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Phespirit goes to Germany
Cologne     August 2010

"You should go to Wuppertal, it has a monorail." So said one of the locals Phespirit met during his visit to Düsseldorf last year. Alas, there was no time then so Wuppertal remained one of several nearby notable places that Phespirit failed to visit on that occasion. Chief among these places was mighty Cologne, just 55km south around the river Rhine from Düsseldorf. Its omission was by design rather than neglect, however, as Cologne is a city with much more to offer than could be appreciated in a single day trip. Phespirit made a week of it.

During four days spent in the city itself, Phespirit had time to take in four art museums, five history museums, fifteen churches, a huge cathedral, four random 'buildings of interest, two thermal spas, one park, one riverside walk and one cable car ride. His top five is below:

  1. Kölner Dom - Cologne Cathedral.

    Hardly an original recommendation but no credible Cologne top five list could omit its world-famous twin-spired, pollution-blacked Gothic cathedral. Phespirit visited it three times: the first time for its interior and treasury (the Domschatzkammer); the second time to ascend one of its spires on a glorious sunny day; and finally for the free Tuesday night organ recital, at which guest organist Hans Leitner of Munich performed works by Bach, Rheinberger, Helmschrott and Reger, and closed with one of his own.

  2. Käthe Kollwitz Museum.

    Like Cologne's cathedral, the works of artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) are unmistakable, dark and awe-inspiring. Whereas the cathedral conveys the darkness of infinity and its unknowable glories, Kollwitz's works exquisitely capture the darkness of human suffering through love, loss, grief, hunger, poverty and despair. The rawness of emotion contained within each facial expression is painful. This is the greatest permanent collection devoted to a single artist that Phespirit can recall.

  3. Kolumba.

    At Kolumba art museum it is neither the building itself not the artworks inside that are especially impressive. Rather it is the improbable combinations and unlikely presentations of the old and the new, art and architecture, in an original and constantly stimulating way, that make this museum more than the sum of its parts and a surprise entry in this top five.

  4. Imhoff Schokoladen Museum.

    No surprises here, though. This is Cologne's chocolate museum. There's only limited enjoyment to be extracted from rooms that explain the botany, history and economy of chocolate, but once they've been cleared it's on to the mouth-watering matter of chocolate production. Heavy machinery blends, folds and manipulates rivers and pools of hot, fresh, liquid chocolate as it travels towards a destiny of becoming small individual Lindt bites. Wafers dipped in chocolate are handed out to the desperate. Phespirit greedily acquired two.

  5. Claudius Therme.

    It's easy to reach a cultural saturation point when relentlessly flitting between museums and historic sites, so a nice thermal spa is a good place to unwind for a few hours. Claudius Therme is the largest and most popular of the local wellness centres. Tickets are available for two hours, four hours or all day. It's not cheap but in the summer months they offer an extra hour for free. Phespirit brought a book and took his ease.

For the rest of his week Phespirit used the excellent regionalbahn rail network to visit neighbouring towns and cities. First he walked the 'Werwolf-Wanderweg' that loops between the old towns of Kaster and Bedburg - the area stalked by Peter Stubbe, who achieved infamy as the 'Werewolf of Bedburg' during the 16th century. Later on, in wretched weather, Phespirit went to Bonn where he walked beside the Rhine and visited museums, the cathedral and the house in which Ludwig van Beethoven was born.

And, of course, he visited Wuppertal to admire the Wuppertal Schwebebahn - a suspended monorail opened in 1901 that extends for 10km above the surface of the river Wupper and a further 3.3km above city streets. The huge green-painted steel frame that stands astride the river is a truly bizarre sight to behold, but Phespirit's admiration ended there. He was told the Schwebebahn was not operating due to summer maintenance work; a replacement bus service was provided. A disappointment then, and on balance the August weather could have been better, but these were the only negatives in what was otherwise another pleasing trip to a rewarding part of the world.

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