Friday, August 31, 2018

Wertheim, Germany: Wertheim Castle

For a small town, Wertheim has a mighty big castle. It's one of the biggest of the region.

Construction on the place began way back in the 1100s. It kept growing for the next 500 years or so, as living space and fortifications continued to be added.

That didn't help when a gunpowder shed blew up, damaging the structure in 1619. Then in the Thirty Years' War, it was occupied by the Sweden and suffered hits during a bombardment. Its run of glory was over in 1634 - only a little more than a decade after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, to put the time frame into perspective.

Eventually, someone realized that the place still could be a civic asset. The town has been trying to fix it up a bit since the 1980s, and there is a restaurant on the grounds. Concerts are even performed in the courtyard. Sounds like fun.

There is a small fee to enter the grounds, and it's a little spooky to walk around it now. Still, it's worth the climb. Here's a better view of it; I don't think there is sound:

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Wertheim, Germany: Angels' Well

Apparently the city fathers of Wertheim thought they needed a little help with the place in 1574. When they constructed this well, they topped it with carvings of angels - holding the city's coat of arms no less. It is said to also have statues of eight people who were important in the town's history.

I didn't know this at the time of my visit, but supposedly there are carvings of skeletons of a general and a pauper on the building right behind the well. Since you can't tell one from the other, maybe there's a message there.

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Wertheim, Germany: Jewish Memorial

Most of the attention concerning the Jewish population of Wertheim is centered on the cemetery out of town. But in the middle of downtown is a nice little tribute to those from the area who lost their lives in the Shoah. There are said to be 35 of them.You can find it in an alley fairly close to Market Square.

Meanwhile, the cemetary is one of the oldest of its kind in Germany. It dates back to the 1400s, although it added space early in the 1700s. Interestingly enough, you can go to the tourist information office and get the key to the cemetery.

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Wertheim, Germany

There are plenty of charming towns in Germany, it seems. Wertheim fits that description quite nicely.

It's an area with about 24,000 people that is at the point where the Main and Tauber Rivers meet. Sure enough, it had an Old Town, filled with charming buildings that look like they belong on a post card.

There's one industry that is associated with Wertheim - glass blowing. In fact, during our tour a glass blower demonstrated his skill for our group - which was considerable. He sold quite a bit of merchandise once he was done. You can visit the glass museum.

And of course, you can have a pretzel while you are there. One family has operated a bakery there for 13 generations. That's a lot of twisting. And there are plenty of restaurants and shops, including the usual souvenir stands.

Here's an introductory video for the town:

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Wurzburg, Germany: Old Main Bridge

Spend some time in Europe, and you are bound to see the joys of the pedestrian bridge.

This one in Wurzburg connects the old town with the rest of the city, as it crosses the river Main. The first version was finished in 1543, and statues of important figures - like saints and Charlemagne were added along the way.

You can guess what happened. It was blown up in World War II. But the citizens rebuilt it, and in 1992 they closed off traffic. Now it's a tourist magnet and a great spot for locals to meet.

If you keep going off the bridge, you'll hit a cathedral that has been there for about a century. The Cathedral is considered one of the masterpieces of German architecture. 

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Wurzburg, Germany: Marienberg Fortress

Sometimes there's too much to do in the time allotted to sightseeing in a particular city to get everything done. We could see the Marienberg Fortress above the riverbank, looking almost regally back at it. But we couldn't climb the hill to see it.

It went through the usual changes of ownership during its prime, which ran from the 12th to 18th century. That included a time in 1631 when the Swedes took a run at blasting the place, forcing the owner (Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp von Schonborn) to build some new fortifications.

Sure enough, it took some damage from Allied bombing. It sounds like the local residents had the equivalent of a slow Kickstarter project, but they finally finished fixing the place up in 1990. There's a nice garden built around 1938 to 18th century specifications.

You can go through much of a place as a visitor. Since I didn't get the chance to do so, I watched this video with the same wondering as you might have:

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Wurzburg, Germany: Central Square Fountain

If you would like to call this Vierrohrenbrunnen, be my guest. I'll stick with what I have.

The first public water came to Wurzburg in 1733, and a fountain soon followed. The sculpture became more and more elaborate over the next several years. You can find dolphins and coats of arms, among other delights.

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Wurzburg, Germany: St. Mary's Chapel

The Market Square in Wurzburg's dominating attraction is St. Mary's Chapel, shown here. You might associate chapels with small religious areas, but there's nothing tiny about this facility.

There are sculptures of Adam and Eve greeting visitors, which mean they were installed just as Columbus was getting done with his first trip to America. Remarkable. It's tough to tell how much of it all is original, though.Various parts of the facility were damaged at the end of World War II, although the Chapel's tower did survive the bombing.

Got a minute to look around?

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Wurzburg, Germany: The Residence

Here's a nice little place that can handle all your social demands nicely. The Residence in Wurzburg dates back almost three hundred years.

The Schonborn family was quite important in those days, and the prince/bishops opted to build a house that could handle their demands. They did so in a mere 24 years, and it ranks as one of the top castles in all of Europe.

Of particular interest is a huge painting at the top of the staircase to the second floor. At one point it was the largest painting in the world, and has a rather unique perspective on world events. What's more, parts of it aren't actually painted on to the room, but has "attachments' that blend into the scene. The ceiling made it through World War II, no easy take.

This is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

You can't take any photographs when you go inside, which no doubt is often crowded with tourists. But you can watch a video of the place to see what the fuss is about.

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Wurzburg, Germany

Consider yourself a true basketball fan if you live outside of Europe and know that NBA standout Dirk Nowitzki is from Wurzburg. It's a nice city on Germany's so-called Romantic Road - the capital of Lower Franconia.

The town has had its ups and downs over the years, as it was in the middle of several regional conflicts. The biggest down, of course, was when most of it was destroyed by a British bombing run in 1945 that lasted 17 minutes. Not a church was left standing. That was sometehing of a surprise, since Wurzburg was supposed to be something of a hospital city and of not much strategic and military importance. It didn't help, and Wurzburg was ill prepared for any sort of attack. About 5,000 people died. But the survivors eventually went back to work, and have rebuilt many of the structures in the old style.

Market Square is a good-sized open area in the middle of town. It took a little work to figure out that the big object in the middle is  Brunnenobelisk, which goes back to 1802 and is dedicated to the daily activity in the marketplace.

Here's an overview of this charming city:

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Heidelberg, Germany: Hotel Zum Ritter

If you are going to spend more than a day in Heidelberg, the Hotel Zum Ritter would seem to be the best spot. After all, how often do you sleep in a building that was constructed in 1592?

That's one of the attractions of the place. In addition, it's a magnificent building It survived a few wars along the way, including a big one in the late 1600s, and thus ranks as the oldest surviving building in the city.

For more information, click here

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Heidelberg, Germany: Marktplatz

This square in Heidelberg certainly
knows how to draw a crowd. It's filled with tourists and residents and shoppers and all sorts of other things. A market takes place there each Saturday, and restaurants are ready to feed the people who visit.

The square is dominated by the Church of the Holy Spirit. Construction of the facility is said to have lasted about 150 years. The tower was finally finished early in the 1500s, and this is the third building on the site. At one point, Catholics and Protestants shared the building and put up a partition so that services for both faiths could take place at the same time. Finally, the Protestants took the place over.

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Heidelberg, Germany: Kornmarkt

It's a public square, a place to show off public art, and a train station.

That's Kornmarkt in downtown Heidelberg. The usual shops and restaurants are scattered around this square. In the middle is a fine statue of Jesus and Mary.

What's more, this square offers a good view of the castle above. It should, since the tram going up to his has its downtown station here. It's all a nice part of the city in Heidelberg.

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Heidelberg, Germany: Heidelberg Palace

One of the best surprises of our visit to Germany was the Heidelberg Palace. Now, after seeing a bunch of castles along the Rhine from a distance, it was a rush to get to be inside one. Still, this is a huge complex and incredibly impressive - one of the top destinations in the business.

The architecture is wonderful, dating back to something close to 1225. However, it took a pounding in 1764 and hasn't been the same since. What's left, though, is still impressive, thanks in part to a partial rebuild. Millions come every year to see it.

I have lots of photos of the place, but a video will give you a better idea of it.

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Heidelberg, Germany

In Rick Steves' book on Germany, he essentially said not to bother with Heidelberg because it was overrun with tourists and a waste of time.

Odd. Everyone on our tour really liked the place and was glad it was on the schedule. So now you have both sides of the story.

It has about 144,000 people, with a good-share of those being students. Yes, this is the home of Heidelberg University, which has an international reputation.

Luckily, this wasn't much of a target in terms of the military, so the Allies didn't do much damage when they turned up in 1945. In fact, the Nazis did most of the explosive work, blowing up some bridges to try to slow the enemies' advance. After the war, General George Patton died here after being involved in an auto accident.

Here's a tour that lasts less than three minutes:

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Trechtingshausen, Germany: Reichenstein Castle

This is quite an impressive structure from the river, even if the mobile homes below don't add much to the scenery.

Reichenstein Castle has a rather typical history as these thing go. It was first built around 1100 or so, grew quite a bit in size, and was destroyed in 1282. About 300 years later, the place had served its purpose and was allowed to fall apart until 1834.

A family bought the place in 1899, fixed it up and lived there for a while. A family member still owns it today.

For those who want to see more about the castles on the Rhine, there is help in this video:

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Bacharach, Germany: Stahleck Castle

The village of Barharach is postcard-pretty. It comes complete with its own castle in the hill above.

Stahleck Castle is on a spot that has been hosted a big facility about 1,000 years. A new place was built in 1135 and lasted about 500 years before becoming a casualty of war. It was reconstructed in the mid-1800s, and it was turned into a youth hostel in the 1920s. That remains its use today. If you want to get a room and see the view, book well ahead. It fills up fast.

Bacharach is well known because of its location on the Rhine. Wine and tourism dominate the economy. However, the population is said to be shrinking because of its rural location and lack of economic opportunities. 

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Kaub, Germany: Kaub Palantinate

Finally, something different when it comes to castles - one that's located at river level.

Kaub Palantinate (or Pfalz Grafenstein for the home folks) is located on an island in Kaub. It served as a toll house for the rich folks.

You can take a ferry here for a visit, as they run every half-hour in season, and the tour takes an hour. I read where there are some narrow, steep staircases, and not many artifacts, so judge for yourself if it is worth it.

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Kaub, Germany: Gutenfels Castle

Sometimes it can get a little lonely sitting on top of a hill for hundreds of years. Therefore, it's good to have a little wine nearby.

Gutenfels Castle has been looking down on the Rhine River for centuries. It was built in 1220 and connected to a toll house below. The idea was to make sure no one else besides the Holy Roman Empire could charge for water passage. The idea remained in place until 1866, when Prussia obtained the land and ended the policy a year later.

The evidence is a little sketchy, but it has been a hotel in the recent past and still may be accepting visitors. In the meantime, the vineyards in Kaub add some class to the photo of the place.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Oberwesel, Germany: Schonburg Castle

The Dukes of Schonburg had control of the castle shown in the hills of Oberwesel more than 1,000 years ago. They used it as a base to collect tolls of those traveling down the Rhine. There was a lot of that back then; trips must have been pretty expensive.

The building stayed intact until 1689, when it was burned down by French troops. It was left to disintegrate for 200 years, when it was purchased by a family and fixed up. Now it's used for a hotel and restaurant.

Looks like a nice place for dinner, doesn't it?

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St. Goar, Germany: Loreley

Loreley is a big rock, more than 400 feet high as it looks over the Rhine River.

It got its name from a bit of a rumbling sound made in the area. Even so, the legend of the rock is much more interesting.

An author wrote a story in 1824 about the rock having sirens who lured sailors toward the rocks and thus to their deaths when the boats crashed. It went into popular culture from there, and has been used as inspiration for all sorts of stories, poems and musical compositions (from opera to rock).

So be careful if you sail by this. You never know how much of the legend is true.

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St. Goar, Germany: Katz Castle

This castle had a nice run of more than 400 years. And then things changed.

Count William II of Katzenelnbogen put up the place in 1371. By the way, the vineyard here was the first place in which Risling grapes were planted for wine production. All was well until 1806, when Napoleon blasted the place when he went by. It took about 90 years for it to be rebuilt.

The castle is now owned on private investors, and not open to the public. At least they have a nice view.

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St. Goar, Germany: Reinfels Castle

This was the first castle we saw on our trip down part of the Middle Rhine, and at least from a distance it was a rather impressive one.

The Reinfels Castle started on the road to completion back in 1245, and the main entrance was constructed around 1300. It was the biggest castle on the Rhine for sometime. The facility lasted until 1797, when the French Army took it over and destroyed it.

But you can still take a look around in it, by paying the admission price. There is a museum there, and it has a great view of the valley.

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Koblenz, Germany: Cable Car

There's probably no better way to see the meeting point of two rivers in Koblenz than from above. The cable car system can do exactly that during a visit.

It goes from the park between the rivers up to the fortress that overlooks it. It has views of the entire valley, and it can handle 7,600 passengers per hour. That is the highest such capacity in the world.

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Koblenz, Germany: Kaiser Wilhelm Statue

This is one statue that's tough to miss.

It's a tribute to the man known as Kaiser Wilhelm, who also goes by William I, the first emperor of Germany.

The original statue, which also big, went up in 1897. It lasted a little more than 50 years, when it was destroyed during World War II.

The space had been discussed for a spot for a statue promoting peace, but that didn't go far. Once Germany came back to one piece in 1990, discussions resumed about a new statue there. The Kaiser went back up on his pedestal in 1993, and remains a popular tourist attraction 25 years later.

The man still casts a big shadow.

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Koblenz, Germany: The Berlin Wall

The park in the area where Koblenz's two great rivers come together is called Deutsches Eck. That translates to German Corner. Walk along the bank and you are bound to bump into this - three segments of the Berlin Wall.

This raised more questions than it answered, to be honest. The Berlin Wall was pretty big, but it must have been in demand as a symbol of liberty and freedom throughout the world. The Newseum in Washington, D.C., has a piece.

So how did they go about handing out pieces of the thing? First come, first served? Come and get it? Lottery?

I know, I think too much. Someone described reunification as the best thing that ever happened to Germany. Let's hope nations aren't divided this way again.

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Koblenz, Germany: Peter Altmeier Denkmal

This monument is located along the riverside in Koblenz. It's a little tough to figure out the meaning of it, though - even when you poke around the Internet.

It's something of a tribute to Peter Altmeier, a former minister of the region after World War II. The four stones are said to be representatives of four regions coming together in unity, and it points toward France in a gesture of peace.

Me, I thought of some sort of aboriginal artwork from Canada when I saw this. But that's just me.

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Koblenz, Germany: History Column

Want to learn the history of Koblenz quickly? I supposed there are short introductions to the town somewhere on line. But it's probably easier to find this statue in downtown.

This was created by Juergen Weber, and the idea was to tell the story of Koblenz through one statue. Ten different episodes are depicted here, with the bottom starting out the story and working their way forward as things go higher. I suppose stacking one episode on top of the other is not a coincidence.

This is located in a plaza named after Josef Gorres, a journalist. The statue went up in 2000 to mark about 2,000 years of history for the city.

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Koblenz, Germany: Schangel Fountain

You might have to look carefully, or perhaps click on the photo to blow it up a bit, to see a stream of water coming out of the statue of a young boy on top of the fountain.

That's a way to meet "Little John," something of a symbol for Koblenz. It dates back to the time of Napolean or so (about 20 years) when Koblenz was controlled by the French. The German-born children gained a reputation for mischief, and this represents that. Carl Burger designed the statue in 1940.

One warning: the time between spit takes varies. So unless you want a shower, be careful.

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Koblenz, Germany

Geography has helped the relatively small city of Koblenz, Germany, on the map. It's where the Moselle River joins the Rhine to make the latter a more powerful waterway. It seems that Koblenz is derived from the Roman word for confluence.

The point where the two rivers connect is backed up by a nice little Old Town area, filled with old buildings and narrow streets. You'd like it.

Besides, you have to like a town that honors a scientist. Johannes-Muller-Denkmal was an anatomist in the 19th century. Well played, Koblenz.

Let's take it once around the block:

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Cologne, Germany: St. Peter Fountain

You'd expect a fountain next to the Cologne Cathedral to be big. After all, it should be in the proper scale to the huge structure.

Still, I should have taken two steps back for this photo of it. You really should have all of St. Peter in a picture of the St. Peter fountain.

He's actually holding keys in his hand, which I would guess are the keys to the kingdom of heaven. That's a pretty big job, but he's got help in the form of lions in the base. No one unworthy of the known is getting past that obstacle.

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Cologne, Germany: Roman Arch

When you get to the big cathedral in Cologne, it's easy not to look around and just stare at the huge building. So, here's a tip - check out the surroundings.

You'll see this arch watching over the proceedings - just as it has been doing for centuries. It dates back to Roman times, and is part of a wall that once went all the way around the city. Reportedly, the foundation for this arch is still intact underground and can be seen in the parking garage and in an excavation area.

You have to appreciate stuff that's built to last.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Cologne, Germany: Tünnes and Schäl Statue

My guess is that most Americans look at this statue and think of Laurel and Hardy, especially Hardy - the guy on the right.

Wrong. A little local knowledge is crucial in this story.

Say hello to Tünnes and Schäl, a couple of beloved characters from the puppet theater of Cologne. They have been around in various forms for more than 150 years, so I guess they have stood the test of time.

It appears they are popular figures, because everyone likes to touch their noses for luck. Either that, or they have gotten sunburn from being outside so much.

In this case, Amir was the one posing for a photo with the pair. He was one of the Program Directors on the boat, and explains why these two figures were so popular.

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Cologne, Germany: Neil Armstrong Monument

Now, here's an interesting story - completely unknown to me at the time.

Relatively close to the Cathedral in Cologne is that statue. It's obviously a tribute to Neil Armstrong and the moon landing, based on the lettering on it. It's interesting that the date is listed as July 21, 1969 - reflecting the fact that Armstrong set foot on the moon after midnight on Central European time.

But there must be more to it than that. And there is.

Jupp Engels had found some rocks when digging up his property. They were part of the Roman harbor. Engels used them to build this monument. Thus he links the Roman Empire, known for advancing civilization, to the moon landing in one small monument.

Nicely done, Jupp. Here's the full story.

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Cologne, Germany: City Government Office

A city always likes to put its best foot forward when it constructs a City Hall, and Cologne was no exception - even 900 years ago. That's how far the City Government Office in the German city dates.

The building dates back to something close to 1150, and the site served as the setting for government work well before that. Over the years following that start, additional sections were added to the building. Sadly, the facility suffered heavy damage during World War II, so it was more or less rebuilt after that.

Some activity still takes place here, including actions taken by the Lord Mayor. You can find it by the Old Market area.

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Cologne, Germany: Römisch-Germanisches Museum

In English this is the Roman-Germanic Museum. Whatever you call it, it is a look back at Cologne's ancient history.

As was stated here, the Romans helped the area more than two years ago. Some of the stuff that has survived is kept here. In fact, an original Dionysus mosaic is in the basement, right where it was found.
There are other items on display, such as glassware.

You can a little of the museum's contents by looking through the window in the front. Otherwise, you need to pay an admission charge. You don't get to see 1,800-year-old objects very often.

A video, though, is easier. And cheaper.


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Cologne, Germany: Heinzelmännchen-Brunnen fountain

It's easy to wonder how Cologne looks so good. It seems the workers had help.

This fountain tells the story, in a way. Gnomes came out at night to help workers complete their daily tasks. Supposedly, the tailor's wife became curious with how things got done and investigated. That drove the gnomes away for good, and the people of Cologne were on their own.

It's a cute story, and you can see the fountain right around the corner from the Cathedral.

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Cologne, Germany: Cologne Cathedral

Sometimes you have to have a little luck on your side - or a guardian angel - to get through tough times.

That's certainly the case for the magnificent Cologne Cathedral - technically, the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter.

Cologne was more or less wiped out at the end of World War II, but this building only suffered minor damage by Allied bombing (14 hits). Did the Allies go out of their way to try to save it? Hard to say, but it is still around to greet visitors.

Construction started on the Cathedral in 1273 and went on for about 200 years, when work came to a halt before it was finished. Then in the 1800s, work resumed and the building was finished in 1880.

In a continent filled with great churches, this one can hold up with anyone. Its age and details means that work is constantly taking place to keep it in good shape. When one section is done, the next needs attention. That scaffolding you see is not unusual.

About 20,000 people per day drop by for a visit, making it the top tourist attraction in Germany. The outside is amazing, and the inside is pretty good too.

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Cologne, Germany

Talk about your comebacks!

Cologne dates back to the Roman Empire, which extended as far north as the Rhine River at one point. Cologne was created at that point, and soon became the most important city in the region. Governments came and went over time, as usual in this part of the world, but Cologne still thrived.

Then came World War II. Many German cities took a pounding as the Allies marched toward Berlin. But Cologne was one of the biggest losers, as about 95 percent of its structure was wiped out. The population went away for a while too, bottoming out at 30,000. But it began to rebound after the war ended almost immediately, and now is one of the most important and biggest cities in Germany.

While much of the city has a new and modern look, the Old Market area still has some of that Old World feeling. You can get it by stopping in the middle of the square (rectangle might be more accurate) by stopping at the Jan von Werth fountain (shown here). Werth was a major military leader in the 17th century as what we know as Germany was split into several regional powers. He might be best known for a romantic story. Apparently Werth tried to win over a woman called Griet when he was a young man, but he wasn't wealthy enough for her. Werth went off to the military and became famous, and then saw the woman again - who thought he was good enough now. But she wasn't good enough for him this time, and Werth walked away. Payback can be sweet sometimes.

Here's an overview of what you'll see in Cologne:

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Magna Plaza

One look at this building, located behind the Royal Palace more or less, and you'd guess that it used to be something other than a shopping mall.

And you'd be right.

It took four years to build this magnificent structure, finishing up in 1899. Then in 1987, the mail service decided it was ready to move, and the building was sold and turned into a shopping center. It has been named one of the top 100 heritage sites in the country.

If malls looked this good in the United States, you think they'd be having problems?

The inside is quite fabulous too, if you can't buy a stamp there any more.


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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Homomonument

Sometimes it takes a little help to figure out you are at a tourist monument.

The Homomonument is such an attraction. Gays and lesbians also felt the power of Nazi hatred during World War II, and many were put to death. It took about a decade to raise the money to pay for some sort of tribute.

This is part of the finished product. There are three triangles on the grounds; you can an upraised one in the distance. The triangles point to the Anne Frank House, the National War Memorial and the Headquarters of the COC Nederland.

It is located near the Anne Frank House, just in front of the Westerkerk. In fact, you might find yourself standing on it before or after a visit to one of those places. We did.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: New Church

If there's an Old Church in Amsterdam, you'd expect there to be a New Church. And there is - right next to the Royal Palace on Dam Square. (Dam translated to Cathedral, by the way.)

Of course, new is a relative term. This was built in the 15th century and is part of the Protestant Church. The facility is no longer used for services, but fills up for special events such as recitals. And you can't beat the location, right in the middle of everything.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Joods Verzetsmonument

This was a surprise find on the canal tour of Amsterdam. This solumn-looking monolith is a tribute to the Jews who died in World War II. There is a formal ceremony here once per month. It first appeared on the waterfront in 1988.

The Joods Verzetsmonument is located in the Stopera section of the city. It is near the Opera House and City Hall.

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Ansterdam, Netherlands: NEMO Science Museum

What's that odd-looking whale doing out of the water?

No, it's actually the NEMO Science Museum, located along the waterfront.

The museum goes back to the 1920s, but it has been in its current, spiffy location since 1997. There are five stories of science exhibits here.

As you'd guess, it's quite popular - ranking No. 5 among museums in town. I would guess every school kid in the country has been through it at some point. And that's the way it should be.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Replica of the Amsterdam

The Amsterdam didn't have a long and glorious history, but it lives on today - in a manner of speaking.

The cargo ship went off on its first trip in January 1749, but it didn't last a month. Problems developed along the way, and an epidemic was followed by a mutiny. The Amsterdam was wrecked in Late January in the English Channel.

The remains of the boat were found in 1969 and it can be seen at low tide. While the ship has portions that are well preserved and there has been talk of trying to bring it to life, nothing has happened yet.

However, a replica was built in the late 1980s and floated to Amsterdam. There it sits next to the Netherlands Maritime Museum.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Sailors' Memorial Statue

Sometimes you can bump into an attraction without knowing about it.

The boat for our river cruise out of Amsterdam was located on java-eiland, an island just north of the train station and boat port. Our ship was located at the west end of the land mass.

Upon boarding we noticed a statue near the water. What could it be now? It was a tribute to the sailors who lost their lives during World War II. A Dutch company paid for it, and placed the names of employees it lost during the war on it. The statue overlooks the bay, day after day, hoping for better news.

A nice thought.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Basilica of Saint Nicholas

The waterfront in Amsterdam is quite crowded, which means in this city's case that there are plenty of visual delights. One of them is the Basilica of Saint Nicholas.

You know who he is, right? Santa Claus.

According to legend, and this is tough to prove, Saint Nick (who lived from 270 to 343) was famous for giving gifts to people. He also pulled off several miracles, thus causing him to become a saint.

In fact, Nicholas is the patron saint of merchants and sailors ... and the Netherlands had bunches of those. So he became very popular there. It is believed that celebrating his work made the journey to the New World when the Dutch put in a claim for what is now New York City. Old Saint Nick caught on there, and the idea of sharing gifts caught on.

The church was built in the 1880s and was promoted to basilica minor in 2012.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Grand Hotel

Need a place to stay in Amsterdam? This place might work well. Just bring your wallet.

The Grand Hotel brings five-star luxury to the Amsterdam waterfront. The outside of the building, as you can see, is spectacular. It has 205 rooms with 22 suites, and is located on the waterfront close to the train station.

There's a wonderful restaurant inside, and plenty of other stuff around - all incredibly well decorated. This must be how the other half travels.

Clearly, it's time for a video tour of the place.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Anne Frank House

The Anne Frank House is the top tourist attraction in Amsterdam, and probably will remain so for the indefinite future. It's a tribute to a young girl whose diary about living in hiding from the Nazis in World War II touched the lives of millions, and gave a voice to those lost their lives in that time period.

You probably know the details. The Franks had moved out of Germany to avoid Nazi persecution, only to see the Germans take over the Netherlands in 1940. The Frank family as well as a few others hid in an annex of a business for more than two years. Shortly after the Allies had invaded France, German authorities caught the Franks and shipped them to camps. All but the father, Otto, died there.

The building was turned into a museum in 1960. While the furniture is more or less recreated, there are plenty of photos and artifacts so that visitors receive a good education on the story. The tour ends with a view of the actual diaries, preserved under glass. It's all quite moving.

Those interested in going should know that tickets are limited and use a timed entry system. They go on sale two months ahead of time and can go quickly. So plan accordingly.

Photography is not allowed in the museum, so the photo above is of the outside entrance. But there is a way to take you inside.


Never again.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Westerkerk

There's one big problem with having a really big church in a crowded neighborhood: It's tough to get a photo of it all.

Such is the case with Westerkerk, This went up in the 1620s and was one of the first churches built for use by the Protestant Church. It took about 60 years to figure out that an organ was a good fit for a church, so one was added then. They've been tinkered with that musical instrument ever since in the facility.

By the way, the famous painter Rembrandt was first buried here. He went in an unmarked grave, and stayed there for 20 years before his remains were moved. That was said to be common for the poor people of the time. I missed the marker on the wall noting that fact.

Westerkerk is located right next to the Anne Frank House. There are souvenir shops and food stores in the complex, so it's worth a stroll if you arrive for a tour of the attraction next door a bit early - as you probably should.

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