Part 3 – Stops in Cologne and Koblenz, Germany
By now, we were pretty accustomed to the routine on board the ship and how the tours were to be conducted. It is safe to say that our anxiety level had returned to normal and we were now in full enjoyment mode.
We sailed through the night and possibly even passed through a few locks. I missed most of the locks because the events were usually so smooth you had no idea they were going on unless you were looking out a window. Once in a while, there were some bumps as the ship was snuggled against the lock wall so another boat could come in alongside.
Soon after breakfast, Viking Bragi made a short stop in Zons, Germany (just outside of Cologne) where those of us who were going on the morning excursions in Cologne could disembark and make our way to coaches for the short ride into Cologne where our walking tour began.
The tour was a historical overview of the city’s long history dating back to the Roman Empire. There are still remains of the wall that once encircled the Roman city that once stood where modern Cologne is today.
The majority of our tour time was consumed by a long slow walk around the perimeter of the Cologne Cathedral and the streets with their shops and restaurants in the immediate vicinity.
Normally, at this point, I would insert several photos from the walking tour. While I have a few that will appear below, this is a wonderful place to talk about the challenges I dealt with in my desire to document our journey through photography.
While on walking tours it is difficult at best to be able to pause long enough to properly set up for quality photographs. As is the case with most serious photographers whether professional or like me serious amateurs, there is no substitute for a properly composed photograph. There is a genre of photography called “street photography” that in my opinion is a little looser in composition style. I am not a fan of that style of photography and therefore have not done much to develop a skill for it. This doesn’t mean I have no respect for the genre. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is real art to street photography and it has a place in the broader world of photographic styles. I often boast that if there are people in my photographs, then I didn’t make the photograph. That attitude effectively disqualifies me from being a street photographer.
While traveling to places where there will be people, I have to take into account that there will be times when I am unable to keep the people out of my photographs. However, I try only to include those images when they help to tell the story emerging from the experience.
On this trip, I had two cameras and one telephoto lens. The easier of the cameras to use was the one on my phone. The other was my Nikon D610 full frame 35mm equivalent with a 24 to 85 mm telephoto lens. I chose this camera and lens combination for size and weight considerations fully expecting the 24mm end of the range to be able to capture buildings and monuments, while the 85mm end would be good for landscapes.
In the specific case of the Cologne Cathedral, that lens should have been sufficient to produce some sharp images of this fabulous building. The problem was that regardless of the lens I was unable to get far enough away from the church to fit it into the frame and not have it appear to be falling over backward. The twin towers of the cathedral are 515 feet tall. You have to be back to get good shots of anything that tall. Making a formidable challenge even tougher is the fact that there are construction cranes and scaffolding around much of the building that cannot be eliminated by distance. The photos you will see below include some crops of larger images that highlight the details of the cathedral’s design.
While my phone makes exceptional photographs, the sensor size is so small that there are too few pixels in a given image to make them viable for printing. In retrospect, I should have taken along my Samsung point-and-shoot camera with a much larger sensor and as easy to carry and operate as the phone. In fact, there are a few images here on my website that were made with that camera early in our adventures on the road.
I made this photo with my Nikon D610 with the lens set at 24mm. Obviously, I didn’t get all of the cathedral in the shot. I was standing just about as far away as I could get and still be on the grounds of the cathedral. As you can see the left side of the building appears to be leaning backward. In my attempt to stand up the center of the building, the extremes leaned more. Also, there is just too much foreground in the shot.
This is essentially the same photo only this one was made with my phone
I tried to isolate as much of the towers as possible with my phone for this image.
I finally wised up and decided maybe it would be best to concentrate on specific features of the cathedral. This photo was made with my Nikon D610.
Taken with my phone, this photo highlights the details of the bell tower.
As we continued to circumvent the Cologne Cathedral we came upon a display of carved stones from the days when the ancient Romans occupied the area. Unfortunately, the display had no signage indicating where exactly the stones had been excavated from. It can be presumed they must have come from the area immediately around where the cathedral had been built because that location would have been ideal for keeping an eye on the river just yards below.
I think these next few images speak for themselves.
This bronze plaque is embedded in the sidewalk near the Cologne Cathedral. The solid line that makes an irregular square represents where the wall of the ancient Roman city was. Fragments of that wall remain where they stood all those centuries ago.
When the walking tour ended we had the option to return to the bus for a ride back to the ship, or we could wander at our leisure around the city and return to the boat by walking downhill and turning left when we got to the river as our guide had detailed at least five times before turning us loose.
Connie and I opted for some time in town on our own with a walk back to the boat. I have been recovering from an injury to my left foot and leg for some months. While the walking has actually been good in rebuilding my strength and stamina, it has also been very painful from time to time. So, our off time this day was to find a pharmacy and get some ibuprofen, the only OTC med we failed to bring along with us.
Our search for the pharmacy gave us the opportunity to look a little closer at the post-WWII city of Cologne now that we had the knowledge that some 90% of the city had been destroyed by the bombing raids carried out by the British Royal Air Force. When Cologne was rebuilt there was an emphasis made to rebuild it much as it was before the war. Other cities in Germany took a different approach and rebuilt to the standard of the day.
On our walk back to the ship we crossed under the bridge pictured below which is a “love bridge” where lovers of all ages put padlocks to signify their love and devotion for one another. This practice seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that isn’t quite as innocent as it may appear. Bridges are engineered to carry a maximum load. The materials and design of the structure are picked to accommodate the maximum weight that would logically be on the bridge at any given time plus a safety factor. The installation of literally thousands of metal locks can and has resulted in grossly overloading bridges and causing failures in some cases. In many places, there are teams of workers whose job is to cut off the locks almost as fast as they are put on. In other places, only those locks provided by some authority can be used, and even then at some point in time, they will be removed to protect the bridge and community. This bridge seems to be pretty well loaded with locks.
From this distance, the bridge looks pretty normal. The next photo zooms in on the railing. If you look hard enough down the river you can see our boat back there, somewhere.
All along the rails and anywhere else where a padlock can be attached you will see padlocks of different sizes and colors. Hopefully, you can expand the image enough to see the individual locks.
We spent the afternoon resting and enjoying the ship’s ambiance. We were underway by 10 PM for our next stop, Koblenz, Germany.
We arrived in Koblenz around 8:30 AM which meant we had plenty of time for a relaxed breakfast on board before departing by bus to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.
Ehrenbreitstein Fortress stands atop a rocky outcrop at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. It is indeed a fortress and an impenetrable one at that, at least in the days prior to aviation and long-range missiles. Our tour was led by an actor in the appropriate period costume who played the part of a spy who had infiltrated the fortress during construction in order to determine the design features of the complex so as to develop methods to eventually penetrate the defenses and capture the fortress. Cutting to the chase, there was no way anyone was going to gain unauthorized access to this place.
I have linked below the website for the fortress. My purpose in the link is to give you a feel for the scope of the fortress and feel for its effectiveness at keeping watch over the rivers.
The fortress was built by the Prussians between 1817 and 1828 to replace the earlier fortress that had been destroyed by the French in 1801. This particular fortress was the backbone for a series of fortifications in the Rhine region. It was never attacked and is now a state park.
Back to the tour guide. There were two schools of thought regarding the approach this gentleman took. There were those who liked it and those who were shall I say much less enthusiastic about it. I was part of the former group as I really enjoyed his rather captivating presentation as to how fruitless an attempted penetration would have been. He walked us around the land side of the complex pointing out the tunnel system that had been incorporated in the design to be used as the first line of defense. He then moved us inward to show us those features that would in all likelihood stop anyone who may have somehow gotten past the tunnel system. From there he showed us the many gun and riflemen emplacements that gave the defenders every possible angle to take out any infiltrators while giving them virtually no clear shots at the defenders. This went on through several layers before we finally entered the heart of the fortress which no one not invited would ever have seen. Along the way, our guide killed off a portion of the group as part of the act while demonstrating the defenses.
For the record, Connie does not share my feelings about the approach taken by our guide as a role player.
This is the entrance to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. on the right side can be seen rifleman positions. It is hard to make out from this image, but the opening on the outside is larger than on the inside. The riflemen would have a range of angles to shoot toward while the aggressor would have a very small target to shoot through to get to the rifleman. There are several more of these rifle windows on the wall to the left of the gate as well as along the wall to the right of the window pictured. Through the gate opening, you can see a much larger window with angled walls. This is a gun emplacement. These exist throughout the fortress as well.
This is a great view to see not just the multiple canon and rifle emplacements, but also how the fortress was constructed to minimize the damage that a single hit on the structure would produce. The walls of the fortress are several feet thick and the arched construction of the openings made it a very formidable structure.
This was our very animated tour guide.
When we returned to the ship we did so at a pier in Braubach as the ship had moved upriver in our absence. All three of the day’s excursions required that we get off at Koblenz and reboard in Braubach. We got underway as soon as the last guest had returned to the ship. This is one of the many impressive bits of planning Viking does in an attempt to provide the most time ashore while keeping the ship moving upriver where there isn’t necessarily a lot to see or a lot of guests on board. By land, the trip is only about 20 minutes. By the river, it is an hour and 15 minutes.
The best sailing of the day would be in the afternoon when we passed by castle after castle. My photos from the afternoon are not sensational as most of the shots were from a distance. My short telephoto lens was too short to provide stunning close-up shots. I also could not keep up with David and his naming of each of the castles, so you just get random castle photos.
We saw a number of castles along the Middle Rhine. Unfortunately, we were in and out of rain and there were no bright shots to be gotten. As mentioned above I don’t know which castle was which.
I found the contrast between the old castle and the modern waterfront to be quite interesting. As I remember it, this particular castle is used as a hotel.
Another camparison of the old vs the modern. Also, note the steep grape fields going up the hillside.
This is sort of a two for one. If you look closely you can see there is a low structure connecting the two castle structures.
While the weather was absolutely not cooperating on this day, I think the beauty of these spectacular structures shines through. Autumn was just getting started and the few leaves that had already turned made for less gloom in the images.
I am rapidly approaching my self-imposed 2000-word limit for these posts, so I will end here with a preview of what will follow in Part 4.
There will be a discussion of the lock system that allows passage from Amsterdam to the middle of Europe. Then I will share our walking tours of Miltenberg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber and a good bit more. So, stay tuned, and hope that I can get these out at a faster pace. (I certainly wish I could!)