The reason I chose to study in Germany is pretty much 1 city: Cologne.
Which shocks people when I tell them that. But, it’s true.
I found a piece on the Cologne Cathedral when I was younger, I don’t remember where. But I read it, was fascinated and proceeded to look up more info on the Cathedral and the city.
I took this on 15 October 2011, when we were in Cologne. It was only my 6th photo of the cathedral total, so I’m pretty impressed with how it came out, especially since I took this photo on the fly while running late getting to a meeting point.
This cathedral is massive. It has the largest façade of any cathedral in Europe I believe or perhaps it was the world. Well, details like that don’t matter. It’s so massive in person that it’s shocking and awe-inspiring. There’s really nothing like it in the world. I’ve seen a lot of cathedrals here in Germany, a few in Switzerland and France as well. None of them can compare with this. I don’t honestly think that anything else quite like it exists. Even other similar time-period cathedrals are different. The Duomo (Milan Cathedral) is massive, gorgeous too, but it cannot hold a candle to this in my opinion (I can admit an extreme bias based on my long-standing love of Cologne).
I was in Cologne for 2 days this last fall, but I didn’t get to see all the museums I wanted to. So I’m going back maybe 1st week in July, perhaps 2nd week. I’ll make a weekend of it, go there before I go home. Because, in addition to seeing the 2 or so museums I didn’t get to see, I’m going to go back here again. I climbed up the spire all the way to the top, which is really freaky if you’re claustrophobic I might add. It’s breath-taking and insane in some respects. But I want to take some photos of the bells. The St. Petersglocke in particular. It’s the one of the largest free-hanging bells in the world, I think 24 tons, though the bell it replaced was 27 tons. I didn’t get photos of the bells in October, we went straight up, and then had to come back down too quickly, because it was 5pm and they close it for safety then. So I want to go back.
And strange part. I’m no Catholic. However, this is one of the few cathedrals I actually feel comfortable in. Normally I feel uneasy in churches…almost like their God knows I’m not Christian, and it’s uncomfortable. I don’t really think/know if he’s judging me or not, but I just feel like I’m intruding on something. For some reason, in the Cologne Cathedral I don’t get that sense of unease. It’s a very Christian building, I know that. And it’s got centuries of history to speak for it. I should feel just as uncomfortable there as I do in far newer churches in the States, but I don’t. I think there’s something to the vast history, the Gothic feel…
There’s just something there that makes me feel comfortable. Perhaps there’s a chance that I feel comfortable because my family has a long history of German Catholicism. Maybe some of that has rubbed off on me and I can relate because of the long history there. Or it might be that it’s a site I’ve wanted to see for so long that I’ve blocked any mental discomfort I might usually feel. I suspect though, given the unease I’ve felt in other cathedrals, it isn’t that. For some reason, this cathedral speaks to me in a way. I can’t really explain it all too well, but I definitely felt fine there. It’s awe-inspiring on so many accounts. The size of the building, the details…how intricate it all is, just how brilliant and gorgeous it is. It’s also dark. It’s definitely Gothic.
It’s not like the Dresden Frauenkirche that is all light inside, painted walls like marble and feels alive. I mean, the Cathedral is alive in a way…with the people there. But…I feel like the Cologne Cathedral has such a long history, you cannot avoid the death that’s been marked there. It’s a heavier atmosphere, more somber and serious at the Cologne Cathedral. It feels more like an ancient place, a place with the weight of centuries on it. Somehow it seemed to me that it has seen everything that has happened to it and around it. And if walls could talk, I feel the Cathedral would have reams to say. It feels burdened with that memory, but not constrained.
And perhaps that’s why I felt no discomfort with the Cologne Cathedral. It is an old place, with hundreds of years of history. However, even with all that history, I didn’t feel constrained at all. It feels to me like it stays pace with the city around it. Many of the other cathedrals I’ve visited haven’t had that same thought. The Duomo in Milan felt constrained, the Frauenkirche in Dresden just feels too new (understandable considering they completely rebuilt it in the last 20 years), and the others I’ve seen just feel as though they are relics. And the Cologne Cathedral is a relic of sorts. It’s old beyond anything we have in the States, it shows that age. It’s stylized to a long-gone age. It definitely breaths that age from its pores when you’re inside. However, it also seems to breath new life in some respects, as though it will always be there, no matter how modern the rest of Cologne gets.
Even though I’m not Christian, this place called to me in a way I won’t deny. There’s more here than just an old building. It’s got an atmosphere to it that I hadn’t felt elsewhere. So I’m going back to Cologne. It’s a city you can’t visit only once, and the Cathedral is always worth a second visit.∗