photographed. 

With the Rhine river flowing right past the city, it's definitely recommended to experience Cologne aboard one of the day or night cruises offered by the KDKoeln-Duesseldorfer Boat Company. From here you get an entirely different view of the city. 

Cologne has plenty of recreational areas and parks. The Rhine Park with its anzbrunnen or open-air dancing fountain located next to the Trade Fair Center is particularly famous. Plus, the city is packed with international shows, artists and orchestras. Cologne is a city of arts with nine municipal and many private museums, 120 private galleries, a municipal art gallery, an opera house and many theaters. A trade fair city, Cologne hosts the worldfamous photokina, Men's Fashion Week and the International Furniture Fair. 

It is also home to the most important radio and TV center in West Germany, home of WDR, Deutschlandfunk and BFBS broadcasting stations. It's a university town with the university celebrating its 600th anniversary in 1988. 

The Cologne theaters, operas, ballets and puppet plays all enjoy an international reputation. The smaller playhouses provide light entertainment. Also very popular is the Cologne Zoo, which attracts many visitors year-round.

The Cologne dialect and local beer share the same name: Koelsch. When they brewed this beer, which is supposed to be good for the figure, the local inhabitants built a lot of inns and taverns to drink it at and called them Koelsche Kneipen. Now, there seems to be a Koelsche Kneipe on practically every corner.

Instead of wine, the Cologne people prefer the Koelsch top-brewed beer, served in small glasses by the Koebes, who can be recognized by their blue waistcoats. 
 
At the end of the month, Cologne will become the center of attention again, when Germany celebrates Fasching from Jan. 31 through Feb. 5. At this time, thousands of people will travel to the city to have a good time, to attend a Fasching ball or to watch the famous Rose Monday parade, which is held Feb. 4. Several Fasching parades will also take place Feb. 3 in Cologne. 

Instead of driving a vehicle into the city and having to bother with expensive parking and traffic stress, the Deutsche Bahn or German rail offers special fares to Cologne and other different destinations in Germany, where several people may travel on discount rates.