Cologne, Germany: The Cathedral, the World's Biggest Record Shop and the Cable Cars
The scale is enormous. To arch the neck back take in the full grandeur would be to risk severe whiplash. To get everything in the camera’s viewfinder, you not only have to cross the square, but the road next to the square, a couple of blocks further back, the grass bank and the river behind it.
To say that Cologne’s cathedral dominates the skyline of Germany’s fourth-largest city would be an understatement on a par with saying the Tour De France is quite a long bike race. Up until the Americans knocked up the Washington Monument, it was the tallest building in the world. It was the biggest in Europe, too, until the Eiffel Tower came on the scene. It is arguably more impressive than either though. Whereas the others deal largely in height, this black Gothic monster has the bulk behind it and incredible complexity of design.
It is sights like these that bring out the old fuddy-duddy in you. Masterpieces like these should be left to loom menacingly over the townsfolk, treated with petrified awe rather than as a focal point for public festivities. As it happens, instead of cowering before their city’s massive overlord, the square around the cathedral is heaving with buskers, street artists and breakdancers. It doesn’t half detract from the dignity of such a structure when there are those pointless specimens of humanity who pretend to be statues for cash standing outside all day. Especially when they’re dressed as Spiderman.
Inside, however, jaws cannot fail to hang suitably close to the floor. There are five towering stained glass windows, all reaching for the sky, and that’s just the beginning. The pews stream backwards, seemingly in their hundreds, awaiting a veritable football crowd at mass. Overhead are the organ pipes, one set big, the other set simply huge. It must be a difficult task to fill this expansive cavern with sound, but if anything is going to do it, that top set way above the heads of the masses is it.
Also dangling from above are lanterns threaded through extraordinarily long cables, some of which come down all the way from the top of the roof. To put this in context, that’s 61m – considerably higher than the distance between the car deck of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the water.
Topping off the setting are more stained-glass windows, tapestries largely depicting men fighting and cherubs on horse and hugely ornate pillars, each with a different statue on a plinth on it. It is quite conceivable that you could spend hours getting lost in the overwhelming detail, even before you get to the crowning glory, the sarcophagus of the Three Wise Men.
This delicious intricacy is sadly not extended to the confined spiral staircase that leads all the way to the top of the cathedral’s vertigo-inducing spires. It has a sort of fairy tale quality about it, as if there will be a sleeping princess at the top. Well, it would have if every inch of wall space wasn’t covered in graffiti. It never ceases to amaze how some people believe that a magnificent structure, constructed in various bursts over hundreds of years, can only be improved by scrawling in marker pen to let the world know they were there.
So, on that note, let us all say a big thank you to Daniele Grabowski, who loved N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys in 1997, and Petra, who doesn’t think there should be a war. Your contributions are truly appreciated.
The walk to the top takes in 509 asthma-inducing, calf-twanging steps and the biggest bell you are ever likely to see. The centrepiece of the darkened belfry is St. Petersglocke, a 24 tonne beast that is the largest free-hanging bell on earth.
That it can be found here is hardly surprising, as Cologne appears to have a minor obsession with size. The cathedral is the biggest in so many minute categories that it cannot possibly have so much competition, the bell is biggest with a condition, and the Colonia Hochhaus is the tallest residential building in Germany. In Saturn, it also has the world’s largest record shop, which can probably be justifiably regarded as a separate suburb. It’s classic little man syndrome – Cologne is the fourth biggest city in Germany, with its population hanging in a no-doubt agonising fashion just under the million mark. It also surrounds itself with bigger mates, twinned with a ludicrous 22 cities around the globe, and home to most of Germany’s multi-national media corporations.
In fact, the only thing the people of Cologne don’t try and supersize is their beer. Kölsch is unique to the Cologne area, sipped daintily out of 200ml glasses and universally derided by the rest of the country for being incredibly girly. The residents love it, however, and in the face of howling laughter, take great pride that it can only be called Kölsch if the brewery has a view of the commanding cathedral.
And that, after an exhausting trudge up those narrow steps, is finally what we’re on top of. We are met with an astonishing, heart-warming sight, the immortal names of CLAIRE NOBLE and CAZ RUSHTON in big white capitals. As such, the first thought on reaching the top is not one of relief or excitement, but of curiosity. Who on earth brings correction fluid pens with them whilst sight-seeing?
In truth, as these things often are, the view from the top is a little disappointing. The city has to be seen through a tight wire mesh, largely because the cathedral doesn’t want to develop a reputation as a hotspot for nasty accidents and suicides. It’s difficult to appreciate the horizon when it’s viewed through such a grid, though, and you have to aim your camera through the holes to get a proper picture of it.
What’s more, something is missing. While there are the barges chugging down the Rhine, the traffic streaming across the bridges and the pockets of old churches sticking their heads above the city, the postcard shot is missing the one thing big enough to make everything else look like a mere underling. We’re on top of that thing, of course, and with Cologne, size matters.
Cologne is an around 75 minutes on the train from Frankfurt, the main international entry point in Germany.
Entry to Cologne Cathedral (www.koelner-dom.de) is free, although guided tours run at 10.30am and 2.30pm every Monday to Saturday cost €6. Entrance to the treasure chamber, featuring various important relics, costs €4 and it will set you back €2 to go up the tower.
For skyline shots that take in the whole city, including the cathedral, try the Rheinseilbahn (www.koelner-seilbahn.de), a cable car tramway that stretches across the Rhine from the zoo to the main city park.
on 27 June 2007.
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