I left Berlin reluctantly. In spite of the prospect of meeting/ hearing some mouth-wateringly brilliant bands and musicians in Cologne, at the music festival I had ostensibly gone to Germany for, I kept thinking there was much more to Berlin than I’d been able to get my head around in the week that I was there. The place truly had me in thrall, and I was a minion to its dictates.
Such being my état d’être, I got on board the train to Cologne wishing I didn’t have to leave just yet. The three hours this cross-country journey took, complete with stunning panoramas and rollicking glades on display, made me make some sort of peace with my situation.
Pacified some, I trudged out of Cologne station, and the sight that met my eyes (in a very clichéd fashion) made my jaw, bags, and reservations drop. And how. There in front of me was Cologne’s pride and joy, the most visited heritage site in Germany; Cologne’s central Cathedral.
If Berlin's ‘human-sized’ scale had placated me into a false sense of security apropos my own importance in the universe’s scheme of things, Cologne Cathedral decidedly put me in my place. To call this awe-inspiring, humongous building an architectural marvel wouldn’t even be scratching at its surface. Cologne Cathedral merely ‘is’.
The cathedral was a ‘gift’ to the city from a grateful medieval Pope, helped out in his time of need by the city’s army. During World War II, the city knew the cathedral would come under attack, and cleverly dismantled its gorgeous stained-glass mosaics, storing them in the cellars till such time as it was safe to have them out on display again. Wise thinking, as the events which transpired were to prove.
This ‘Northern-most tip of Italy’, as Cologne likes to think of itself (it was founded by the Romans), is a place where history lives. It breathes in every citizen (proud, and rightfully so) of this beautiful, ever-so-European haven. Divided into two by the Rhine which meanders through the heart of it, Cologne, as any of her people will tell you, has always been a ‘very important’ city – first on the pilgrim trail, and then as a trade capital.
Today, the city is just as important on another pilgrim trail – that of the new-age-electronica-lover – and is home to some of the most cutting-edge electronic musicians in Germany.
And did I mention the traditional rivalry between the Cologners and Berliners? The mere mention of Berlin is enough to make them look at you circumspectly – could you actually, perish the thought, for a second, be suggesting that Cologne is not the centre of all that is finest in art, culture, music and well, living? Berlin, they feel, is jaded. Cologne, feel the Berliners, is so caught up in where it’s from, that it can’t see where it’s going.
Instead of attempting to solve this age-old debate, I’ll take the easy way out. I’ll take both, please.