Introduction to Cologne

Step into my shoes… we are spending the month in Cologne.

Cologne, a beautiful city situated on the River Rhine is going to be our first Destination of the Month for January 2013. We are going together to discover its cathedral, markets, cuisine, river and its hidden corners.


Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest city and is home to an amazing UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral, the Lindt Chocolate Museum, the Ludwig Museum and some of the best Christmas Markets in the world.

Step into my shoes and during January 2013 we are going to discover all this and more. As well as my usual travel posts about where I am currently and where my thoughts take me, I will be posting a few times each week during January about Cologne.

Click here for my top five things to do in Cologne. Or continue reading to discover the city’s history.

Köln By Day

Cologne through the ages

Roman Cologne

What is today the centre of the city was founded in 38BC by the Romans and was known as Oppidum Ubiorum. The city was the capital of a Roman province until occupied by the Franks in 462.

Middle Ages

During the middle ages, Cologne’s location on the River Rhine placed it at the intersection of the major trade routes between east and west and was the basis of Cologne’s growth. Cologne was a member of the Hanseatic League and became a Free Imperial City in 1475.

Besides its economic and political significance Cologne also became an important centre of medieval pilgrimage from 1164.

As a free city Cologne was a sovereign state within the Holy Roman Empire and as such had the right (and obligation) to maintain its own military force. Wearing a red uniform these troops were known as the Rote Funken (red sparks). These soldiers were part of the Army of the Holy Roman Empire (“Reichskontingent”) and fought in the wars of the 17th and 18th century, including the wars against revolutionary France.

From 19th Century

Cologne lost its status as a free city during the French period and the region later became part of Napoleon’s Empire.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Cologne absorbed several surrounding towns, and by World War I had already grown to 700,000 inhabitants. Industrialization changed the city and spurred its growth. Vehicle and engine manufacturing were especially successful.

The cathedral, started in 1248 but abandoned around 1560, was eventually finished in 1880 not just as a place of worship but also as a German national monument celebrating the newly founded German empire and the continuity of the German nation since the Middle Ages.

During World War I Cologne was the target of several only minor air raids and survived the hostilities without significant damage. Until 1926 Cologne was occupied by the British Army of the Rhine under the terms of the armistice and the subsequent Versailles Peace Treaty.

World War II

During the Bombing of Cologne in World War II, Cologne endured 262 air raids by the Western Allies, which caused approximately 20,000 civilian casualties and almost completely wiped out the centre of the city. During the night of 31 May 1942, Cologne was the target of “Operation Millennium” during which 1,046 heavy bombers attacked their target with 1,455 tons of explosives. This raid lasted about 75 minutes, destroyed 600 acres of built-up area, killed 486 civilians and made 59,000 people homeless.

By the end of the war, the population of Cologne had been reduced by 95%. This loss was mainly caused by a massive evacuation of the people to more rural areas. The same happened in many other German cities in the last two years of war. At the end of 1945, the population had already risen to about 500,000 again.

By the end of the war, essentially all of Cologne’s pre-war Jewish population of 11,000 had been deported or killed by the Nazis. The six synagogues of the city were destroyed. The synagogue on Roonstraße was rebuilt in 1959.

After World War II

The destruction of 95% of the city centre including the famous Twelve Romanesque churches and several other monuments in World War II meant a tremendous loss of cultural treasures.

In 1945 architect and urban planner Rudolf Schwarz called Cologne the “world’s greatest heap of rubble.” Schwarz designed the master plan of reconstruction in 1947, which called for the construction of several new thoroughfares through the downtown area.

The reconstruction of the city lasted until the 1990s, when the Romanesque church of St. Kunibert was finished.

In 1959, the city’s population reached pre-war numbers again. It then grew steadily, exceeding 1 million for about one year from 1975. It has remained just below that until mid 2010, when it exceeded 1 million again.

And now let’s discover Cologne…

Click here for my top five things to do in Cologne. Or click here for my first impressions of Cologne and its people.

Filed Under: colognefeaturedgermany

About the Author: Based in Mallorca, obsessed with the world and have a lot to say about both... Step into my shoes and join me on a journey...

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