Sunday, April 24, 2011


Thursday I set out for the Irish pub across town, since there's a bi-weekly English speaking group that meets there. I arrived and looked around, and finding no familiar faces from last time, and no table that looked particularly welcome to strangers peering around inquisitively, I didn't stay. Deciding that since it was a beautiful evening, I thought it'd be nice to take a stroll towards the cathedral instead. Its black spires dominate the skyline from nearly anywhere downtown, and it's the focal center for Köln - all streets and all history of the city's significance point back to that building. It shares a wall with the old Roman city boundary and as such is part of the oldest section of the city, and from my student apartment on the 10th floor I can see and hear it from even a significant distance away.

So stepped back out and wandered around through the narrow little streets, away from the traffic and crowds in the bar/restaurant-festooned yuppie district. Coming to one street corner I saw a funny round building with decorative bricks, and upon closer inspection realized I'd just run into a tower from the days of Rome*, built in 50 AD and preserved by its inclusion in a monastery (where it served as a latrine. Ew.) These days one side of the structure is completely black from the air pollution and there doesn't seem to be anything actually protecting the structure, so I suppose it won't last another two thousand years. Embedded in the sidewalk is a map of the old Roman wall, so I decided to head from the tower (the northwestern point on this map) along the north wall, the other end of which lies under the cathedral. Along the otherwise modern road are short chunks of Roman wall, marked as such. None of them seem to draw any special attention besides my own or have anything other than old brass plaques and the occasional sidewalk map. Further along the wall was built into a huge 17th century building, which is now the city museum of Köln. Definitely a place to visit sometime. Eventually I came to the cathedral square itself, where part of the Roman gate has been reconstructed and is fully accessible. People sleep on it and press beer bottle caps into the pits in the rock. My inner conservationist dies a little.

Even from the square I could hear some activity from the cathedral, and as it was the Thursday before Easter, I figured that the Catholic celebrations get started early and would probably continue until Tuesday. The smell of incense drew me in through the doors where a mass of some sort was underway. There was a fantastic choir singing and big puffs of incense coming from the censer as the officiant swung it back and forth. I stood for awhile at the back, leaning against a pillar and imagining myself at the heart of the medieval Holy Roman Empire. I understood only parts of the German and even less of the Latin, but enjoyed seeing the cathedral in use instead of simply as a tourist destination. There were still a few with cameras, luckily standing at the back as I was. I stayed for a little over an hour and left after 9 pm, though the service was showing no signs of being over anytime soon.

I went back this morning, hoping to see a Catholic Easter mass in all its epicness and ceremony. And arriving early meant that I had a good spot right up at the front, when there were hundreds of people arriving later that had to stand. I'm not religious and I have little love for the Catholic church as an organization, but I will say that for a grandiose traditional church ceremony, they really do pull out all the stops. There was a huge pipe organ whose lower notes you could hear with your stomach, a girls' choir, incense clouds thick enough to cut with a knife, about two dozen altar boys and about eight or ten priestly looking old guys, and the service was led by Cardinal Archbishop of Köln himself. Afterwards there was a procession outside with a huge silver cross decorated with flowers, and everyone crowded around the Archbishop to shake his hand, like I've seen in pictures when the Pope walks around. I was glad I didn't bring my camera with me, as one guy also in the front took his camera out when the sermon started, and an old guy behind him tapped him on the shoulder and angrily (but very softly and politely) let the guy know that cameras during the service were not acceptable.

During the outdoors procession I remembered that my phone also had a camera and took a few shots of the procession and the Cardinal:

Also, just now, a pigeon almost strolled right into my room - from my tenth floor balcony! That's living in the city for you, I guess. :)

*these pictures of the Roman things belong to other people, since I had expected to simply spend the evening at a pub and didn't have my camera.


  1. Wow! Glad you took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am so envious!

  2. Neat stuff! For Easter, I was trying to recuperate from jet lag and unpack.

    Seriously, though, I do miss the way Easter is given a lot more weight in Europe than in the US, in the way of food and holidays.