Always Lookin’ Up
The trains coming into the Cologne train station take the scenic route, crossing a bridge over the Rhein, cruise ships floating below. Along the river are modern, attractive skyscrapers. If you’re nose deep in a book, or sleeping in your seat on the train, you might miss one of the most spectacular sights in Germany: The Cologne Cathedral, Kölner Dom. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived in Germany all your life; every time you get off the train in Cologne (Köln in German), your eyes will travel skyward, just to make sure the cathedral is still there.
The train station, a modern glass building similar to most of Köln, sits right next to the Dom. In August, I followed the sea of commuters and tourists making the exodus out of the station. From underground and undercover, I found myself all of a sudden in bright sunlight standing in front of a behemoth of stone shooting into the sky. The Dom is HUGE. I felt completely insignificant in its presence, and all I did was walk out of the train station.
A Symbol of a City
I wasn’t in Köln very long, less than 24 hours, as we used the city (like most people do) as a stopover on our journey from Mainz to Amsterdam when my parents came to visit. We took a walking tour through Köln, learning the history and culture of the 2,000 year-old Roman city that is now a cultural epicenter that rivals Berlin.
Smack-dab in the middle of all this history, war, cultural and religious revolution: The Kölner Dom. The Dom became a place of pilgrimage for millions of Catholics and has shrouded the city in mysticism and mystery. Notably, it houses the remains of the three Wise Men, who, in German culture, are referred to as the Holy Three Kings*. Their crowns feature on the city’s crest.
While not everyone in the city is Catholic, everybody in Köln turns Catholic on 11/11 at 11:11, when Karneval starts**. Josh had the unfortunate accident of being in Köln on the first day of Karneval and it was complete insanity. Mass parades, parties, singing and dancing, people dressed in costume. And it carries on in this fashion until Easter. Do they not have jobs?!
A Tour through Time
My parents and I spent the rest of our time in Köln exploring the Dom with thousands of our closest friends. The Dom gets about 20,000 visitors each day, but when we went (once in the morning and once at night), it didn’t seem overly crowded. I mean, the place is ginormous. We opted for a tour guide, provided by the Dom, and joined a group of about 10 other people on an hour-long journey through the cathedral. We heard the organs play and the tower bells ring; sat in pews so uncomfortable they forced repentance, and gazed heavenward at computer-generated stained-glass windows.
This Could be a Place of Historical Importance
Outside of the Cologne Cathedral is a large plaza. When you’re busy looking up, you might miss what’s written in the stone. Off to the side, caddy-corner to the cathedral, is an artist’s engraving. This could be a place of historical importance.
Could be? Do you think we can remove the doubt?
- A nearly 2,000 year old cathedral.
- Survived the bombing of Köln during WWII that destroyed 93 percent of the city.
- Is a symbol of Köln (Germany, really), and recognizable worldwide.
- Receives 6 million visitors annually.
This is the history we gave it. So yes, I’d say it’s a place of historical importance.
*According to the Catholic Church. These “remains” were brought to Köln from Milan in 1164 as spoils of war by Barbarossa.
**Karneval is Germany’s version of Halloween, kids and adults alike will dress in silly costumes and parade in the streets. Some cities (cough, Köln) are more festive than others. In Bielefeld, there is Karneval and also St. Martin’s Day (also 11/11) when kids go door-to-door with paper lanterns and sing for sweets.