Monday, October 20, 2008

Wanderin' Solo

The following entry was written on October 13:

Two weeks in Bonn. Two months in country. Two hundred German words remembered. Two thousand lessons learned. Too much to tell.

For the complete photo album click here.

Saturday I set out to explore the city. I didn’t have a destination for the day. I just set my feet in a direction and decided to find out what I would find next. It was weirdly liberating to travel alone. I love sharing the experience with someone, but to just take off without any real reasoning or discussion about where I was headed was a new experience and it led me to these places in pursuit of glorious Fall colors and a mental map of my new home.

The Bonn Art Museum, or maybe a Bond villain’s lair. It could be both. That’d be one evil megalomaniac who protected his world-taking-over apparatus with a massive collection of Rembrandts. I didn’t actually go in though. The sun was shining. Indian Summer (Roman Summer?) was in full swing and I decided to save exploring inside the museums for a cold, wet and rainy day (an inevitable feature of German winter).

The German White house. This was once the home of the West German Chancellor but now houses international dignitaries who visit the UN campus just down the road. Bonn is full of reminders of its former importance on the national stage. To be fair, it’s still important. There are still many national offices that didn’t relocated to Berlin after unification, but the massive museums and UN campus would seem out of place in any other, comparably sized German city.

This is outside the Museum Köning, a zoological museum in town that was started by the rich son of some noble who had nothing better to do than collect as many dead animals as possible, and I’m grateful that he did. At some point soon I’ll be diving into the collections. The place functions as Bonn’s zoo with animals in naturalistic poses and habitats, but you can find that at Cabella’s or Bass Pro Shop. What you can’t find at those other places are beaver gargoyles. And that is why this museum will soon get my money.

The Bad Godesberg. Every town in Germany has an iconic castle. This is one of Bonn’s, constructed in the 13th century and blown to smitherines by the Bavarians in the 15th.

This sign was along the trail leading to the fortress explaining the source of the random pimple of rock the castle sits on. Gotta love engaging geological signage. Of course I gave my one Euro to climb to the top and take a gander at the whole Rhein river valley which involved a series of steep wooden staircases suspended eighty feet above the brick floor. But the climb rewarded me with a sweeping view of the forest just starting to change hues. On the way back down the Berg I saw the unassuming chapel to St. Michael: But the inside was festooned plaster sculpture and fresco. It sits just below the castle and features a sculpture of St. Michael squishing the devil with his heel. The Germans seem to really enjoy imagery of St. George and St. Michael, I think because the artists really like fleshing out a struggling dragon or devil as a break from the more standard angelic and saintly figures.

The “Kleines Theater” or “Small Theater” on the border of a beautiful public park. The theater is putting on “My Fair Lady” in a few weeks, a tidbit I found out by striding into the theater office and asking the woman behind the counter for a schedule of performances (“Haben Sie eine Heft mit die…performance?...Datum, bitte?” "Do you have a booklet with the performance dates?. She just started at me blankly (as I expected). Then she continued staring. She didn’t as for clarification. I saw the schedule on the desk and slowly reached my hand out for it, feeling any sudden movements might stress her out more than my presence already had. “Ah, das ist perfect. Danke! Tchuss!” She didn’t say a word. Maybe she only spoke English? Or maybe she was trying to figure out if she could win a bet by improving my accent to Teutonic perfection.

I then wandered along the Rhein, biding my time for sunset. I watched a bit of Bocce, vaguely hoping to get in on a game. There’s a very specific technique everyone uses. You squat down and hold the suspend the ball in front of yourself, keeping your arm level and your palm down. Then you toss the thing with a backspin. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to correctly use the technique, so I wandered off to wait for the sky to change colors. I wasn’t disappointed.

On Sunday I went to Cologne (Köln) with the vague notion of going to mass at the Dom, the symbol of Cologne and an architectural wonder of the world. As soon as you step off the train the massive building swathed in buttresses and gargoyles soars above you. I was actually running a bit late for 10 AM mass and hurried up the steps. Inside a cluster of tourists were being held back by ushers dressed in red robes, preventing flashes from distracting the worshipers. I figured I could get in if I made it clear I was there for the service. Should I prove my Catholicism with the Sign of the Cross, or maybe by reciting the Hail Mary?

As it turned out, a knowing nod of the head was all I needed to get to the pews. As the choir sang the psalm, I could finally settle and let myself take in the staggering grandeur of the building. Hundreds of statues, dozen of stained glass windows all drawing my eyes upwards to the distant vault above me. These images can’t begin to convey the scale of the Dom:

After mass I only got to wander for about a half-hour before being shooed out by the ushers in anticipation of the next service. It’s free to get to Cologne. Needless to say, this place needs a couple of viewings to really let it all soak in.


Michael J said...

I have to say that "getting a mental picture" of my surroundings is a must when moving to a new area. It's great to hear about all the history that's around Bonn.

I also have to admit that I, like the Germans, enjoy depictions of St. Michael smiting devils as well.

Matt said...

I've always been a bit jealous of people named "George" and "Michael" simply because their iconography is so cool.

As the patron of writers, Matthew is always poised with a quill, his angelic symbol sitting nearby. Of course, if the pen really is mightier than the sword, then I should probably see St. Matt as a total BA.