Cologne was cold and wet and bleak, but it was very good to catch up with old friends.
In Paris there's already a feeling that winter is coming to an end, but further north, Cologne still seemed to be fast in the grip of winter.
Cologne's located on the Rhine, one of the main thoroughfares for conquest, trade and habitation in Western Europe, and consequently has been long settled. The Dom - as Cologne Cathedral is locally named - typifies the waves of settlement.
The Cathedral as it now stands was begun somewhere around the mid thirteenth century but not completed till 1880. However, there is evidence of a bishopric in Cologne in the fourth century, and excavations beneath the Dom reveal not only a previous church structure from the ninth century, but evidence of Roman camps and houses from around the first century.
[This is a totally gratuitous photograph of mosaics on the Cathedral floor. I have no idea of when they date from - I just love tiles and mosaics].
The city was fortified in medieval times within a semi-circular wall, and there is still occasional evidence of the wall and of a number of the fortified towers throughout the city. In some cases the towers have incorporated stones from previous Roman buildings and walls.
But as well as having a sense of the great age of the city, there is a most immediate realisation of the destruction wrought by Allied bombing during the second world war. Like many of the industrially rich cities of Germany, much of Cologne was, of necessity, rebuilt after the war. So it no longer has an extensive, charming architectural heritage. As a result I was delighted when I saw occasional buildings, such as this nice example of early twentieth century Jugenstil architecture, that had survived the bombings:
Cologne's now a modern, thriving city with waves of immigrants and settlers continuing to enrich its culture. The Rhine is still a bustling thoroughfare, with barges carrying gas, petrol and containers of goods along its length. When we visited the river was swollen over the edges of its banks by melting snow in its higher reaches, so that it flowed swift and strong.
New harbours have been built alongside the river for the traffic (see the Dom steeples in the far background?)
and architecturally exciting buildings are being built along the Rhine banks to house new apartments and offices.
It's a modern city with such a long and complex history.
Our visit to Cologne was mainly to catch up with old friends, but I did manage a visit to a wonderful yarn store - Maschenkunst by Daniela Johannsenova. Sorry for the lack of interior pics - I was a bit rushed and just overwhelmed by the variety. It was a yarn store (not a mercerie as I've discovered in Paris), with a wide variety of yarn - and complete with cosy lounges and people knitting socks and chatting. This time I bought a little - not much - and I'm already regretting the Isager yarns I wasn't organised enough to purchase!