Postkarte Nr 1
The cathedral - staggeringly beautiful and giddyingly high.
These Medieval masons built to reach for heaven and truly you feel it. To make something so ethereal and soaring out of stone with the crudest of tools and most primitive machinery by today's standards takes a leap of imagination I find hard to keep up with.
Medieval buildings like this are rather a lovely reminder not to let apparent limitations kerb one's dreams or aspirations.
The present cathedral was added to in the 19th C but the bulk of it was built between 1200 and 1400 with some additions in the 16th C. Much of it has stood for nearly a thousand years - unbelievable. And despite the terrible devastation suffered by the city in the Second World War, miraculously the cathedral survived.
And at the heart of the building, behind its high altar is the shrine of die drei Könige. It's extraordinary - a house-shaped casket made in the first years of the 13th C out of gold and covered in gemstones, and gold bas relief, purporting to contain the bones of the Wise Men transported to Cologne from Milan (that well-known haunt of the Magi!) in 1164.
You can't get too close to this virtuoso piece of gold workmanship - hardly surprising bearing in mind its value perhaps, but a shame nonetheless. And whatever the veracity of the claims as to the contents, it has drawn pilgrims from all over Europe for the best part of a thousand years. I find this intensely moving - the pilgrimages made by kings and peasants, old and young, men and women, all seeking their own epiphany moment of meaning and revelation, whether knowledge of the future to come, understanding of the past that has been or a belonging to the present that is now.
I've always had a soft spot for the enigmatic Magi - unknown, unidentified, emerging out of the eastern shadows by the light of a star and journeying beyond all that was familiar to them to find an answer to the meaning of life and having found it, going home back into the mists of time, as St Matthew puts it "by another route". How could they go back the same way when what they had seen and encountered had made them changed men? I wonder how many pilgrims to this shrine have come away changed men or changed women, unable quite to return to a previous way of life in exactly the same way?
In addition to the shrine of the drei Könige, we managed to climb the 533 steps to the top of the tower. We even have a pair of 50 cent coins converted to medallions showing the characteristic twin spires of the cathedral, which you can get from a machine at the top, by feeding it with €1 and the required 50 cent coin, turning a handle, and collecting the remoulded coin out of a shute. I feel we earned our medallions - the ascent nearly did for us and half way up I wondered what would happen if anyone collapsed en route - the steep, narrow, spiral stairs barely allow two way traffic for persons in relatively good health. The views from the top are breathtaking - as you would expect - the whole city laid out before you below the delicate dazzling pinnacles and flying buttresses.
Some of the pinnacles you look down on have hidden angels carved facing the tower - completely invisible to anyone looking at the cathedral from the outside.
One cannot but be humbled by craftsmen who devoted such hours of careful sculpture to work which they expected no one would see. Another little reminder that art of any kind has its own value even if it is not appreciated by the outside world. I think of how much I appreciate the encouragement of others with my own very humble, creative efforts and am reminded again of what a difference a word of encouragement makes.
I like the idea of hidden angels though - unseen and unobserved but present nonetheless - a kind of silent blessing for the city over which they stand. And we could all do with a few hidden angels bestowing silent blessings on us from time to time.
After the marathon climb - Käsekuchen! Hausgemackter mit Heidelbeeren - homemade with blueberries - es war toll! (Learned this phrase from testing H on his German vocab. and the cheesecake was great!)