Last night’s concert at the Apollo Theatre was a smashing success by the audience’s standards. In fact, their opinion was so absolute, that, had I any suggestions in ways to improve upon the performance, those thoughts would be drowned out by all the hoots and whistles still ringing in my ears. Some audiences decide even before a note is sung that they are there to have a fantastic time, and this was one of them. Three encores.
This morning, after a quick breakfast, a sacrifice to assuage the hangover gods,Kori, Casey, Cortez, Adam, Matt Knickman, and I boarded a train to visit the cathedral at Köln, a little over an hour’s ride away.
I really had no idea Christianity was already established well enough to have a bishopric this far north by the fourth century, but so it is, for that was when the first church was established on the same site, steps from the Rhine river.
What is there to say about the space that pictures will not tell you? That the project was such a massive undertaking that construction was not completed until the 1850s? That the cathedral’s holy relics are the bones of the Three Magi, which are held in the crypt so that the liturgical holiday of Epiphany must have been second only to Easter? That the windows are some of the most idiosyncratic I have ever seen? (And as well you know, I’ve seen a lot of stained glass in my day.)
The cathedral dwarfs absolutely everything in the city. Americans abroad expect a cathedral in French Gothic style, but, considering that the first stones for the new cathedral were laid in the 1100s, we should marvel that the church is not dark and Romanesque. However, because of the exalted relics belonging to the treasury no expense was spared. Only the most impressive would do. Hundreds of miles removed from Notre Dame de Paris, this towering manifestation of state-of-the-art architecture and masonry is still more than impressive today. It is impossible to know what a pilgrim must have felt when he first entered and gazed up at the vaulted ceiling, colored light pouring in through stories-high windows depicting the Virgin and saints, juxtaposed with medieval courtly life.
What the pictures cannot reveal is what it’s like to stand in the center of such a space consecrated—if not by god—then by sheer devotion and blind faith. This is holy ground.
After a too-brief exploration of the floor space, we put down our money to ascend to the belfry, available only by climbing a seemingly endless spiral stair case through a partially open air tower. As we ascended, I would like to say that I swooned from the majesty, but, in fact, it was just my crippling fear of unsecured heights. I was able to make it 4/5 of the way to the top, but the final flight to the open air was too much. I remained in the penultimate cell and from there enjoyed the cityscape and read the graffiti. Person after person declared their presence, many of whom I imagine either because of the fear of reprisal, or simply because of time limitation simply said, “Ich war hier.”
Has anything more profound or desperate ever been uttered by transient consciousness in the presence of what it finds awe-inspiring?
Once we boarded the train back to Seigen, Casey suddenly discovered that he could not find our group ticket to show to the conductor. Only a receipt, date, and the last four digits of the credit card used to purchase could be found. Though the conductor clearly was not interested in our plight, through insistence and verbal acrobatics (in a language which Casey doesn’t speak, but which he somehow speaks better than I, who studied four semesters, for heaven's sake!), we were victorious over what was no doubt Verboten. Then again, so much that is Verboten goes on without even a double-take every day doesn’t it.
Tomorrow, on to the bus, and on to Hildeshiem (which is pronounced hIl dɛs :haim, by the way. I offer you this information on the off chance that you might be tempted to say the word in front of a native German and misponounce the “sh” consonant cluster as we would in English, and as I did, to poor effect.)
Ite classa est. Deo gratias. ;)