Oh, Do Cologne


When a hapless teen in a dull city of moderate size, I dreamt of seeing the Cologne Cathedral one day, though the chance of doing so seemed as likely as a Riker’s Island lifer’s hope of stopping by a trendy café on Broadway. My dream fulfilled, I can report it is a stunner. The scale is vast, and though St. Peter’s Basilica is larger and there is a taller spire here and there, my young imagination fell short of filling the nave or scaling these pillars. Though allied bombing destroyed everything around the church, it stands stately, with only a thin, persistent layer of soot to injure its unbowed dignity.

Cologne Cathedral
Germany’s Finest Church

On hot days, mad dogs and Englishmen (I am spiritually both) climb the 500+ steps to the bellfry and spire above. The sweaty view from the top may seem unremarkable in the age of the modern high-rise unless you can carry with you enough imagination to see it with a gothic eye. The spires are constructed in massive stone lacework of rosettes that are carved as intricately on the interior, where neither man nor God spent much 14th century time, as on the outer face, visible through ocular magnification, uninvented at the time. Be sure to drop by the belfry at noon to regale the crowd with a slouching rendition of Quasimodo’s thick-tongued quote, “This is Bertha; she deafened me.” It always brings down the house.

Colognials (one has to call them something) are justly proud of their beer, their city, and their church, in about that order. (They also have some fame for perfumed water, hence “eau de Cologne.”)  On Friday night we took a beer tour, under the mistaken impression that it was going to be a educational experience where we would see how beer is brewed, knowing already, from youthful experience, how it is consumed. It was instead a pub crawl, though crawl connotes a leisurely pace and vigorous consumption. Ours was a vigorous pace of modest consumption. Our guide used a series of modestly unamusing anecdotes to disguise the tediously dry moments between a few ounces of brew before we rushed off to the next hofbrau. I estimate that the night cost about $8 an ounce for the samples with little variety, but my cheerful ship companions, who were eager to meet each other, made the experience a bargain.

The enthusiasm of the locals would make one think that German Pope Batschitzburger had put back on the red slippers. They spill in great merriment into myriad sidewalk serving tables. My introduction to Germany in this classical city portends great things for the rest of the trip, with some unanticipated bumps to come.

Did you know that the German word for highway exit is “ausfahrt”? For miles I thought that the country had the most generous scattering of rest areas in the world, perhaps in consideration of tourist beer consumption.


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