Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Stained Glass Windows

Maybe this is a part of life that creeps up on you like indigestion or gout, but as I've got older recently (ie heading toward fifty) I've found myself appreciating stained glass windows. And - perhaps more surprisingly - I don't admitting that. I don't care for the religious themes but that's not the point. The amazing craft, skill and artwork involved is what I find sometimes truly astonishing, especially given the level of technology available at the time. I've always been a fan of the flying buttress as an architectural device, and I'm sure this has prolonged the life of many structures - mostly churches - supported by the vast pressures exerted by them. So admiration too must be extended to the stained glass window artists of the churches.

A trip to Cologne Cathedral will surely inspire anyone with similar feelings about a) architects b) artists or c) anyone working with the technology of the Middle Ages. Cologne Cathedral is MASSIVE: the twin towers can be seen from miles away and the whole structure is eye-wateringly awesome. Imagine approaching that on foot or by horse. We are talking serious landmarks here. Inside the stained glass windows are colossal, and it's only really when I went closer to look at them in detail - like, for instance, having a good look at the brush work or Van Gogh or Mondrian - that I began to appreciate the artistry involved. Have a look at the scene on the left: look at those blues and greens and the various tints involved, and the sophistication of the scene. It's amazing.

Cologne Cathedral is one of the great churches of the world. It's cavernous inside, enormous outside and it's finished to the most
incredible detail. The statues carved into the arches, the lion's head doorknobs, the studded doors.. again, Cologne is one of those places I'd been meaning to go to for 25 years and never found myself there. I was impressed. The cathedral is the first place to head for when you get into town. See it early, get inside and then go back again and again. Its scale is really quite something. It's difficult to fit all of it into pictures and yet it's so distinctive at the same time. Remember too, just to bring the war back into it, that the Allies bombed Cologne flat. The cathedral is a reminder of what a powerhouse Cologne would have been before those unfortunate decades of the 20th century. It's a symbol of solid wealth, solid faith, solid workmanship: of architecture, art and aspiration made real. And the city around it is a treat too. The symphony hall is a wooden-lined splendour; the tram system a marvel of functionality and efficiency and the Rhine is a dividing line between modern and medieval:  business districts of glass and steel and email looking over at wood and stone  and stamps and candlesnuffers on the other.

But it's not a schizophrenic place. Cologne wears it well: alongside the vast cathedral the white Inter City Express trains glide to rest after their almost noiseless dash across the German landscape, with those towers looming ever larger. It's a wonderful place to spend a couple of days. Take my advice and check it out.
Get a few beers from a kiosk in the city for the end of your day, but don't ask for dark beer (dunkel beer). Locals may suspect you come from Dusseldorf, a fierce footballing rival a few miles away, and stove your head in. (For those who like dunkel beer, like me, it's available from a kiosk on the Altmarkt, and nowhere else...)
Be careful out there. Apparently this rivalry is real..

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