COLOGNE Three hours along the Rhine between history and high-tech: the three hour Grand Cologne Port Tour passes enchanting locations and modern logistics centres.
A long queue has formed in front of the ticket office at jetty 10, near the Cologne Musical Dome, to the left of the Hohenzollern Bridge. Even before we cast off, the first people are provided with coffee and cake. The next three hours are a bit like a holiday in the middle of the day, in the middle of the city and during which even someone from Cologne can learn something because they lead to places that otherwise tend to have a shadowy existence in the public perception: Cologne’s harbours.
The “Grand Cologne Port Tour” runs several times a week from jetty 10 until the autumn. The operator is the shipping company M Schmitz GmbH & Co KG, a family business that is already in its third generation on the Rhine between Cologne and Bonn, in cooperation with Häfen und Güterverkehr Köln AG (HGK). Depending on availability, the trips take place on the MS Rheinland, the MS Rheinperle or the MS RheinCargo, built in 2001. The latter is the largest and most modern ship in the small fleet, accommodating up to 250 people.
The route leads up the Rhine past the old town, fish market and Stapelhaus. Goods were handled directly on the riverbank from the Middle Ages until, at the start of the 19th century, it was said: “We need a port in the city.” The Napoleon Port, between Ebertplatz and Bastei, which opened in 1813, is now history, silted and filled up. The old port building authority still commemorates the Rheinau port, inaugurated on 14 May 1898.
But where almost 5000 laden ships per year once docked, the crane houses today stretch their blinking necks forwards, as landmarks of a modern residential, cultural and office landscape. Only the marina, which is still in operation, is a reminder of the former function, as well as the cranes on the south quay, which are heritage protected.
Today, Cologne is Germany’s largest inland port after Duisburg. Four ports are currently still in operation as locations for handling goods. The port at Mülheim, the next stop on the tour, is not one of them. Behind a bridge, an island emerges. It divides the area into two basins. This is where divers are located and where ships are reconditioned. Lushly planted houseboats and the ruins of the old, abandoned foundry characterise this enchanting place.
Niehl I, on the other hand, is completely different. Not for nothing the highlight of the tour, and with a total area of around 1.3 million square metres, it is also the largest of Cologne’s ports. At the central logistics hub in the north of the city, high-tech and bustle dominate. Here, goods are transferred directly onto rail or loaded onto lorries.
The journey continues past silos belonging to the bulk cargo company Schmidt Heilbronn. A glance into the entrance of the Ford works at the Niehl II port must suffice – entry is prohibited. A shame, as otherwise one could see how during the “roll on – roll off” procedure, the little Fiestas roll straight off the production line onto the ships.
The three-hour “Grand Port Tour” departs from Tuesday to Friday at 2pm until September from the Konrad-Adenauer-Ufer jetty 10. The tour will also take place on the following Sundays at 2pm: 21 July, 4, 18 and 25 August. Adults pay 20.50 Euro, schoolchildren and students up to 27 years and seniors from 60 years, 17.50 Euro. The seniors price is not valid on Sundays and public holidays. For more information call 0221 2801.
(Original text: Susanne Schramm. Translation: kc)