Monday, January 15, 2007

Smells like Cologne

Back from Cologne – it was a pleasant enough trip, though a little too short and seat-of-the-pants for me to really say much about it (though I will endeavor to try!) Sebastien and I drove up FRiday to meet Amynah and Julie in Bonn, where they were finishing up a conference. We wandered around there and had a lovely dinner in a Croatian restaurant, thus continuing our trend of never eating German food in Germany. We drove to what I'm sure must be Europe's ugliest town which we using as our home base. Saturday, we headed into the Big Strudel. Cologne’s most famous attraction is its Cathedral. Not to sound like a big-ass church snob, but I wasn’t impressed. It is supposedly taller than Strasbourg’s and took four hundred years longer to build, but it just didn’t do it for me – it somehow managed to look squat, not to mention cold. The interior was relatively bare as well.

It did have a kick ass relic however – the final resting place of the Three Magi, whose remains were donated to the still-under-construction church by Frederick Barbarossa back when he was the Holy Roman Emperor.
All three Kings are lumped together in what I believe is the world’s largest reliquary, a giant gold box located towards the Nave of the cathedral, behind an iron railing. Sadly, it appears that closer access is verboten to the non-ordained, especially a motley group of Protestants and various breeds of heretics like us.
Anyway, the existence of this thing made me think: why is it that these poor guys, each of whom was a sovereign king in his day, get lumped in together like that. Everybody remembers the gifts they brought, no one remembers their names, and now they don’t even get individually distinguished reliquaries. Speaking of gifts, on Strasbourg’s Cathedral, Balthazar (one of the Kings, the others were Caspar and Melchior) is depicted as having a small dog. Why on earth would you give a young boy an embalming spice like myrrh, when you could have given him a puppy? Don’t you think the Son of God would like a puppy?

Afterwards we went to the Cologne archeological museum, directly across the square from the cathedral. It had a number of cool artifacts, including a Dionysian floor mosaic that was unearthed in 1941 during the excavation for an air-raid shelter (immediately making it the air raid shelter of choice for the city’s party-hearty set).
This was a delightful museum, except that it appeared to contain every single artifact ever recovered. I am fairly certain there is not a single centuries-old clay pot in all of Westphalia I have not seen. I believe the museum curators were hoping that people would blur on the details after a while: I am positive I saw three distinct displays marked “typical middle class kitchen implements” all containing pots identical to the displays marked “typical upper class kitchen implements” and “typical lower class kitchen implements” that would inevitably flank them.
Next day we hit a small town called “Zons” which was founded in 1378 primarily as a means for the local Archbishop to extort customs duty from Rhine river traffic. As it was one of the few areas in the heavily industrial Rhineland to not get the snot bombed out of it during the last major bit of Continental unpleasantness, it is still a well preserved fortress town.
The Rhine itself has silted up over the years, so that it is now a few hundred metres away from the old city gates. That doesn’t stop Zons from being proud of its honourable history.
Just outside of town is a wonder of modern art – the Schweinebrunnen or “Pig Fountain.” This commemorates the 1577 “Pig War” between Zons and the soldiers of the archbishop of Cologne (what with the cathedral in its third century of construction, he had nothing better to do than steal pigs?) The Zons-folk won, too late to rescue the hogs, these having presumably been dispatched to the mud-pit in the sky.

Just in case you can’t make out the details in the photo, that is indeed the proud Zons commander, being carried to victory atop the backs of a disciplined battalion of swine-troopers. I think he's overdoing it though - the "Washington crossing the Potomac" pose is a little (dare I say it?) hammy, don't you think?

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