Cologne

Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Germany  ,
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I putzed around the neighborhood for a while, sat on the hotel balcony and watched the sun set through the leaves while writing a quick journal entry. Then I set myself to the task of finding a room in Cologne (Koln- which I can now almost pronounce). Two hours of frustration later I finally have a reservation- at which point the hotel desk clerk (he is subbing here, not a regular) advises me of a great reservation spot that the hotels all use: great, I now have it, with one city to go- live and learn.

I decide to just go around the corner and simply eat. I'm hungry. So I sit outside shivering in my coat and eat Mexican food- I've missed and I like it. I spend time staring at the large fountain in the square, noting how the water changes the color of the street lights across the square and wonder why we don't have more fountains in the US.

I read a bit, and decide to go to my new favorite bar (the old guys place) even if there is chance of Klaus or Reihholt being there. I sit at the bar, have a companionable chat with the bartender (who wants to know if I had sex last night- gee! I advise no and he laughs) we talk about Philly, and off to bed early.

Today, check out (and my credit card doesn't work- used the back up- gonna have to deal with that when I hit Koln). I also got an e mail from Mary (biological mother) that she has relatives in Koln, she gives me their numbers and I promise to look them up.

Usual train frenzy, but I seem to be on the right one, for now- it gets re configured in Bonn, something the Eurail people warn about in their advice book, so I have to be alert to see if I must move to a new car, or I could be off to parts unkown.

Done lots of thinking about book structure and plan to spend the 4 hours in productive writing! We shall see what I accomplish.
---
Well, the answer to that question is not a lot. I just spent hours re reading my Diary. Its up to 160 pages. I didn't write, I read. Am trying to note themes, changes, glean something from it before working on it- nothing much came except a lot of memories (which is good). I do see theme of loneliness, food, art appreciation/boredom, odd times at gay bars, and unfulfilled searching. Is this enough for a book! Gonna take more work than I thought. Battery on computer almost empty (and I note I use excuses like that when I don't want to write what I am thinking- even if excuse is true). More than halfway to Koln, will eat and read and stare out the window.


Arrived in Cologne (Koln) and after limited wandering found my hotel, where of course they had no record of my reservation and noted they were booked because of a big 'convention' in town. This time I wasn't so nice. I didn't throw a fit, but since this has happened over and over in Germany, I was adamant that I had a confirmation in my computer and was willing to prove it. I eventually got a room, smaller, with bath down the hall, but I wasn't about to go out looking at 6 on a Sunday evening in a 'booked' town. Period.

Settled in, walked the Marketplace- very quaint. Koln is a small town, my hotel is one block from the Cathedral (Dom), two blocks from the train, half a block to the Marketplace (Alt). I walked a few hours and basically saw all of Koln that night! Had a currywurst (yum), a few beers, and rounded out the evening with a gyro (my jeans are not quite so loose anymore, but I don't care).

Today, breakfast and out, into a driving rain. Coming down in torrents. Went to the Dom (which was closed for Mass) and decided that in the cold and wind only one thing could be done- I went shopping! Up the upscale street and poked around before buying a scarf, gloves, and warm sweater. Of course, by the time I was done, the rain stopped, wind calmed, and it became balmy! Much like the umbrella from Brussels I guess I fooled the weather gods as now all the things I bought are going into my backpack as its too warm to wear them. Ah well, heading to England next, where no doubt they will get use.

Back to the Dom which was now open. Its hard to describe a place like this- I think it is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, the stained glass is legendary and pictures just don't do it justice. Mammoth, with an exterior that is overwrought in stone, and an interior so large that the pictures I took simply didn't come out - it was too big for the flash to reach places.

Saw the great reliquary of The Magi (yup, someone in the Crusades somehow snagged all the Magi's bones and sent them home- much like the True Cross, I have my doubts, but it was cool to see). I then decided between the Tour in English or climbing the Bell Tower. I am terrified of heights, so, up the belltower I went. I want to challenge myself.

Am I a fool?

Anyway, small spiral stairs that go up- forever. Somewhere in my full fledged panic attack (little windows give out to let you know how high you really are- and the stairs are claustrophobic and dizzying in their unending spiral) I made it to the bell tower landing. The largest working bell in Europe is there, again, impossible to describe nor do pictures give the scale- four stories high perhaps? How in the HELL did they get it up there in the Middle Ages? They were living in little one room thatched cottages, the engineering is mind boggling. As I was catching my breath, holding my chest (banging heart), it was 3 o'clock and a 'smaller' bell suddenly rang out. I was next to it. I nearly went through the 900 year old stone walls. People were screaming and shrieking. Oh, it was fun.

Then, more spiral staircase and higher and higher. I made to the top which is surprisingly lacy and open (at night it is lit from within and breathtaking). I clutched the walls, walked around (and I wasn't the only one freaking out from the height) and started down.

The whole thing, an hour and forty five minutes- not for the faint of heart, nor the weak of legs.

I staggered out, literally, to the Platz: The Dom is surrounded by paved areas and the only problem with that is the skateboards, the area swarms with kids who seem to be targeting tourists and the noise breaks the stillness of the Dom. Before WWII the city came right up to the edges of the Cathedral. During the bombing, somehow everything in the city was destroyed, the Cathedral never took a hit and the buildings right up to the edges of its walls were knocked down into rubble. In place of that rubble is now vast swaths of concrete- and skateboards.

Dodging the skateboards and Japanese tourists, I lef the Dom and went to an internet café where I booked a room in London.

I next meet a very distant cousin of Mary's (and thus mine) who lives in Koln and is the family genealogist for her fathers side of the family (they come from Germany) for a beer and some chat. Should be interesting.


Coffee with 'cousin' Ernst and long discussion of family history on Mary's side. We go back to the Hesse area of Germany, the towns of Alsfeld (from the 1700's) and before that Wetter (1580). There are still relatives in both towns and he encouraged me to come back and visit. It was fascinating but only to me so I'll spare the details.

Something happened later this night. I have been writing sparsely, getting caught in my own thoughts and not willing to share them. So, while, entries have been brief, the thoughts have been deep, but kept to myself.

I went out, had a new schnitzel from the schniztel lady I like (no language to share between us, but we delight in my trying new foods with her special toppings). I had a beer and headed towards the hotel. And the rain started again.

I went to the Internet café, wrote to some people who have supported me so much throughout this trip, and felt better, connected in a way. I walked back toward the hotel and stood in the platz before the Cathedral. The skies opened. Raindrops hit my umbrella so hard, that they exploded through the fabric and began to wet my face and hair. I didn't care and just stared at the Cathedral, which I think I love more than any other I have seen. The words my distant cousin, Ernst, said earlier rang in my head "Its an ugly cathedral. All black and white, no color" (which it is). It is not 'pretty'. On the Rhine they build Cathedrals in sandstone and they have color."

In the dark pouring rain, I was alone staring at it, unlike in the rain in Paris at Notre Dame where hordes still gathered about the Cathedral. The Koln cathedral is a massive pile that rises up and doesn't look 'built' but rather 'carved down' out of a solid block, nothing could be built up like that. Like one of those churches carved out of a Cliffside in Turkey, it rises like a mound of rock.

Spot-lit from all around, the colors suddenly came out for me. It was black and white, yes. But also shades of pink, salmon, grey, cream, bone. A gust of wind tore my umbrella apart and ripped my fingers -which I stuck in my mouth to stop the bleeding. And the rain came down in waves. And I stared up at the Cathedral.

I was the only person in the platz. The huge spotlights showed the rain descending in torrential waves and I thought that for over a thousand years this building has withstood this, and so much more (the pictures of WWII are astounding). And suddenly I was soaked. And the wind gusted through me. And I and the cathedral stared at each other.

I don't know what this means, but in that moment, it was ok, for the first time since being here, to be alone.

Somehow I communed.

And now I sit in the hotel, water running off of my hair and down my forehead, dripping onto my cold naked body (I stripped off everything and turned on the computer rather than dry off). I don't quite know what happened, but something did. And I'm ok.

Don't know for how long. But I am ok.

Rain, wind, war, people, can all swirl around, but some things remain- solid, strong, there: not pretty, but there. Weathered to be sure. Blackened by time. But standing. Solitary, windswept, but there.

I am here.


Where do we get strength? And what really IS strength anyway? I know of so many people, friends that I love, who are fighting so many battles that vary in content and cause, and feel so utterly alone in their efforts. And yet they fight on. We fight on. In some ways, we are all cathedrals, standing for a hundred, or a thousand years, whatever our time span, worn by time and elements, but we are there.

Perhaps that is the mark of success- survival, standing. Despite deaths that rip out the heart, destruction that sears the soul beyond surcease, pain that leaves unhealing marks, loss that strikes to the foundations, ridicule that causes one to question the very fundament of the altar: we stand.

So I stood in the rain and wind.

Alone in the night but standing.

In some ways I want to go back out and stand there again- but I fear that moment is gone. I fear finding out that this time the rain and wind will win.

I hope I can remember that feeling of 'standing', when I need to, in the future.

I hope my flying buttresses of friends and family, my gargoyles of love and companionship that shunt the waters away, will remain.

I've stood this long, I can stand longer.


I realize now that I left on this trip because in some ways I felt I couldn't 'stand' things any longer. Too much loss, too much grief. Too much pain. I don't have any answers to the questions I left with: and I now understand all too well that you can do a journey like this and end up with more questions than those with which you left. But perhaps it's not the questions, nor really the answers that really matter.

Perhaps it is the willingness to look, to ask, to not know. Perhaps that, in one small way, is part of the wonder of life.


I may never know the answers to the things that drove me to this course of action. It may be a part of the human condition that we are not supposed to know the answers- something that has been said by wise men before I realize- but knowing and feeling are different things. I may never know. But perhaps, perhaps, I am asking the wrong questions. I may not need to know the 'why': but I may need to know something else- but that is a new question I cannot comprehend or formulate at this point. I may not be able to fix the past, change what I did or failed to do, raise the dead or at least say what needed to be said. And in some cases, I DID say what needed to be said, but that brought no comfort to the dying or to me.

What is, is. What will be, well, I cannot be trite and say anything beyond, it is in my hands to some extent; and not at all in my hands in others.

And maybe, regardless of what I do, in the end, it will be alright.

Maybe it is the 'frame of reference' that I apply that will determine everything. I can't understand why some things have happened. I can't understand why love has been torn from my hands, like my umbrella, by wind, leaving my hands bloody. I can't understand why my foundations have been rocked by bombs falling all around when I never asked for such things. But I can stand. I can look to the future and stand. And be weathered; left perhaps 'black and white' to most, but at times, glowing with color when caught in just the right light on a windswept rainy night.

It might be time to go forward and not look back.

Which are the tears running down my face and which are the raindrops falling from my hair? Does it matter?

I can stand.

-------------------------------------------------
Train to London

I woke this morning once again to the sound of the bells of the Cathedral. Every morning around 8 o'clock they ring out. I don't know the reason why, but rather than just strike the hour, they peal out, all of them, for about 15 minutes. I am only a block away and the noise filters into the room with the sound of construction and traffic. The first time I was confused and couldn't figure out why the hell the bells just rang and rang, with no melody or song, and why they rang for so long. I haven't asked, and I don't want to know. All I know is that waking to the sound of bells is a lovely thing-

So, breakfast (groggy at that, not a good nights sleep, I had to let some things go in the dark of that hotel room *and that, my friend, is the most important phrase written in this entire journal*), shower down the hall, packing, the minutae of travel. Hiked to the train, got tickets, and I must say, did so without a real problem, and off.

I am eager to be back in London. I have said before and say again, I miss English and I miss understanding what is going on around me. Perhaps I needed to get far enough away not only in geography but also in language so that I was alone enough to really feel isolation- not the isolation of being alone on a beach for an hour or two, knowing that a group of friends awaits by a fire at the end of the day, but isolated. They are different feelings: that is why we have different words. Being isolated by language and unable to share thought is different than being alone. But some journeys require isolation.

Forever fixed in my minds eye are two co-existing pictures which I will describe, and then let this subject be. One is my view of the Cathedral last night lit up in the rainstorm. At the same moment is a view from far away on the platz, of a tiny person standing facing the enormity of the cathedral and storm.

I spent much of the rest of the night finally facing down a few things. I kept thinking, as I have before, could I have done this on a nice little retreat to a cabin somewhere in the woods? That wasn't for me. And suddenly, as I write this, I recall the guy in the bar in, where was it, Alabama? Mississippi? who was telling me about his 'moment' and how it came to him in a cabin in the snow up in the mountains when he was all alone? Funny to recall that now. I think we all have to have our moment indeed, and mine was in a small cathedral town in Germany.

Someday I might share what I found out with you.


Made it to Brussels, and by a stroke of travelers luck, got onto an earlier train to London. So now I sit hurtling back towards the Chunnel (in second class, no nice lady with a bottle of wine or offer of champagne going in this direction- rather a plastic bottle of Perrier and a baguette) watching the French countryside hurtle by in reverse.

Where was I? Yes, I am eager to get back to London. Already I sense a change in me as I hear perky little English accents. Of course, I forgot that England is on the Pound, not Euro, and my pockets have Euros. I packed the Pounds away somewhere deep and dark within the recesses of my backpack- something to navigate later I suppose. But I can navigate in English! Hooray!

Already (in the Chunnel now) I feel the need to 'sum up', to 'make decisions' and so on (part of what they drum into you in Law School- a good summary). Not yet. Everyone asks what I'm going to do next. I still don't know. I do know one decision I have made, that is to be more open to what the Universe has in store for me, to try and if not recapture some of the wonder and excitement I used to have for life (for when that is gone, it is gone and will never be brought back by any amount of prayer) to at least grow a new sense of the magic that really exists in the world, if we but look for it, even with forty six year old eyes.

Gosh, I guess I can start summing up (as I stare at the blackness of the Chunnel) as I've been dropping notes to myself all along:

Ride a bike.
Take on a real cause.
When the world sucks, hold the mirror up to me and change the face I present the world.
Let go of the past.
Look for magic in the workings of the world.
Eat well, not plentifully, and see beauty in food and company.
Deplore war.
Be nice to tourists when they are lost

I bet there are more, as I re read I may find them. It's a good start though.
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