… and we built shopping malls where there were once houses. So begins a nine-day trip to Germany, to Bonn (for a meeting), Cologne and Essen. The very first thing one sees stepping out of the central train station in Cologne is of course the famous Cologne cathedral. The cathedral is much larger than any cathedral I know of in France, and a quick glance at Wikipedia reveals why: it was completed at the end of the 19th century, when our knowledge of engineering and our ability to cast steel beams (I suppose) was significantly more advanced. One could at last make very large cathedrals without running into annoying problems like they did at Beauvais with bits of the building collapsing (Beauvais cathedral was never actually finished and inside there are many wooden beams holding the building together).
Cologne cathedral, I learned, is the most visited tourist attraction in Germany (presumably because of the close proximity of the train station). Inside, tourists are confined to a tiny corner of the building. It means there are terrible crowds, which is ironic because gothic cathedrals were invented by Abbé Suger as essentially a crowd-control technique, a way to get as many of the faithful as quickly as possible around the relics in the shortest possible time. In Cologne, it seems, tourists do not benefit from this innovation.
The centre of Cologne, of course, was terribly destroyed in the war, and afterwards not much thought seems to have been given as to how to rebuild it. So it goes, as a certain American writer might have said.