Sunday, January 18, 2009

Celebrating with mass-es

There is one place you know will be open on Christmas Eve: Church. There was one church in particular that I knew would be open for midnight mass on Christmas Eve: The Cologne Dom. I’ve exalted the beauty of the Dom previously here and previously here, and I wanted my family to experience what I believe is one of the most inspiring monuments to God constructed by puny human hands and minds.

Here is the is the the doors...

And see all the people! Or a least the people who will soon be in that church and under that steeple. Everyone in their Christmas best (and layered)!

Thanks to previous experience I also knew two key facts: The Dom is a popular place and it is not well insulated. With music and carols cuing up at 11:30, we knew we should be ready to troop in when the doors opened at 11. Therefore, guided by Brigitte, we crossed the bridge over the Rhine around 10. The Dom stood high on the bank, guiding us to her with solemn floodlights highlighting her soaring buttresses and spires. I made sure everyone knew the church would probably be chilly and everyone layered accordingly (except Dad).

There was already a blob forming outside the church doors – remember the German aversion to standing in line - and there were two hours to lapse before the Archbishop was set to walk down the aisle. Carolyn and I left the family waiting in blob while we strolled around the intimidating exterior. By the time we came back, the blob was growing and getting more compact. Josh and Mom then wandered to look at the gargoyles and I tried to create extra shoulder room so they could get back in. As the minutes fell away, the anticipation of the crowd morphed into momentum toward the door. A Schweizer – Dom guard, literally “Swiss” as in guard – finally swung the threshold open and we moved. Or maybe I should say we stampeded.

The crush through the entrance fragmented our group as it became clear it was every man (or woman) for himself (or herself…there’s an essay about defaulting to the masculine as a neuter pronoun coming someday). I’ve never been to a Who concert, but I’m pretty sure rushing the Dom is the closest I will ever come to the experience. As I actually went under the lintel, I think I could have picked up my feet and been carried through by the my neighbors’ shoulders.

Once we got into the nave, things spread out and the Borths family re-rallied and charged for the pews. I laid my eyes on an open bench about mid-way into the church, but was halted by an Italian couple that was waffling on the space I was eying and another. Another family slipped in behind them and dove into my spot! Italians! My Dad grabbed a spot, dragging Josh and Mom with him. Carolyn and I slid into the final two spots in the pew in front of them. Whew. Everyone had a spot. Now we could watch as people continued to stream into the church and jockey for standing positions around the outskirts. Despite being one of the largest churches in Europe, there really isn’t a lot of seating in the Dom. It was originally constructed so a constant stream of pilgrims could see the remains of the three wise men, not so that a couple hundred people could attend mass.

The music was epic, the incense was intense, actual candles flickered high on the walls of the church…even if I didn’t understand German, I would have had sensory overload. Fortunately I do understand a little German so I could recognize and understand the familiar litany of dates that open midnight mass (753 years since the founding of Rome, 27 years since Caesar Augustus was made emperor etc.) and get the gist of the dynamic Archbishop’s homily. Then came Communion.

There are two factors to remember: Germans don’t que instinctively like Brits and Americans and there were a ton of people in the Dom. As the priests flarned across the church, alter boys fell in behind them toting candles on tall poles. The priests were quickly mobbed by eager parishioners. A priest stopped immediately next to the pew Carolyn and I were sitting in. This meant we had to weave over and past our pew-mates to get to the priest who presented the host as we half-leaned from the pew, then double back. The alterboy tried to act as crowd control, funneling people to the priest, but the jockeying mass pushed into him, causing the candle he was carrying to sway over everyone’s heads.

Fortunately the Sacrament was concluded without flames or physical injuring to clergy or Catholic.

After mass we wandered around the Dom trying to resuscitate our frigid limbs and numb digits. We saw the chapels and medieval art, then were shoed out by the guards who, I’m assuming, wanted to be with their families as much as the Rewe employees.

The next morning was, of course, Christmas day. It dawned green and cloudy as predicted by every German I talked to. Coffee, bacon and cinnamon rolls were served and presents were exchanged. I won’t detail the list of gifts, but it was really a very full exchange given the premium placed on space when crossing the Atlantic. I will tell you about the scarf I received from Josh celebrating that-school-up-north he attends. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to wear it. Everyone also received ornaments so we could fill out our tree just a wee bit. Fortunately it wasn’t a very full tree, so our dozen ornaments didn’t look lost among the branches.
Carolyn and I trying on Josh's "gifts." You can see him flashing his dimple on the edge of the frame. I think its important to observe Carolyn and I are also sporting free Ohio State gear as our PJs. Our support for the Alma Mater has not evaporated yet, despite the colors we wear on head and neck.

After breakfast we drove into Bonn so I could give a brief tour of my daily haunts. Everyone got to troupe into my office and squint at the 130 million-year-old claws I’m working on. I also introduced the family to the cave bear (Höhlenbär) that greets me every morning when I walk in.

A reminder of the castle that is part of my daily routine.

Showing the family my office. Carolyn is contemplating my Cretaceous world map which is covered with cartoons of extinct animals (and German). She could be thinking, "Huh, I didn't know ichthyosaurs ever got that big." or "Wow, Europe wasn't that far from North America 75 million years ago." or "I'm dating a hopeless nerd."

We then took a turn back into town. The Christmas Market had evaporated leaving nothing but the scent of rotten garbage. The market square seemed vast after a month of seeing it crammed with stalls and rides. The Kaufhof still had their windows decorated though, so there was a reminder that it was Christmas day. Everyone needed a little pick-me-up before getting home to cook dinner, so we found Starbucks was open and went to get some caffeine.

Starbucks confronted me with a bit of conundrum. The menu is in English with drinks like, “Dark Chocolate, Cherry Latte.” I can say that in German by just spitting out each word, or should I order in English in my American accent? I want to make an effort to participate in German culture. How do the Germans order at Starbucks? There were no handy Germans to lead us off, so I mused and tried to figure out my order. My parents and Josh were helped by a guy who understood English and got their orders and foam fluffed. Another guy came to Carolyn and I. I started, “Zwei …” “I understand English.” “Oh, uh, well two Dark Chocolate, Cherry Lattes, bitte.”

If we ever become a folk trio, this is the inside of the album. As a reminder, those giant heads are the noggins of St. Florentius and St. Cassius, Roman soldiers who were martyred in Bonn by beheading. More info here.

That evening was spent at the Fortshaus getting Christmas dinner together. The traditional staple of the German Christmas is the goose. Carolyn brought a goose recipe with her from the States. I brought the goose I bought at the supermarket (Hit!) near my dorm (the same goose that likely ticked off my neighbors when they discovered our shared freezer was dominated by poultry). Brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes and gravy accompanied the goose along with Riesling wine from the Ahr Valley. This was followed by the chocolate, caramel torte carefully prepared by Carolyn. Fantastic Christmas. I wouldn’t mind if the goose made regular Christmas appearances when I get home, but I’m not sure about their availability State-side.
The Christmas spread. Norman Rockwell would be so proud.

Never invite a paleontologist or anatomist to dinner if you're going to be dissecting...excuse me, carving your meal unless you want to learn about the loss of the 4th and 5th digit through dinosaur evolution and the fusion of the 2nd and 3rd digit in bird evolution as the wing evolved. You might also learn about the relative size of the sternnal keel and its bearing on efficient flight. Don't say you haven't been warned.

After dinner it was time to get some sleep so we could explore the “Romantic Rhine,” the castle-lined corridor of the Rhine that stands just down river from Bonn. Stay tuned for adventures with the Lorelei, castles and beautiful Boppard


Carolyn said...

I am concentrating far too hard on your office poster to be thinking that you're a nerd. (That would be a bored or exasperated expression.) I think I was trying to find the cave men being chased by the wholly mammoth.

Mama B said...

I think Carolyn was thinking about whether the goosen was going to defrost. Ever.