Cologne Cathedral - ever unfinished business
Cologne Cathedral is the most notable landmark in Cologne, and is renowned all across Germany.
Building work began in the 13th century, when Cologne was a wealthy city on a major pilgrimage route. The city wanted to build the largest Gothic cathedral of all. Today, it still dominates Cologne and will continue to do so - no building, however important, may be higher than the Kölner Dom.
Work began in 1248 but, 300 years later, stonemasons were forced to give up. There was a lack of both funding and political will. It took another 400 years before work on the cathedral resumed and the cathedral reached its planned height of 157 metres. The cathedral was severely damaged during the Second World War, when much of central Cologne was destroyed in the heavy allied bombing. In many ways, it was remarkable that the cathedral itself survived.
Today, the repair work to the cathedral is a never-ending task. Even now, some of the wartime damage is being repaired. In addition the cathedral itself needs constant renewal. In a workshop next to the cathedral, 70 craftsmen are employed to maintain it. The work involved in reproducing the sculptures is painstaking - an artist can sometimes spend weeks on just a single statue. A series of elevators carry restorers and builders from ground level to the upper parts of the cathedral. Many of the figures on the walls up here - invisible from the ground - are far from sacred. Some are self-portraits of the stoneworkers themselves; one carving even commemorates the 1966 World Cup.
Klaus Hardering, an art historian, has written at length about the intricate beauty of the cathedral, the Dom. As Hardering points out: "Our work here is never finished. It never can be. We already know that everyone alive today will never see this cathedral without scaffolding. And quite rightly so, since all the people of Cologne know that once the cathedral construction is completed, the world will come to an end."
Guided tours of the cathedral:
Mon-Thur10am, 1pm, Fri 1pm
Meeting point: inside main entrance
The cathedral is situated next to Cologne main train station.
Official website of the cathedral. History, picture gallery and service times. In English and German.
Social centre run by the cathedral's parish. Everyone is invited to find a moment of peace. In German.
Great views of the cathedral and its scaffolding. In German.