Trip 38, Day 10
It’s been decades since we did a whistle stop visit to Cologne (Köln) and I can still remember the awe with which I regarded the cathedral (Hohe Domkirche St. Petrus) as we exited the train station. Köln is only about 30 minutes by train from Düsseldorf. The train station is vastly different, but the cathedral, which began construction in 1248 but halted in the years around 1560, is hugely imposing. Work did not restart until the 1840s, and the edifice was completed to its original Medieval plan in 1880. Like many other churches, this one has had many incarnations and reincarnations over its >770 year history, shepherded by different architects and surviving wars, religious and political battles. The second church built on this site in 818 was destroyed by fire in 1248. When people look at a structure like this, seldom do they appreciate that it took hundreds of years to be completed as events like wars interrupt and finances weigh. Construction was completed in 1880, 632 years after construction began. It was the tallest building in the world for four years, it’s twin spires reaching for heaven.
The centerpiece of pride on display are the relics of the Three Kings (Biblical Magii) said to have visited Jesus after his birth. The relics had been given by the Holy Roman Emperor to the Archbishop in the 12th century. Naturally, such relics had to be displayed in a magnificent cathedral.
The cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during World War II. Badly damaged, it nevertheless remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. The twin spires were an easily recognizable navigational landmark for Allied aircraft bombing.
Repair and maintenance work is constantly being carried out in one or another section of the building, which is rarely completely free of scaffolding, as wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away at the stones. There is scaffolding around several sections of the cathedral now, and it must be a never ending process to preserve and repair a building of such proportions and age. There is ongoing conservation at the cathedral to address the problem of the black discoloration caused by the sandstone reacting with sulfuric acid during rainfall. The acidic rain is a consequence of air pollution.
We spent most of our time in Köln in the cathedral, but afterwards went out to explore the Altstadt (there are two!). We went to the north section as it was a bit closer, though we weren’t sure what we’d see. The St. Mariä Himmelfahrt is a very pretty Jesuit church and the priest was conducting a wedding.
Underwhelmed by what we thought there was to see near us, we decided to walk to the southern portion of the Altstadt back past the cathedral, but getting through the Saturday crowds was a bit daunting. At one point, we veered off on to a side street and then walked in the direction of the Rhine River. We happened upon the AlterMarkt (old market) square which was lined with restaurants and patrons were taking advantage of a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
We did see some curious sightseers. They’re either Meta (VR) sightseeing or aliens.
We continued walking along the river bank, which is a park and there were quite a few people out enjoying the afternoon. There were quite a number of sightseeing river boats parked along the bank. Eventually, we came back into sight of the cathedral and the train station (which is literally across the street from it). It’s late afternoon and time to head back to Düsseldorf, as we move tomorrow to another city.
We’d never visited Düsseldorf and though we lost a bit of time getting here due to the train being cancelled, we didn’t have enough time to explore everything we wanted to see here and in the area (we had also hoped to revisit Ächen). We found getting around by train, tram and bus pretty easy (apps help a lot); makes us wonder how we got by with the traveling we did in the dark ages (before smartphones and the Internet).