It was a big deal when I turned 12 years old for two reasons. One: I was allowed to sit in the front of the car now. Not that I got to do it very often as long as my older sisters were around to steal that much desired seat from me at every option. But it did make me feel very grown up when on my 12th birthday I was sitting next to my dad in the front seat of our family car. Two: My dad had made it a rule to take each of us girls on a small trip to a destination of our choice for their 12th birthday, just he and the respective daughter. My oldest sister chose to go to Berlin with him. My middle sister went skiing. And I went with my dad to Cologne. I do not remember why I chose that city, but I have beautiful memories of it.
So when last week I was due to go to a meeting in Düsseldorf, I decided to stop by Cologne for a few hours – just to check if everything was still there, you know. When I got of the train at the main station, I was a bit taken aback by the cold. I had spent the last few days in Southern Germany where Spring had made its first careful appearance, and the icy wind in Cologne came as a bit of a shock. But the sun was shining, and upon leaving the station, the immediate view of the Cathedral erased any doubts as to whether this had been a good idea. It was majestic and elegant, humungous yet delicate. Once more I stood in awe of this magnificent building.
I didn’t enter right away though, since I had absolutely no money on me, not even a coin to lock in my luggage at the train station, so the first thing I did was stroll into town in search of an ATM which proved rather difficult to be found. But who was I to feel annoyed by that. I was in Cologne, I had time on my hands, and walking through the city was fun even with pulling a carry-on the entire time.
Although I only meandered through what seemed to be the shopping district of Cologne, I found the city to be very atmospheric right away. People around me were talking in their funny, jovial Rhineland dialect and I kept listening in on conversations because I love the sound of it. But what made this afternoon most perfect, inspite of the freezing temparatures that sent me on to Düsseldorf with a cold, was the many many street musicians in the pedestrian zone I was walking through. I had to think of Istanbul where I first had the sensation of changing spheres every few meters with a new street musician adding to the moment’s glory.
I recorded a few examples for you. There was a guy with a flute and a few small jingle rings attached to his shoe that he was pounding with rhytmically so that his playing looked like a dance. And one with steel drums right in front of the cathedral that was a lot calmer, and his tune sounded funny in its solemn gravity. My favorite by far was a Klezmer Trio. Klezmer is a music style very dear to my heart which surely is rooted in my affinity to Eastern Europe. There is so much craving and longing, so much ambition in it. I feel that Klezmer is always driving onward, striving for more, urgently pressing to the next note, the next melody. And when it gets there, it is sighing in relief, only to move on right away. It speaks to me because I find myself as a driven spirit in its melodies and rhythms.
After having enjoyed these musical encounters in the pedestrian zone of Cologne’s downtown and having finally found an ATM, I made my way back to the cathedral.
The square in front of it was lively and packed with people. I approached the front gates with their characteristically gothic arches, and as I came closer, I looked up toward the towers reaching for the skies, as though they were actually trying to connect this earthly world to its creator.
I entered the church with many many others – tourists mainly, I suppose, but I don’t think exclusively. At any rate there was still lots of German to be heard. It didn’t feel like visiting the great cathedrals in Italy that I sometimes find deprived of their spirituality due to all the tourists. I found a place where I felt like settling, and sat there for about half an hour with this perspective on the beautiful architecture of the Cologne Cathedral:
I finally got up to move over to the candle stands. I really love the tradition of lighting a candle for someone. When I was still in school, my mother always used to light a candle at home when I had an exam, all the way through my final exam in grad school. She sat it on our dining table and every time she walked by it she would think of me and cross fingers.
I have lit candles in many many churches. To me it is a beautiful manifestation of my thinking and caring about someone. Looking at the stands filled with flickering lights, I was wondering who they had been lit for. I was wondering how many candles had been lit by people for themselves and how many had been lit for someone else. I though that there was maybe a lot of desperation and anxiety behind this – candles lit for people who were ill or had lost perspective and focus. So I thought about people dear to me and lit two candles out of the pure joy of living and experiencing beauty. Lights of gratefulness to shine and impart hope. And I hope amongst the candles were others like mine.