Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The last German stop on our family cruise of the Rhine was Cologne, a city our mother loved.  My brother Dave has some tender memories of being there with her many years ago.  Mom really knew a lot about the architecture and history of Germany's cathedrals, and I am sure she loved the enormous Gothic Catholic cathedral that dominates Cologne and is the most visited site in Germany. I wish I could hear what she had to say about it. I'm guessing this is one of those cathedrals "built for power rather than for God," a phrase Mom used to describe the Speyer Cathedral when we went there with her.

Because of  the massive size of the Cologne Cathedral and the surrounding buildings that have crept ever closer to its walls through the centuries, it is impossible to "stand back" and get a picture that includes the entire structure.

Some interesting facts about this cathedral:

* Construction began in 1248 and continued until 1473, then remained unfinished for 400 years. When the original plans were discovered in 1842, work re-commenced and the cathedral was finally completed in 1880.  (We were incredibly fortunate that while we were there, the plans, usually covered by a very tall curtain, were being shown to some visiting dignitaries. We got a brief glimpse.)

* It measures 474 feet long by 284 feet wide, and and has two 515-foot-tall towers (roughly 50 stories), making it the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe.

* It has the second-tallest spires and largest facade of any church in the world (topped only by Ulm Cathedral, about 300 miles southeast and also in Germany).

* It has a shrine that is said to contain the bones of the three wise men.

* It suffered 70 hits by bombs during World War II and although seriously damaged, both main towers remained standing. Post-War repairs were completed in 1956.

The main entrance, known as the Petersportal, was built between 1370 and 1380:

Dave, Bob, Bonnie, Doris, Chris, Stan
Time to go inside:
Upon entering, it is impossible not to look up at soaring ceilings that form one of the tallest Gothic vaults in the world:

The next jaw-dropping feature is 110,000 square feet of stained glass windows:

The newest window was installed just five years ago in 2007 to replace a window that had been destroyed in the War.  Designed by Cologne resident Gerhard Richter (who is currently the world's top-selling living artist), it is made up of 11,500 pieces of glass in 72 colors that are randomly placed and meant to look like computer pixels. The 66-foot-tall window has an abstract kaleidoscope look and has been somewhat controversial because of its lack of overt religious reference.  I loved it.

After looking at the ceiling and the windows, the most natural place to look is down, and the floors do not disappoint.

A stroll through the cathedral reveals some stunning art:

The cathedral houses the Gero Cross (965-970), the oldest sculpture of the crucified Christ north of the Alps:

Intricate stone carvings encase the high altar, which is loaded with about two dozen silver candlesticks:
The most famous piece of art in the cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Kings, dating back to 1190 and said to hold the bones of the three magi, acquired at the conquest of Milan in 1164.  The golden tomb was opened in 1864 and actually did contain bones and clothing.
The three wise men have lots of interesting company, including tombs of the past bishops of Cologne, important counts, and various knights:

I wish I knew who this fop was.  I don't get the sense that the sculptor thought too highly of him:

After we had made our way around the vast interior, we were ready for a new perspective: the tower.  There were lots of "don'ts" posted, but after taking our 4 euro, this lady was happy to send us up the stairs.
The 509 stairs, to be exact:
There were some beautiful sites along the way, but we were disappointed by the amount of graffiti that we saw, visible above on the stairwell wall, under the stone filigree on the picture on the right below, and on the door below that:

Views of the bridge shown in the picture above and of the devastated city around it in pictures taken after World War II:

I am always so moved by these post-War photos as I think of the civilians that lived in these homes and prayed for the war to be over, and then who re-built their beautiful city and went on living their lives:
Proof that most of us climbed all those steps:

The view was nice, but the steps and platforms were crowded with loud, pushy teenagers and the graffiti everywhere was awful. We have seen very little graffiti at other cathedrals, and I think the combination of crowds and graffiti made this cathedral rank fairly low among my favorite Cathedral Climbs. The rest of our experience in this massive building, however, was wonderful.

Next: The Rest of Cologne


  1. I will never forget that nasty graffiti on that soaring cathedral. I do not understand why they don't do more to prevent it.

  2. I do too. I wish I had climbed the other ones that I sat out on. you can surprise yourself sometimes!

  3. (I mean, I wish you had come along, too. Next time.)

  4. I love your photo looking straight up the facade. Gives some good perspective on the height. A fun place to visit.