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the beautiful destruction

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Pictured: A contemplative Mr. Newton, reflected in glass, relaxing on a train bound for Cologne, Germany.

It's mid-morning on Thursday the 15th of September and the sun has crested the mountains that shelter the Rhine Valley. Alongside the river, ancient castles sprout from the hillsides, spying on the valley below; small villages are arranged like rows of neatly planted crops along the banks of the river. The train is quiet and fast. The air is thick but still. It's hard to imagine the freedom of two weeks on vacation (um, holiday). The pressure to make the most of your time, and partake in something incredible or life-changing is somewhat daunting. However, I'm up to the challenge.

Michelle, my wife, is my co-pilot on this trip. I was going to say she's the navigator, but I've discovered I have an affinity for reading maps and have been taking charge of our walking routes.

We're bound for Cologne on the recommendation of a fellow passenger, a young and friendly German woman, who insisted we couldn't miss seeing Cologne during our travels. She mentioned that we "must" see The Dom--a massive medieval church built before the time of The Crusades.

The Dom in Cologne
Pictured: The Dom in Cologne, as seen from the front doors of the train station. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the whole building in one picture.

One of the most astounding things to me about Germany (and Europe for that matter)is its sense of history. American culture is still relatively wet-behind-the-ears, a mere 225 or so years old. The history is palpable inside a building like The Dom in Cologne. Statues of knights line the walls, ornate stained glass designs glisten in the sunlight, and intricate mosaic patterns are embedded in the hard concrete floors. The remains of bishops and medeivel clerics are kept here for safe keeping. Centuries of warfare have somehow left the building unscathed. But also, the strange cultural juxtaposition in a city like Cologne is sometimes just as interesting as the history itself.

Several blocks from The Dom, there are souvenir shops, McDonalds (of course), and a host of German fast food spots. And life goes on, rumbling in the foreground of a city that, upon a quick glance, looks no different than any American city on an average workday. Morning commuters tear past in tiny cars, and pedestrians file through the streets, rushing to their next destination. Oblivious mothers wreck their strollers into your shins; businessmen talk on cell phones while walking, smoking cigarettes, and talking with their hands. Life among the living can feel cold, wherever your coordinates may be on the global map.

But, just as at home, warmth can be found in like-minded individuals. After walking a handful of blocks into the city, Michelle and I stumbled across a small vegetarian restaurant--the first we've seen so far. The woman working the counter was kind, speaking with us at length about the different food available. I ate chick pea stew and drank a small bottle of Coca-Cola (how American of me). Michelle opted for water and a bowl of split pea soup. The resaurant was cozy, part Bohemian, part art deco design. I felt relaxed.