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Day Five: Cologne

Posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Dave!Today I knew that my work would be finished around 1:00, so I made a promise to myself that I'd get out into the city and see something new instead of whine about how tired I am and watch television in my hotel room. Cologne has a wealth of things to see and do, and I've barely scratched the surface the past eight times I've been here. Besides, the weather forecast called for sunny skies, so why not take advantage of it?

Except the weather forecast totally lied. It was hazy, cold, overcast, snowing, then raining. This made me all "meh" about trudging out into the city, so I decided to just grab a bite to eat and watch television like I always do on my last day. But then I got mad at myself for once again blowing an opportunity to do something different, and forced myself to go out. There's a former Gestapo Prison and Processing Station that's been turned into a museum (NS Dokumentationszentrum), and I've never gotten around to visiting it. I usually put it off because I was told it had very little English, and you really need to read German to get the most out of the extensive Nazi documentation that's on display. Oh well, it's something to do. When I approached the site, I was kind of disappointed. For a Gestapo prison, it's a fairly unassuming building...

NS DOK Museum

The cost to get in is 3.60€ and, for another 2.00€, you get an audio digiplayer which will explain parts of the displays in English.

It gets scary right away as you descend into the basement where the tiny Gestapo prison cells are at. The audio guide explained that the cells were only supposed to hold one or two people, but held up to ten times that amount as the war progressed. How 30 people managed to exist in a mere closet is beyond one's ability to fathom...

Gestapo Prison Cells

Inside the cells the walls had been covered with writing by the prisoners, which they put there with pencils, sticks, lipstick, and even fingernails. Excerpts have been photographed and put on display, which is both heartbreaking and fascinating. Sometimes the prisoners would record their name and the date they were captured. They'd then add a new date each day, until the dates eventually stopped... meaning they had been transfered or, more likely, killed...

Gestapo Prison Cell

Once you head up to the first floor, the museum begins. The entire collection is a giant timeline which charts Germany's path into the Nazi regime and World War II...

Museum Timeline

Museum Displays

That alone would make for an engrossing experience, but where the museum steps it up to the next level is how it puts a face on the victims. As the Nazis rose to power, society started to change. First "undesirables" were singled out. This included anybody not fitting the Nazi ideal of human perfection including the mentally deficient, prostitutes, homosexuals, so-called "lesser races," Jews, and anybody else who didn't measure up to their lofty standards. At first it was discrimination. Then it was segregation. Then it was loss of rights. Then it was detainment. Then it was imprisonment. Then it was extermination. It was a slippery slope that was systematically escalated with a growing frenzy of propaganda.

One of the examples they provided was a man who was accused of being gay. Apparently Cologne had a thriving gay underground back then, and suspected homosexuals were closely monitored. Since this man was married, there's no way of knowing if he were really gay, or somebody just accused him of being gay, but his entire life after being tagged is laid out in the documents which ultimately spelled his fate...

Documentation Wall

Here is where it would be really helpful to read German, but the audio guide explained that the man in question was detained three times before finally being send off to a concentration camp where he died...

Museum Documentation

The next room is dedicated to Romani (labeled as Gypsies), who were ruthlessly persecuted by the Nazis. Family members are displayed on panels along with the documentation that was collected during their detainment...

Romani-Gypsy Boards

All the documents would seem like an unreal abstraction if not for the faces attached to them. Some of the faces are hard to forget, like this little boy, whose entire family was rounded up and put into a camp. He looks so... normal... just a kid who was probably playing with his toys or goofing off with his siblings when he was abducted. It's hard not to look at the worry on his face and try to image what he was going through. Which, I suppose is the entire point of the museum...

Romani-Gypsy Boy

From the Romani you move on to a room for the Jews. As anybody who has even a rudimentary knowledge of World War II already knows, it was the Jews who were the biggest scapegoat for the Nazis as they sought blame for society's problems. In the years leading up to the war, they were continuously ridiculed and persecuted until ultimately their lives were deemed worthless, their existence unacceptable. Once identified as Jewish, a yellow star was sewn to your coat and your fate was sealed...

Jewish Star

The museum also goes on to show how Germans who were opposed to the Nazi party were likewise persecuted and detained, then uses documents like food ration tickets and historic photos to provide a glimpse of what life was like for every-day Germans under Nazi rule...

Rationing Slips

On the second floor the exhibits continue, culminating in a temporary collection that changes from time to time. During my visit, it was a display of art inspired by The Holocaust, including pieces which were created by school children...

Child's Concentration Camp Drawing

The NS Dokumentationszentrum is an utterly fascinating museum, and I highly recommend it. Two-and-a-half hours just blew by in no time at all, and I would have stayed longer if the building hadn't closed at 4:00pm (plan an early visit!).

I hadn't been inside The Dom (cathedral) in a while, so I bounced in before dinner. I don't care how many times I see it, the place always manages to take my breath away...

Dom Interior

Dom Interior

Dom Interior

In reality, the interior of the cathedral is pretty dark and depressing. But seen through a camera with the ISO cranked up, it's stunning.

After pizza dinner followed by potatoes and mayo for dessert, I wandered through shops on touristy Hohe Straße until it started getting dark. Dusk is my favorite time in Cologne, because everything takes on a new life at night. For the photographer, it's magic...

The Dom at Night

Hauptbahnhof at Night

And thus ends my last day in Cologne.

How stupid would it have been to have missed all this because I stayed in my hotel room watching television?

A lesson to live by, I suppose.

Categories: Travel 2009Click To It: Permalink


  1. Sarah says:

    I think the pictures you took of The Dom are some of my favorite. I love cathedrals.

  2. Mooselet says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I have a fascination with history, and really don’t get people who can look at all this evidence of human suffering and cruelty and then deny it ever happened. Or repeat the same cruelties but wrap them in a different package.

  3. Jeff Zucker says:

    I have only 2 words for you: “Thank you”.

    (Tears falling uncontrollably)

  4. Sinjin says:

    Those are some awesome pics… especially inside the Dom, all the detail is there all the way up. And the stained glass window colors are breathtaking… I tried that in the Notre Dame in Paris but it didn’t work out so well. Bravo.

  5. Colleen says:

    Thank you Dave, that was excellent

  6. Sybil Law says:

    The prison was heartbreaking.
    I am so glad you got out, too – love the photos!

  7. Mrs. Hall says:

    This post made my heart ache. I had once visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Being so close to that kind of death, that kind of horror, I just couldn’t feel or move much for while after. I just smoked and smoked (cigarettes) and sat around the hostel.

    This museum shows the evidence of what happened when a truly evil mad man took hold of a country and carried out his want of genocide.

    My heart does ache reading this.

    Take care

    Mrs. Hall

  8. ETinNY says:

    Thanks for the head-up on the museum, Dave. I have a friend originally from Cologne who’s mother told him that in her school class during the war when, they were teaching them about the Jews, she’d be brought to the front of the class and used as an example of what a Jew “looked like”. Although, she was what they categorized as a “real German”, there weren’t any more Jews to use as examples by then. One can only imagine the way she felt but, it’s nothing compared to the persecution the real victims must have felt before it got even worse.

  9. That Gestapo Museum is fascinating. I’ve often wondered how that era in German history is viewed today by the current generation.

  10. martymankins says:

    Amazing photos. Looks like you are having a good time. Can’t wait to see pics of your visit to Palma de Mallorca

  11. Wonderful, wonderful pics, Dave. Glad you went out!

  12. shari says:

    I love this! It’s like a travelogue, only it’s interesting and has stunning photos. You sure you’re not actually a travel writer, and not a graphic designer guy afterall?

  13. Robin says:

    But what was on TV? I guess you will never know…… 😉

  14. The NS Dokumentationszentrum sounds fascinatng. I’ve travelled to several places that are sites dedicated as memorials to significant loss of life – Dachau near Munich, Gallipoli in Turkey, Port Arthur in Tasmania and a several other solemn sites as well… battlefields, war memorials etc .

    I always recommend to people to try to get to these places if they’re nearby. Visiting these sites is always informative and fascinating and the memory of them stays with you.

  15. RW says:

    It is a matter of continual amazement to me that such a sophisticated, artistically advanced, articulate and literate society was cajoled and led and sometimes fooled into sponsoring the Holocaust. It has always been a shame to me that “Germans” have had to bear the burden of being responsible for it when you consider the master manipulators and outright bullies that drove that despicable policy.

    It is a cautionary tale, I think, of how a desperate society can be led so far off the mark and drawn to the easy out.

    Which is also my criticism of Rush Limbaugh, but that’s a little different.

  16. Greg says:

    What an amazing museum! And to think you almost stayed inside to watch some old David Hasselhoff music program.

  17. serap says:

    Blimey… the museum you went to does sound fascinating, and the photos you took sent shivers down my spine, especially the photo of the cell – I had to take a deep breath to stop feeling claustrophobic. What those people went through is unimaginable.

  18. Pachinko Sid says:

    “How stupid would it have been to have missed all this because I stayed in my hotel room watching television?

    A lesson to live by, I suppose.”

    Being in the tourism industry, you cannot image the number of people who do just that..

    their only concern is if the Hotel has X amount of Cable channels, they spend mass amounts of money to visit a foreign country, only to seek out TV and Mcdonalds and spend as much time as they can when they are not on the guided tour.. in their hotel room..

    sad sad sad…

    Explore people!! leave the TV… put down the remote.. get out.. see the world!!

  19. Ren says:

    What a topper for your Cologne posts. And to think you almost missed it — Sliding Doors -esque.

    Looks like you’re really appreciating that Active D-Lighting. What lens are you using for the wide-angle building shots? (I’m assuming you’re using your D90 and not your PowerShot.)

  20. Hi Dave,
    What magnificent photos and post!!! I loved it all!!!

    Thank you!!!!

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