Cologne: A towering presence, cathedral awes and inspires
By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 26, 2004
There is a lot to see and do in Cologne. It is Germany’s fourth largest city, has great museums, lots of shopping, interesting churches, world-renowned trade fairs and Kölsch, its own type of beer.
But the one thing that overshadows the rest of Cologne is its Gothic cathedral.
The Dom, as it is called in German, is a dark, towering construction that took more than 600 years to build but is practically never finished. It seems there is always scaffolding surrounding one part of the cathedral no matter when you visit.
And it’s no wonder. This colossal building is 474 feet long; its towers are 516 feet high and the building covers more than 85,000 square feet. By the time one part of the cathedral is refurbished, it’s time to start on another.
Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden laid the foundation stone for the cathedral on Aug. 15, 1248, and it was not officially finished until Oct. 15, 1880, when Kaiser Wilhelm I watched as the last stone was laid on the finial of the south tower.
By the beginning of the 20th century, repair work was under way on weathered stones, and the cathedral suffered severe damage in World War II. Repairs continue to this day. There is a saying in Cologne that goes: “When the cathedral is finished, the world will end.”
The inside of the cathedral is dark on an overcast day, despite more than 100,000 square feet of window area. One can imagine what it must be like on a sunny day, with the light filtering through the stained-glass windows.
Chapels line the nave and transepts. Candles flicker in the darkness as tourists shuffle through the aisles and worshipers pray to saints.
The cathedral is full of religious art and treasures.
Its greatest treasure is the Shrine of the Three Magi, which supposedly holds the relics of the three wise men who brought gifts to the infant Jesus. They were brought to Cologne from Milan in 1164 and are kept in the gold shrine on the high altar.
Many of the cathedral’s other treasures can be seen in the Domschatzkammer, or Treasury, where valuable Gospel books, vestments, manuscripts and reliquaries are kept.
You can climb the 516-foot south tower, but after 509 stairs you are as high as you can go, at about 330 feet. From here there is a view of the city and the Rhine River below.
Chances are you will see men on scaffolding working on the cathedral, and you’ll know the world will not be ending just yet.
On the QT ...
Directions: The cathedral is in downtown Cologne, Germany, next to the train station. Follow signs to the Dom or signs with the cathedral’s twin-towered silhouette. There is parking under the cathedral.
Hours: The cathedral is open daily from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. but closed during mass. The south tower is open to climb from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily in January, February, November and December; from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in March, April and October; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May to September. The Treasury is open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Costs: There is no charge to enter. To climb the tower costs 2 euros for adults and 1 euro for children. The treasury costs 4 euros for adults, 2 euros for children; a family ticket costs 8 euros. A combination card for both the tower and the treasury is available at a cost of 5 euros for adults, 2.50 euros for children and 13 euros for the family card.
Food: There are plenty of places to eat around the cathedral, offering everything from fast food to Chinese to traditional German. A good choice is the Alt Köln am Dom next door to the cathedral. Try a glass of Kölsch, a type of beer native to Cologne and its surroundings.
Information: The cathedral has a German-language-only Web site at www.koelner-dom.de.
— Michael Abrams