Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Historical importance, indeed

This one is for Christopher, whose memories of the cathedral in Cologne prompted me to tell my own anecdote about our visit there.

Darwin and I visited Cologne in the spring of 1999. Our train trip into Germany was an ordeal by non-reservation -- after tooling about laid-back Austria and Italy, no one had told us that the Germans would reserve every seat on the train. We squeezed in the corridor (along with everyone else who didn't reserve) and spent all night trying to melt into the wall to let a group of drunk Americans tromp back and forth to the lavatory. A memorable, if not comfortable, ride.

The press had lightened by the time we were approaching Cologne. Finally able to sit down in a compartment, we glued ourselves to the window, thrilled by the sight of the spires that suggested an end to our journey. But as the miles of fields stretched onward and the spires loomed ever larger and larger, our impatience to be there paled before the realization of the massive scale of the dom. The fact that we could see it meant not that we were close, but that it was mind-bogglingly, humblingly huge.

In the paved plaza before the cathedral, we strolled about amidst the other tourists, feeling dwarfish. And then, we saw it. At our feet was stone, almost indistinguishable from every other stone in the plaza, except that it was engraved. In English. We reached for the camera.

The photographic proof of this is now matted and framed in the kitchen. Every day we see it, in the triple frame between the statue of Anonymous from Budapest and the fountain from the same plaza. And almost every day we wonder: What does it mean? Who put it there? And why didn't he know whether or not it was a place of historical importance? Was he implying that one day it would be a place of historical importance? That at this moment it was a place of historical importance and he just didn't know it yet?

The one who laid the stone was a careful man, hedging his bets. He allows that historical importance might spring from, yea, this very moment, and yet he does not assume that the moment is already historical. He leaves a monument in case one day history will come back to vindicate his cautious assessment of its possible progress. And yet he leaves no name, so he will not be blamed if history proves to be a bitch and fails to provide that place with any import.

Here's some interesting history on the Cologne cathedral as well as a fascinating historical image.

The official cathedral website -- the English page, I think. There's a 3o minute documentary which one can watch in English with lots of great history and pictures.


christopher said...

I'm even more baffled now! I was thinking it was a rock that had been placed there, I didn't realize it was set into the pavement. Somebody somewhere has to know what/who/when/why. How hard have you tried to find out? Have you tried emailing the cathedral office?

David L Alexander said...

My father was a payroll officer with the US Air Force, during the latter years of the Occupation in Germany (1952-53). He visited the cathedral of Cologne when it was still in ruins. He used to tell us of how he met with a priest-friend of his from the seminary, and how on a Sunday morning, Dad served for the priest for a private Low Mass at a side altar.

This account made me remember that anecdote. Thanks.

Emily J. said...

In high school I visited Cologne as part of a track team. We had one day to explore the city, and I was the only one who went to the cathedral. Everyone else went shopping. I never saw the stone, but for some reason I remember there being an Andy Warhol exhibit either at or near the cathedral, although my memory has been known to be faulty.

CMinor said...

It beats "On this site on (insert date) nothing happened."

I love the idea of a statue dedicated to Anonymous. He's (she's?) one of my favorite poets!

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I love the idea of a statue dedicated to Anonymous. He's (she's?) one of my favorite poets!

Totally. Much better than that copycat Ibid.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Mysterious. Intriguing. I so want to know who put it there and why.

Enbrethiliel said...


Look what I found:

Mystery solved? =)

Melanie Bettinelli said...


Thank you. Curiosity satisfied.