Every morning when I leave the trainstation in Cologne I am thunderstruck and rooted to the spot by a most miraculous sight:
Dark and brooding like an unholy place of worship of some mysterious race of giants, a Gothic cathedral of divine proportions is looming large in front of me in silent defiance. I cannot help but marvel at the sinister beauty of the structure every single time. At a soaring height of approximately fifteen metres above the ground, gargoyles of frightening design protude from the weathered walls at impossible angles. They take the shape of leering dragons, scowling crones and other creatures of Mythology. They once have been chiselled into place as guardians to ward the holy place against the unwelcome intrusion of ghosts and demons.
I wonder if the ubiquitous superstition of former times actually helped the stone statues to repel the worshippers rather than evil spirits? When I slowly skirt the place I always lose myself in contemplations about what life must have been like in the dark ages of humankind when the townsfolk beheld the fortified walls of the cathedral with a notion of guilt and religious terror. But I’m pretty sure that people were less afraid of hell’s searing flames than of the very real possibility to die of starvation.
In my imagination there are wooden market stalls around a still unfinished building with the store’s backsides huddled against the stone. The shouts of vendors are all over the place and the air smells of putrid flesh and horse leavings. What an atmosphere to plunge into for every middle ages – reenactment enthusiast! No neon advertisements or any signs of the achievements of modern life to disturb the Gothic presence of the cathedral which seems so strikingly out of place nowadays. Of course, back then, there was hunger, rats and the plague – a fact that the aforementioned type of enthusiast mostly ignores or appreciates as part of the destinctive atmosphere…
Why am I writing this in English? Well, simply because I needed something to keep myself occupied with during the train ride since my book has run out of pages. And moreover, the Cologne Cathedral recalls to memory a pleasant episode of my life where English was the language of choice. A few years ago, when the hardship of everyday work was but a ghost of the future, Bonn University surrounded me with its protective walls of theoretical knowledge, sheltering me against an uncaring world of commerce. It was summer and I had nothing to do but sit in my girlfriends garden and read Gothic novels as preparation for my final exam, only occasionally disturbed by an over-eager heron putting to eternal sleep an unlucky frog in the garden’s pond.
One of my favourite was Ann Radcliffe’s „The Mysteries of Udolpho“ which had an especially nice specimen of Gothic castle in it. This castle, as dark and enigmatic as its owner, which had become a staple of Gothic fiction since Walpole’s „The castle of Otranto“, sent countless shivers down my spine; each of them a delightful prickle rather than real anxiety, of course. Every morning in Cologne, when the high-arched windows of the cathedral are touched by the first tentative rays of sunlight, I think I can see a dark shape behind one of the silver windows staring at me…waiting.
No, I have not gone crazy during my final exam. That is just what people were fascinated of beginning in the late 18th century and lasting for over 50 years. This is what inspired and gave birth to all the horror books and movies until today.
I uploaded some pics that I took with my digicam, which btw is malfunctioning every once in a while since it has been drenched to its core by a heavy rainstorm I stumbled into in the woods of the „Wartburg“ in Eisenach (I’m glad it worked this time).
I plan to ascend the tower of the cathedral again in the near future when time permits.