Blog WHS Visits

Cologne revisited

There’s a Dutch proverb that says “Aachen and Cologne were not built in 1 day”. It means that a lot of time and patience is needed to accomplish an extensive task – the equivalent of “Rome wasn't built in a day” in English. Aachen and Cologne were random old, distant places in the imagination of the medieval Dutch and feature in several proverbs. The “not built in 1 day” is very fitting for the Cologne Cathedral, as it took over 600 years to complete. I had visited the cathedral already in the year 2000, but after a pleasant revisit to Aachen 2 weeks ago Cologne also seemed like good option for a return trip. This of course while my action radius is still limited – effectively til June 15 – to Germany.

Bronze door knockers at one of the main doors

Both Aachen and Cologne are easy day trips from Holland – Cologne takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes of driving from my home. A thing both cities have in common as well is that they host a modern art museum based on the Ludwig collection, very much recommended if you’re into that kind of art. But while Aachen is a quaint and midsized university town, Cologne is a proper big city with over 1 million inhabitants. It is generally less likeable.

To get to know Cologne better I took part in a Free Walking Tour. I choose the one in English – where I was accompanied by 14 others hailing from Colombia to Belarus. All of them were working and staying in Germany for longer periods. The guide did not try to hide that Cologne isn’t especially pretty: the city center was flattened at the end of World War II and rebuilt quickly afterwards. It is also much less neat and organized than the rest of Germany – they like the bohemian way here. A good thing about tours like these is that they bring you to spots that you’d not find yourself. We for example were directed into a parking garage, where a well can be seen that was part of the medieval construction that predated the current Gothic cathedral.

The well of the Ancient Cathedral

It is remarkable how close to the Cathedral modern structures were built. There's this parking garage, but there is also the ugly box of the Romano-Germanic Museum which houses a Roman mosaic. There is the Ludwig Museum - a bit more tasteful in style but also very close to the cathedral. The worst addition though must have been the railway station, which contributes to the pollution of the facades and the general scruffiness of the area.

Before the tour I had started my visit with the Cathedral of course. It opens at 10 and I was one of the first people of the day to enter. They had limited the access to not only the choir but also the nave was closed. So only photos from a distance were possible of the magnificent stained glass windows. The interior only “shines” when there is sunlight, which is not too often in this region.

Two goat gargoyles

Afterwards I did a full loop around the building. And I crossed the river via the Hohenzollern Bridge. From the other side of the river Rhine the best (unobstructed) views of the Cathedral can be had. Compared to the one in Aachen however, I found it much less interesting and I decided to downgrade my rating from 3 to 2.5 stars. Its size and its centuries long tourist fame seem to be its main assets that got it into the World Heritage List. Funny enough the fact that it took so long to complete was even used in the OUV statement: its apparently showed the "persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe".

Els - 14 June 2020

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