ABOARD THE VIKING HLIN – Thus far on our river journey, we have focused on both sides of the river. Thus, France to the West and Germany to the East have pretty much received equal attention.
But yesterday and today that all changed. It has been all about Germany. In truth, I have never traveled extensively in Germany so it has been quite interesting to get some deeper insight into the culture which is not all brats and beer (although we have had plenty of that).
Last evening, the ship kicked off our German festivities with a German dinner during which we were serenaded by a rousing accordion player and his partner who sang accompanied by an old-fashioned hand-crank mechanical music box. In some ways, it was somewhat the same as our dinner in Rüdesheim but it was still enjoyable to see so many of our fellow guests get up to wind that contraption. Our chef, who is from Serbia, served an excellent menu, of much higher quality than what we had onshore. (In fact, meals have been excellent throughout the trip.)
During the cocktail hour before dinner, our hotel director and program manager, decked out in lederhosen and dirndl, explained a number of German traditions. One is that in this area of Germany the most common type of beer is kölsch. There are many varieties but it must be served in a special small glass and be extremely cold. If you are in an authentic biergarten, your glass will be replenished until you put a coaster over the top.
Of course, kölsch was served at dinner as well and … gee, I think I will have one right now! (It is 4 p.m. here after all!)
Today was a highlight of our trip. We visited the elegant city of Cologne (“Köln” to the locals) and visited its mammoth cathedral. But what brought it alive was the narrative of our guide, Udo Eichler. All our guides this week have been exceptional, but Udo’s knowledge and enthusiasm for his hometown was over the top.
In fact, the only thing that dampened his spirits was the fact that the choir of the cathedral (behind the altar) was closed to us because of a wedding so that he could not show us the “treasures” of this church up close. The primary treasure is a gold reliquary that is believed to hold remains from the Magi, the three kings who visited Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus
“The reason that this cathedral was built,” he kept stressing, “was because of these treasures. For believers, this is critical… There was actually a church here before but the citizens of Cologne did not believe it was grand enough for such treasures.” It took over 600 years for this magnificent structure to be completed and today it remains one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. When it was completed in 1890 it was the tallest building in the world, only to be superseded a few years later by the Washington Monument. To get an idea of its scope, consider that there are over 11,000 spires on its exterior.
The Viking Hlin is docked less than a half mile from the cathedral, so it was easy to explore this very walkable city during the afternoon. The last time I visited Cologne was about 35 years ago, but I remember buying a fine knife as a souvenir. This time Chet and I walked to the close-by Chocolate Museum (Schokoladen Museum) operated by Lindt and patronized its extensive chocolate shop.
Then we crossed the street to the less well known but perhaps more authentic Mustard Museum (Kölner Senfmuseum) which sells a brand of cold ground mustard that dates to 1820. Of course, I had to buy at least one of the flavors and opted for the original recipe. Of course, I may have to return to Cologne one day to have its glazed stone pot refilled!
This day ended with a lecture by a local university professor about the current state of Germany today and that was a nice wrap-up to our days spent here. Tomorrow we enter the Netherlands!
May 11, 2017