Sunday, 7 December 2014

A Long Weekend in Cologne

The day after Neuschwanstein was uneventful as it was spent traveling. Mum and I headed back to Munich (a journey of two hours) before I continued on to Cologne (6 hours) to meet up with Tegan and Andy and spend the weekend gallivanting around. On the train up, an Australian across the aisle told me of the great delight he got in listening to another Australian have the conversation about Australia that usually fell to his lot.

As Tegan and Andy had arrived just before midnight  on the Friday night, Saturday started slowly with a trip to the cathedral (after breakfast and a coffee). Cologne cathedral seems to be the number one tourist attraction here, that and possibly the religious relics of the bones of the three Magi (because we know there were three) (more likely magpie bones in my eyes).

It is a beautiful, if dirty building that dominates the landscape by day and night.

Not sure I believe Tegan’s assertions that it is supposed to look dirty and that should they clean it it would just look cheap and tacky, as many other cleaned historic buildings I have seen have looked wonderful.

She and I do have a vastly different idea of beauty and history.

The inside was cavernous with vaulting, stained glass windows and arches, but it was so full of tourists that it had lost the solemn quietude that you find in most other churches and instead hummed incessantly.

In churches the eye is automatically drawn upwards if not by the building itself, then by the religious iconography hanging from the ceiling however often the floor is also amazing (provided the tourists stand aside long enough for you to view it.)

In Cologne Cathedral the floor in the Chancel around the main altar was of beautiful mosaics depicting in the entrances possibly the archbishop who erected the cathedral (or an earlier one) and possibly the patron saint (who no doubt was St George)

Started in 1248 work on it was suddenly abandoned in 1473 and didn’t resume until 1832 when due to a Gothic revival, it was finished according to the original plans. Astonishingly this means there isn’t a clear divide between the old and the newer or the real Gothic and the Revivialist.

It’s actually very impressive, particularly when you compare it with the Gothic fascination of Ludwig II in the south of Germany, and just how Victorian all of that still manages to look.

What this segmented history does mean is that for several centuries though the altar place and sanctuary of the church was completed, the sky-scape here was dominated by a wooden crane part way up one of the spires and the side walls of cathedral were only partially raised and the open apse was covered with normal squat roofs.

Thankfully, when it was finished it seems to have survived the bombs of World War II completely despite 80% of the surrounding landscape being decimated.

While normally pictures of Cologne show the Cathedral standing proud above the rest of the old city, during WWII all of the buildings which it overshadows have been reduced to rubble.

Rather delightfully, on Sunday we visited an exhibition at the Wallraf Richartz Art Gallery on the history of the cathedral, the Cologne cathedral, artistic depictions of cathedrals, and the Cologne cathedral’s place within the greater gothic revival.

While I enjoyed some of the artistic depictions of Cathedrals, including Rodin’s Cathedral, I must admit, I am not particularly fond of Impressionist Art and have no interest at all in stuff more modern than that. The realistic depictions of Carl Georg Enslen and Karl Georg Hasenpflug were delightful though. (typically, no photos were allowed.)

In terms of discovering the timeline of the Cathedral it was a beneficial exhibition though. In addition to various primary sources showing the cathedral through the ages, it also explained how artistic representations spurred on the revival of interest and documented the progress so that the general public could better understand what was happening and what the finally finished product would look like. This art gallery was also good in that it explained almost every piece of art(as opposed to just providing the artist, title and date of completion) and placed it into an overarching context.

One of the things I find interesting is the interpretation different nations and cultures place on such themes as the Gothic Revival. The Germans seem to claim that it started around the time of Vincenz Statz's painting 'Und fertig wird er doch' which led to a revival of interest in the Cologne Cathedral (though I might be mistaken as the  date's don't match up), the French claim Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame as a huge motivational factor and I would think the English would find a way to mention Horace Walpole and his Strawberry Hill built decades earlier.

Next stop was a few historical markers, including the Rathaus where a heavily made up bride was getting married complete with white doves. Also the Heinzelmännchenbrunnen, a fountain which depicts the elves who used to work so the people of Cologne did not.

However when a woman proved their existence by putting peas on the stairs causing them to topple down and not be able to get back up, they buggered off and the people of Cologne have had to work ever since.

Having examined the water fountain sans water, we headed out of the old town in search of the hipster quarters Tegan and Andy had heard about. We didn’t find good coffee, but found strange ‘street art’ (graffiti), a Turkish place that served lamb (bliss for two who had lived on pork for too long) and a wool coat that fit Andy rather well.

Wandering back into town via the Hiroshima-Nagasaki memorial we hit one of the Christmas markets.

Cologne is definitely a place for Christmas markets and my guess is that people from far and wide flock here especially for the Christmas markets.
While they are beautiful, for anyone even slightly claustrophobic they would not be a good place to hang out.

Saying that, people seem to go especially for the Gluhwein and the food as opposed to the 'craft' stalls so it is simply a case of avoiding the food stalls to the best of one’s ability.

The next morning was also a late start with one of my pet types of museum our number one port of call. Unfortunately it failed miserable to live up to any expectations.

We’d gone to the Kolnisches Museum to learn about the history of Cologne, an indication of major events, important people, a timeline even. Instead it was a haphazard display of random items and objects with only the odd one being described (through the audio guide) in English. Some of the items seemed way too generic to history in general, or even to emphasize their expressed relation to Cologne.

We learned that Cologne had been settled/established by the Romans (but the blurb for the Roman Germanic Museum told us that), they started, stopped and restarted building their cathedral, and in the early middle ages they got rid of the local ruler (nobility/archbishop/something) and started ruling themselves (democracy/ council/ don’t know). Oh yeah, and they were affected by the Nazis as was the rest of Germany. Even Andy complained that there was no timeline. 

Disappointed with my choice, we headed for Tegan’s choice, the bridge of Locks (via the Christmas Markets, food and bubbles) because it’s so pretty and so special and no other city has anything like it. 

We headed out onto the Rhine, into the blustery wind, over the other side and then returned by a second not-so blustery bridge before turning our feet in the direction of the Chocolate museum.

We weren’t so interested in the museum (when they rave about a chocolate fountain you know it’s going to be milk chocolate) but settled down for a mediocre hot chocolate, and mousse cake. We then fought our way through the crowded shop for me to be scolded by Tegan for my extravagant purchase of one (1) block of chocolate, a Christmas present for Dad (all other blocks I already knew to be available in the supermarkets and probably at a more reasonable price, or milk/white (non) chocolate).

Heading back towards the Cathedral we dove into the Wallraf Richartz to look at old art and the exhibition on the Cathedral.

Then, on to the Christmas markets again. I don't think I'm going to get tired of the Christmas markets.

*Update: If you're in the area, I hear that Aachen is a thousand times better and well worth a visit (with only a day trip to Cologne required).

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