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Ascend Cologne's cathedral

A tour of Germany's churches must include the towering behemoth that resides in Cologne. The front plaza affords a grand view of its Gothic façade, but its from the tower that travelers will have a truly striking panorama of the cathedral's spires, the surrounding cityscape and the banks of the meandering Rhine.

Cologne is a walkable city, and a walk on any road seems to lead straight to the massive church. Situated at the top of a hill that slopes into the Rhine, it sits proudly as the largest Gothic cathedral in all of Germany. The interior of this palatial structure is sizable enough to make it worth a stop on any tour of cathedrals. Housed inside is an altar made of bronze and marble, as well as The Shrine of the Three Magi.

Taking the stairs
The cathedral's height is one of its most amazing aspects. Hiking up its towers is one of the highlights of all of Cologne. The ascent is some 515 feet up a tight, stone spiral staircase. This enclosure, already somewhat cramped, can feel claustrophobic with heavy foot traffic going both ways. As such, it is worth timing the trip at less busy times in the day, either in the morning or on a weekday. The only relief is the windows spaced every floor or so, which also serve as a means of tracking progress. A small detour in the form of a bell room allows tired hikers a minute to catch their breath. The massive room  is circumscribed with catwalks and tight stone corridors, but there is a platform to stand and breathe, as well as windows that look out onto the city below.

Getting to the top
Eventually tourists will reach a cavernous room that is near the top of the spire. However, there is yet another set of steel staircases that travelers must take if they are to reach the outside walking path. There, travelers are rewarded with views of the Rhine and the rest of the city. The common story goes that much of the surrounding area of Cologne was leveled during WWII, save for the cathedral, which was barely touched. Supposedly, U.S. air pilots used the skyscraping towers as a point of reference, resulting in only minor collateral damage. To the west is the Rhine, along which travelers can relax later. In all other directions is the city, where cold drafts of Kolsch beer and nice cuts of sausage await.

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