This is my first Lifestyle editorial ... kidding. No talk of scents or why not to ever wear Axe. My travels recently took me to Cologne, Germany. I am currently at the start of a year-long world tour, with Shakira, as her Programming Engineer. Our days are busy, long, and we don't have tons of time off, but when we do, I like to go explore. I woke up a couple days ago, looked across the river from our hotel, and was floored by what I saw. The Cologne Cathedral is a sight that I will never forget.
A brief history lesson:
The construction of the cathedral began in the year 1248, and paused in 1473. It wasn’t until 1880 that the structure was actually complete. Though, it was completed according to the original blueprints. It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. The towers are the second tallest in the world, and those spires give the church the largest facade of any church in the world. It took 632 years to build, but it is a magnificent testament to architectural engineering. It is 515 ft. tall. Upon its completion, it was the tallest structure in the world for four years, until it was beaten out by the Washington Monument in 1884.
World War II took its toll on the structure. If you remember your history, Cologne is the area where the allied forces crossed the Rhine river into Germany. The cathedral and surrounding area was the site of intense bombing and tank battles. The tall twin spires of the cathedral made it an excellent reference point for allied bombers. By the end of the battles, it was one of the only structures left standing. It suffered 14 direct bomb strikes, and was the center of a vicious tank battle.
The repairs to the structure were completed in 1956. As in a lot of German cities, you can see a patchwork of colors in the stone of the building. Dresden is an excellent example of this. The patchwork exists not only from age, but the blackest stones were burned, and reclaimed from the rubble, to help reconstruct the building. Knowing that, it truly puts the grave cost of those wars into sharp perspective.
In 2007, the cathedral received a new stained glass window in its south transept. The window is composed of 11,500 identically sized, square pieces of colored glass, resembling pixels, randomly arranged by a computer. The German artist Gerald Richter is the designer of the window. He and a computer, I guess. In 1996, the Cologne Cathedral was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I took the adventure of climbing up to the belfry. It was 533 tiny, spiral stone steps, from the basement level of the building, up to the top of the tower. At the top of the tower, the 11 church bells reside. Four of them date from medieval times. The first of which, is the 3.8 ton “Bell of the Three Kings”. It was cast in 1418, and then installed in 1437. The Pretiosa, which weighs in at 10.5 tons, is the largest church bell in the western world. The largest bell in the tower is the Bell of St. Peter. Cast in 1922, and weighing 24 tons, it is the largest free-swinging bell in the world. It is about the size of a minivan, for a scale reference.
Some structures demand reverence. The Cologne Cathedral is one of those. History has added to its presence over time. Once you know the trials the building has been through, and the history that has taken place there, the gravity of the building is only magnified. Cathedrals, by their nature, are made to be a direction towards heaven. The pointed spires, vaulted ceiling, and tall spaces, that still impress today, must have seemed otherworldly hundreds of years ago. Cathedrals are the only buildings, that I have been in, where you feel a presence that is not of this earth. Architecture is always a monument to intent. Great architecture not only is a testament to its designer, but indicates that there is something more. If you are in the Rheinland, make sure you visit Cologne.