In the past, whenever anyone mentioned Germany, my mind instantly formed a negative picture. Images of war-torn cities, concentration camp victims, and hoards of David Hasselhoff fans played like trailers in a movie theater. I just couldn’t understand why anyone aside from frat boys wanting to raise their steins at Oktoberfest would ever want to vacation there. Needless to say, Germany was never on my travel radar of places I must visit.
But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.
After the delightful and surprising Amsterdam, our cruise ship, the Amacello, brought us to Köln, or Cologne. It was my first experience of Deutschland and I was immediately in awe.
Bundled in our coats and scarves, Mom and I made our way to the tour group for a short walk through the city. Our tour guide—I unfortunately didn’t catch her name—was a quirky, petite woman with a beanie pulled so tightly over her head, I wondered if she had any hair at all. We strolled through alleyways with her jumping from topic to topic covering everything from the architecture to the politics of the city.
Within minutes, I disliked her.
As someone who is very keen on order, I felt as confused as a chameleon in a roomful of Skittles. I didn’t know which tangent I should follow. Eventually, I gave up trying to make sense of how she was telling us the facts and just listened. Once I did that, I found out how funny she was.
Nearly every sentence ended with a quip that you would miss if you weren’t paying attention. She joked about everything: Germany, France, beer drinkers, politicians. It was hilarious and I felt bad that I originally dismissed her.
We walked through Christmas market after Christmas market until we reached one that had the most beautiful location of all.
Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral was absolutely breathtaking. Though it was the first of many cathedrals we would visit, I found this to be the most beautiful, particularly because of its history. The largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, it took more than six centuries to complete after initial construction began in 1248. Talk about commitment. Unfortunately, World War II came along and the cathedral suffered considerable damage from aerial bombs though it was not completely destroyed.
After straining our necks to try to get a top-to-bottom photo of the twin spires, we made our way inside the place of worship. Even though it felt colder inside than outside, particularly after sitting in the pews, the cathedral was just as beautiful inside as out. For someone used to Southern California buildings that are nothing out of the ordinary, the architecture of Kölner Dom was incredible. Tall, arched ceilings and dots of vibrant color shining through dozens of stained glass windows were everywhere to be found.
One of the most spectacular sights was the Shrine of the Three Kings, which is thought to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men (though our guide told us that no one ever really knew who they were so take that information with a grain of salt). The shrine is covered with gold, silver, and semi-precious stones. As with most beautiful pieces of art, the pictures don’t do it justice.
How had I not known about Germany’s splendor? Before I had traveled there, I had never even considered that I would enjoy it. I was too focused on everything I thought it was to consider that it would be nothing like I had ever expected. The people were friendly, the architecture was remarkable, and the bretzels, or pretzels as we know it, were delicious. Had Germany not been included on our river cruise, who knows how long it would have taken me to discover how incredible it is?
The truth is, every country has sordid historical moments. Beauty and humor can be found in places that were once tarnished and defiled. You shouldn’t disregard a potentially amazing place—or person—because of an unfavorable past.
You could really miss out on some wonderful adventures if you do.