Cologne: City Sightseeing

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Cologne: City Sightseeing

(COURIER: These notes are extremely sketchy, reflecting the lack of details in most standard guidebooks. We recommend that you obtain pamphlets on Cologne and Cologne Cathedral from the West German tourist Authority in London or in other cities on your route.)

Your sightseeing needn't be very long, as the group will want to shop afterwards. The main sights — visited on foot — will be the Cathedral, a walk down the Hohe Strasse, the Town Hall/Gurzenich complex, and perhaps a look inside the Church of St. Maria im Kapitol nearby. The Dionysus Mosaic is not included in group sightseeing, in spite of the published itinerary. An evening cablecar ride across the Rhine — group pays fare — the Rheinpark has been substituted for this.)

Cologne Cathedral  The Cathedral is the great symbol of Cologne, and of the whole Rheinland. It is one of the outstanding Gothic creations in Europe; taking 600 years to complete. It was miraculously spared destruction during the heavy bombing in World War II.

How it came to be built: The story goes back to 1164, when the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa offered to Cologne some rare relics brought back from Milan. These were the relics of the Three Magi, and pilgrims immediately began coming to Cologne to venerate the relics. With this growing interest in Cologne, a new cathedral was needed. This would be the first Gothic cathedral in the Rheinland. Construction began in 1248 under Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden. The architect was Master Gerhard, about whom not much is known except his grandiose conception of the building.

In slow stages: Throughout the next century 914th), only the choir was completed, with a few parts of the rest. Work resumed sporadically on the towers, until in 1520 work stopped. It was not resumed until 300 years later, in 1842, when the great Gothic Revival swept Germany. The style adopted for the completion was early French Gothic, particularly that of Amiens Cathedral, which was used as a model.

Impact on the viewer: The viewer is struck by the sheer size of the building, and ornateness of the decoration.

Facade  Gables soar up to match the lines of the spires above. The towers are 515 feet high, some of the highest in Europe. Don't miss the perspective from the back of the cathedral, near the car park (Domplatz): bold lines of the apse, and a multitude of pinnacles and turrets.

South Transept Doorway  The bronze doors are by Matare: the New Jerusalem shown above, Cologne in flames on the right.

Inside  Go around to the west (main) facade, and enter here for an overwhelming impression of the interior. There are five naves in parallel.

North Aisle  Walk along the north aisle to see the five stained-glass windows (Glasmalerein), showing the lives of the Virgin and St. Peter (14th century).

North Transept  Look for the Virgin and Child; this comes from the period of the "Beautiful Madonnas of Cologne" (see your notes on "Introduction to Cologne").

South Transept  Large polyptych (painted panels), made in Flanders in 1520, known as the Altarpiece of the Five Moors.

Behind the Main Altar  Shrine of the Magi is a glass case behind main altar: the major artwork of the cathedral. It was fashioned by the goldsmith, Nicholas of Verdun, in 1220. It was built to contain the original relics brought from Milan.

Ambulatory  In the first chapel on the north side, off the ambulatory: Cross of Gero (10th century), is one of the oldest artworks in Cologne. It dates from the era of German Emperor Otto the Great. (Gero, according to local legend, was a 3rd century Roman soldier-convert, martyred by fellow soldiers. He remains one of the city's patron saints.)

NOTE: Only at special times are visitors admitted to see the Choir Stalls. If you can work this in, and if there is no admission fee, have the group take the guided visit. In addition to the stalls, you will see the 14 statues on the choir pillars, and the famed altarpiece by the master craftsman, Stefan Lochner.

Tower  Recommend an ascent to the tower as an interesting leisure-time activity. The view from the top takes in the whole city and the Siebengebirge (7 mountains) to the south of Cologne. Also visible is the gigantic network of roads coming into the city from all directions, illustrating Cologne as a traditional crossroads of trade.

(Now walk the group to the Hohe Strasse.)

Hohe Strasse  Cars are banned from this street except for late-afternoon rush hour. This street takes you through the heart of the medieval Old Town. Now, it is considerably less "medieval" than it once was before the war's destruction. Visitors are struck by the odd, pellmell mixture of luxury shops and bargain stores side by side.

Altes Rathaus  The Old Town Hall. It was almost completely destroyed during the war. What remains are two parts: the main part is 14th-century Gothic. The portico was a Renaissance addition. The 15th-century tower has a carillon that rings at noon and 5:00 p.m. The New Town Hall, opposite, was built in 1955. The Alter Markt nearby was Cologne's old commercial center, with outdoor displays of goods and much haggling.

Gurzenich  15th century. It was built as a banqueting and dancing hall for distinguished guests of the city. This type of institution was typical of medieval Europe, when civic life was full and active, and popular celebrations and festivities were held on official holidays. Only the outer walls escaped destruction during World War II. By 1955, it had been rebuilt in a modern style on the inside, the outside remaining in its original state. Festivities still go on today, especially at Carnival time (Shrove Monday and Tuesday: the two days before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. This is the city's "Mardigras," marked by street processions and general revelry.)

(If there's time, and the inclination:)

St. Maria im Kapitol  This church, a few blocks south of the Gurzenich (on your way, you pass the Martinsturm), was badly damaged in the war, but partly rebuilt. Church was consecrated in 1605, but goes much farther back. Features: first and foremost, carved wooden doors (Holzturen) in the south aisle, dating from the 11th century: a good illustration of Romanesque art; on the western end of the nave, a Renaissance roodscreen; left of the altar: the Madonna of Limburg (1300).

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