We ended our evening yesterday with a Shanty Choir coming aboard. These were a group of men who were going to sing sailing songs. We had no idea what to expect, but whatever it was, our expectations were greatly exceeded. There were thirty men who came aboard. That included the choir director, two guitar players and two accordion players as well as one man who occasionally accompanied the singers with percussion instruments.

They filed into the lounge singing Anchors Aweigh, and thereby won the hearts of all the old Navy veterans. They sang for about an hour and only one song was in German and the story it told was explained to us before they began singing. There is nothing quite like a bunch of German men singing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean or Molly Malone.

Several of the men could speak English quite well. But as we were thanking them for their performance, many of them didn’t seem to understand our language but still managed to sing our songs for an hour. It was amazing.

The next morning we were docked at Cologne, Germany. After breakfast we ventured out into what turned out to be one of the coldest days so far. Perhaps it just felt so cold because the winds were constantly blowing and the air was damp and cutting. Regardless of the weather, it was still beautiful.

Cologne is a huge city and we stayed in only a small part of it. We left the ship and walked up the waterside walk. Before World War II this area was built up with many businesses. However, this was all bombed and destroyed and rather than rebuilding so close to the water, they made a wide promenade and then a green space on the other side of it.

One of the things that was dominating the sky was a large blue domed building. This was the train station. It is a busy station and it connects to a huge bridge that crosses the Rhine River. There were trains going across the bridge in a near constant motion. It is the busiest train bridge in Germany.

There are many bridges crossing the river and most of them were destroyed during the war. So their construction is quite recent. However, the next bridge we came to was rebuilt after the war that ruined the bridge but did not take down the entrance to it. There was a life sized statue of Wilhelm I on a horse and on the other side was Wilhelm II on his horse.

Behind them was a new building that was built with the arching roofline reminiscent of the Gothic style even though the building was built of brick and glass. There were winding walkways and a green space surrounding the building. There is a concert hall built underground. What they didn’t take into consideration was the sound of people walking or stomping or strolling over the hall. When a concert is held, there are guards above ground making people walk around so their footsteps are not transmitted to the concert goers below.

Most of the Gothic buildings in Germany are churches. There is one building that is Gothic in structure but is not a church and that is the Town Hall here. There was a tall tower decorated with a life sized statues of the important people of history, both civil and religious. There are over 120 statues on the building, only twelve of them women. Being good Germans, they included the name of each person under their statue. If they really didn’t like you, your statue could give a clue. One man who was apparently not well liked is forever remembered in stone with his butt hanging out.

We walked on and came to two brass statues of local men. They were said to have gone to school together and one of them was a hard working and industrious man. The other was a happy-go-lucky sort of man. When they met in later life, both had made a success of their life. If you would like to be successful by chance and hope for the best, rub the nose of the one man. If you hope for success due to your wits and hard work, rub the hand of the other. We were taking a picture of the statues when Frenchie posed between them.

Ahh, Frenchie. Every trip has one Frenchie aboard. On our Alaska trip, there was an annoying woman from France who just had to be the center of attention and always annoying.

We arrived in Vienna and on our extra trip was this woman who was born in Iran, moved to Moscow as a teenager, and ended up in California for college. She studied biology and then became a lawyer. She has been our Frenchie. She has been late for everything and the only person in our group to get lost and have to be tracked down. After being told six times to be back at the blue 1 spot on the map, she asked where she was supposed to be. After being told to be back at the meeting point at 2.30 several times, she would ask what time we had to meet. It has been constant and each and every time, Barb and I start to giggle.

Well, we were commenting on a Frenchie story the other day and another member of our group was sitting in the lounge with us. She looked at us and wanted to know who Frenchie was. We told her and she said, “She hasn’t got the sense of a green bean.” It just made our day. Anyway, we have her picture as we also have the Alaska Frenchie’s picture.

As an added measure of laughs and fun, the night’s dinner after the green bean comment did – for the only time while we have been aboard – include green beans. The woman who made the comment was sitting at the table next to ours and it caused so much laughter we sort of disrupted the entire dining room with our laughter.

But back to the tour, we stopped at Farina, the birthplace of Eau de Cologne. This is where all the elite came to get their perfume in a time when bathing was optional and rare. It began operation in 1709 and is still run by the same family 300 years later. They have a list of the famous people who have used their cologne.

Probably the most famous was Napoleon Bonaparte who apparently loved the stuff. Back in 1800, a bottle of the perfume which came in a long thin bottle with a long neck stopped with cork was sold for what amounted to the wages earned in six months by the normal working class schmuck. This is why it was a high-end luxury item. Napoleon used to have a boot specially made to carry one of these bottles.

He was such a fan that he used a bottle a day. It  really is good to be king.

Before approaching the cathedral, we were shown one more street sculpture/fountain. It was of a woman who was standing at the top and then cascading down were many elves. The tale that goes with the fountain: Once upon a time, all the people of Cologne were blessed by having all their housework and drudge work done. No one knew how this was accomplished but it was a rather nice treat. Each morning, dishes were washed, meals were cooks, laundry was done, streets were clean, everything was tidy, and water was available.

The baker’s wife was curious about what happened in the night and yet no one could tell her. So she came up with a plan. She spread peas (one would assume they were dried peas) around just at dusk. After nightfall when everyone in town was a sleep, she was awakened by the sound of the peas being disturbed. Thus she was able to find out what happened. She saw numerous elves going about the city doing all the work.

Unfortunately, this was the last night it happened. Never more did the elves return. There was no indication of what happened to the curious baker’s wife, but she might have been in trouble with the other people in the town.

We next came to the Cologne Cathedral. It is known as such but really if you were being technical, it is the Cathedral of St. Peter. Work began in the middle of the 13th century after the Crusaders returned with the remains of the Three Magi or Three Kings who had visited baby Jesus. I have no idea how they were able to gather these relics, but that’s the story.

Because the relics were so important, a new cathedral needed to be built. However, work on the massive building was halted in the 15th century. The building was unfinished and remained so for hundreds of years. Then, in the 19th century work restarted and staying faithful to the original plans, the construction was finally completed in 1880. So it took from 1248 to 1880 to build the massive structure and inside is a golden casket which contains the remains of the Three Magi, theoretically.

The façade of the building is the largest in terms of space. There is a taller structure, but the front of the Cologne Cathedral covers 7000 square meters, the largest amount of real estate. The spires are the second tallest in of any church in the world. It is also preserved as a World Heritage Site.

The reason it remains standing even when so much of Cologne was destroyed in World War II is strategic. The massive structure was easily seen from the air and as the bomber squads few over the city, they used it as a marker to tell where to drop their bombs. Even when not actively using it as a target, it was hit by 70 bombs during the war. However, the roof remained intact.

One window was destroyed during the war and was replaced by plain glass until finally in 2007 it was replaced with 11,500 identically shaped and variously colored pieces of glass. These colors were arranged by computer and placed in the window. The result looks like a pixilated picture. Apparently the Germans are thrilled with it. I personally thought it looked ridiculous.

The rest of the windows are done in glorious, luminescent colors which actually glowed even though the weather outside was overcast. I can’t imagine how beautiful the jewel tones of color splashing onto the floor must look in the bright sunlight. It must be over the top.

I was so busy looking at the beautiful windows that I almost missed the floor. The entire area surrounding the altar and the golden shrine to the Three Kings is done in circular patterns of tiles with some being pictures and others being designs. They are in earth tones and beautiful in themselves and must be glorious on a sunny day.

In the niches were fabulous pieces of artwork. There were many paintings, but there were also three dimensional carved pieces with several layers of detailed work. It was simply astounding. The space inspired reverence and awe.

Outside the church were five different mimes who were freezing while waiting for tourists to pose with the moving statues. Two were dressed as angels and three were done in silver and looked more like citizens of medieval days. They were pretty to look at, but I couldn’t imagine standing there all day in the hopes of some tourist money.

After lunch, Dick and I went to the Lindt chocolate museum. It was much nicer than I had anticipated. There were many interactive stations. There were also many, many children as they are still on their spring break. Luckily, all the things had both German and English signs and we could read everything or listen in English to the spoken things.

I had no idea how big a cocoa bean was and I also had no idea that 80% of the people who work so hard to harvest them have never tasted chocolate. Many of those who harvest the cocoa do so as a family business and they use the children of the family as part of the labor force. The wages paid are very low and most of them live in abject poverty.

There have been some strides made into raising their wages and stopping child labor, but it is not completely successful. The cocoa is processed in part by the family before it is shipped for further processing and turning it into the taste treat we know as chocolate. This is why many of those who start the process have never tasted the end result.

It is grown and harvested near the equator and it is turned into candy much farther north with the US and the Netherlands being the two chocolate biggies.

We were able to watch the process of cocoa being made into chocolate via several large automated machines that stirred and twirled and heated and cooled precisely. Chocolate has to be made exactly and too hot or too cold at the wrong time makes it not so good. They had a large ever flowing chocolate fountain and the crabby woman behind the rope would take several cookie wafers and fan them like a hand of cards. She then dipped them in the chocolate and handed them out to the tourists. If she liked you, you got two. I got one. Dick however, got two.

I learned, all these years later, why our chocolate molds never came out perfectly when we made our own Easter candy. You have to shake the living hell out of the still liquid chocolate in order to get all the air bubbles out.

As we continued along, we saw lots of Mexican artifacts as the way chocolate got to Europe was through Mexico. I didn’t realize I would come to Germany and find Mesoamerican history and it was really unique.

As a treat after dinner, we were entertained by the crew of the River Concerto. They did several skits, all of them hilarious and entertained us for an hour. It is almost time to be finished. We set sail after dinner and had ¼ of the river miles to cover on this last leg of our journey. We sailed quickly downstream all night long.