September 28, 2007

24 Hours in Cologne

The City of Cologne, Germany, is famous for 2 things - its magnificent Cathedral, the "Kölner Dom", and the perfume "4711 Kölnisch Wasser (Cologne Water)". But a recent stopover proved that there are many other interesting things to see and do.

Situated on the Rhine, just north of the former capitol of Germany, Bonn, Cologne has had a long and engaging history. Roman ruins can be found all over, as can examples of medieval and Gothic sculpture and more recently the scars of Allied bombings in World War 2.

However the most striking feature of the skyline and the very heart of the city is the Cathedral or "Dom". The massive spires can be seen for miles and visitors travel great distances to view this Gothic masterpiece. It is impressive indeed, both from the exterior with its gargoyles and flying buttress' and the interior's beautiful stained glass windows and various chapels. By sheer coincidence, I had the good fortune to be there during the "Dom Wallfahrt" a celebration of World Youth Day that offered a very rare opportunity to visit parts of the Cathedral that are usually off limits.

For a very limited time, pilgrims are permitted to view some of the generally restricted treasures including the "Mailänder Madonna (The Milan Madonna)", a 13th Century polychrome statue of a beautiful young Mary as Queen of Heaven, the "Gero-Kreuz (Cross of the Bishop Gero)" a crucifix on a golden sunburst dating to 970, and the breathtaking "Dreikönigenschrein (Shrine of the Three Kings") a temple of gold and silver that adorns the inner sanctum of the altar and is believed to contain the remains of the Three Wise Men.

The Cologne Cathedral is awe inspiring at any time but this was a special treat. Leaving the Dom via the South Exit, one can look up to the newly installed stained glass window by the German Contemporary artist Gerhard Richter. It is a very successful blending of ancient tradition with modern aesthetic and bodes well for the future of ecclesiastical art.

For a total change of venue, go across the Dom Platz to the Museum Ludwig and visit its collection of Modern, Pop and Contemporary art. The galleries feature excellent examples of work by Max Ernst (who was born in the area), Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenberg's "Mouse Museum" as well as a fine group of works by Russian Avant Garde artists.

A special exhibition "Balthus - Time Suspended" is on view until November 4 and offers a tightly edited selection of paintings and drawings from his watershed period 1932-1960. Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski 1908-2001) may not be everybody's cup of tea, but his provocative erotic paintings of very young girls have been both prized and scorned by collectors and critics since he burst onto the Surrealist scene in 1934. Although closely tied to Germany, Balthus' work is not to be found in any public collections here and this is the first solo exhibition of his work in a German institution. The curator, Dr. Sabine Rewald of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has secured loans of some of his most famous paintings including "The Street" 1933, "Therese Dreaming" 1938, and, "The Mountain" 1937, and visitors to the show seems entranced with the presentation.

A stroll through the extensive pedestrian zone give the tourist a good overview of the city and a feeling for its thriving downtown. But all this walking and viewing can work up an appetite! It's time for Oktoberfest 2007 and Köln is ready to celebrate! With beer halls set up under tents, outdoor concerts and entertainment everyone gets into the spirit. The local beer, Kölsch, tastes delicious sitting outside under the red umbrellas of the historic brewery Früh. Later, a move indoors to the communal tables in the dining room brings together traditional German food with friendly fellow diners and a lot more beer!

The high speed train Thalys now connects Cologne and Paris in under 4 hours. It's almost time to say auf wiedersehn and on to more adventures in Gaie Paris! See you soon!

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