The Minnesota Orchestra is staying in Cologne and doing a “run out” to Dusseldorf for an evening concert, about an hour each way by bus.
In World War II, Cologne was bombed by the Allies in more than 250 air raids. Standing in front of the Kölner Dom, as the Cologne Cathedral is called here, a tourist who is unrelated to me in any way and yet loquacious tells me that some One amongst the Allies argued to not bomb the cathedral. (It is a toss up as to whether my tourist friend or Wikipedia is the more believable source, but Wiki claims the cathedral was hit 14 times by the Allies and that Americans used it for rifle practice). Perhaps the plea was heeded to a degree or perhaps fate intervened; either way, the cathedral stands today. It is said to be the tallest Gothic structure in the world, built over a 600-plus-year-long span, a tangible and more precise definition of “awesome” than are the host of other things teenagers use that word to describe.
On the last orchestra tour that stopped here in 2004, restoration and cleaning work was occurring on the outside of the ornate edifice. All these years later, only sections here and there appear any whiter than the age-blackened arches and courses of stones. The cleaning work has been ongoing for decades, but the sheer, unbelievable size of the place dictates that once the cleanup ends, it is time to begin it at the other end again.
Orchestra vice president Bob Neu tells me he’s made many an important life decision while sitting in the Cologne Cathedral. Sounds like a promising portent to me, so I head on over there. I’ve seen the inside of the cathedral before, but it bears repeating repeatedly and I cannot imagine becoming inured to the towering height of the exterior spires (151 feet) or the loftiness of the interior spaces (130 feet). It is a monument to sheer human effrontery over the laws of physics.
Tourists mill about inside, gawping at the stained glass, the intricate carving, the ancient sculptures. A priest appears in colored vestments and begins to speak auf Deutsch. Visitors respond by filing out of the pews. Then he switches to English: No guests, please, we are about to have Mass.
Fine with me. I approach a pew but the priest looks cross. I try a little half-genuflection: See? I’m in the clan. The priest gives no ground. I rack my brains for signs of Catholicism to demonstrate. I make the sign of the cross. Recite “et cum spirtu tuo” in the Latin of my youth. No dice. I attempt to manifest guilt with every pore of my being, peering up through sorrowfully positioned eyebrows and looking penitent. Nada.
Ah, well. The Lutherans must have a church around here somewhere…
Filed for the St. Paul Pioneer Press from Dusseldorf on Friday, February 27, 2009