4 Amazing Places in Germany
Koln, Hamburg, Berlin, Neuschwanstein Castle -- a Taste of Germany
Well, geology trips aren't just about the rocks! I've been fortunate to visit some amazing places between outcrops. Here are four amazing places in Germany -- along with some geological perspective. For travel details and tips, I highly recommend Rick Steves' books.
Koln (Cologne) Cathedral
Did you know that Koln Cathedral is the most-visited landmark in Germany? Officially called "Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petrus," the giant Catholic cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage Site was begun in 1248 and, after many delays for many reasons, was completed in 1880 using the original architectural plans drawn in 1300. It is the largest gothic cathedral north of the Alps, and the tallest twin-spired church in the world. Its 515 foot (157 m) tall spires are the third tallest spires in the world! Website. In fact, it was the tallest structure in the world until the Washington Monument was completed in 1884, and the tallest building until the Ulm Cathedral was completed (also in Germany) in 1890.
The cathedral is so big, and is surrounded closely by other buildings of the city, that it's very difficult to photograph. In fact, most of the pictures you find of the front and sides of the cathedral were taken from rooftops. This is the back end from near the river, with the Ludwig Museum and Philharmonic Concert Hall on the left. The train station is just off to the right.
Most of the Medieval stained glass was removed and saved during World War II. A fierce tank battle took place within sight of the cathedral near the end of the war. The cathedral was hit by 17 aerial bombs, requiring years of restoration work.
Even this wide-angle view from the Roncalli Platz (south side) can't capture the whole cathedral! The incredible amount of Gothic detail and the elaborate flying buttresses keep your eye busy just trying to take it all in.
Not only are the spires some of the tallest in the world, they are probably the most intricately detailed.
Here's a closer view of the stone detail. Restoration work has been taking place continuously for the past couple of decades, so that scaffolding always covers part of the edifice.
You'll strain your neck looking up at these amazing sandstone towers! Can you imagine how much this tower must weigh? Sandstone is around 2500 kg (5510 pounds) per cubic meter, so it's easily a million pounds.
The lighter-colored limestone blocks are newer replacements. Over time, urban pollution and dust stain and erode the rock. If you visit enough cathedrals and old structures in Europe, a majority of which were built of limestone, you'll see the same phenomenon -- they all look like they need a bath!
The pollution staining does have its own aesthetics, creating interesting light-versus-shadow patterns all over the structure. The staining includes sulphur compounds and lead from centuries of urban pollution. Thankfully the modern air is much cleaner!
The main doors have statues of the 12 apostles watching over all who enter and exit. The walls are trachyte, and details are sandstone.
this link, you'll see a map of the different building stone used on the cathedral.
On closer inspection you can see that the trachyte is a mass of intertwined glassy blobs. Unfortunately, like most volcanic rocks the glass in the trachyte weathers relatively quickly, although not as quickly as many of the limestones used in other cathedrals (York Minster in England being the most weathered I've ever seen).
The cathedral's location along the Rhine River allowed builders to import the stone of their choice from much of western Germany. The original trachyte quarry has not been accessible since 1922, so restorers have had to choose the closest match they could find, also a trachyte, but from a different lava flow in Italy.
After a centuries-long pause in construction, the upper walls and towers were built from a local sandstone.
On the plazas around the cathedral, I was delighted to see this labradorite. It's a variety of gabbro (commonly referred to as a black granite) with iridescent feldspar crystals. The iridescence is caused by refraction of light in parallel planes of molecules in the crystalline lattice. My kitchen counter-tops are labradorite.
Back down the "underwater" curved moving staircase!
The harbor redevelopment is a brilliant combination of shipping, offices, and residential buildings. It's really charming to explore!
St. Nikolai Church & Memorial
The tallest steeple in Hamburg is St. Nikolai, tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1872. At 147.3-meters (483 ft), it is still one of the tallest steeples in the world, only 32 feet behind the Koln Cathedral discussed above. Only the steeple remains from the Allies' repeated firebombing of Hamburg in July 1943. You can take a lift up to a high observation deck.
Two things brought the RocDoc to St. Nikolai -- first, it houses a somber memorial to the firebombing, and second, I have ancestors who were baptized here and fortunately left Hamburg before the war.
Website. The St. Nikolai Memorial is also on Facebook, with more photos than their website. It tells the story not only of the firebombing and its incredibly tragic results, but it also puts the event into the context of the broader war and the fatal decisions made on both sides. It tells the story in a way I don't believe you'll find anywhere else.
The mosaic on the left is of a drawing by Oskar Kokoschka in 1972, called Ecce Homo ("behold the man"). On the right is the contemplative sculpture called "Ordeal" memorializing those killed in the Sandbostel concentration camp near Hamburg. It rests on bricks taken from the camp's barracks.
This field trip offers a small taste of a few of Berlin's most memorable sites.
The Brandenburg Gate was built in 1791 at the site of one of Berlin's 18 city gates. The old city center with its grandiose architecture is east of the gate. Today it symbolizes Berlin's tumultuous history and eventual unity. This is the west side of the gate.
The statue atop the gate is the "quadriga" chariot with the goddess of victory driving. Napoleon took the Quadriga to Paris, and it was returned to Berlin after he was defeated in 1814. It was heavily damaged in WWII, and later restored.
The RocDoc stands between the black bricks that outline the footprint of the Berlin Wall. One of the most surprising events of my lifetime was the fall of the wall -- we never thought it could happen. Having German grandparents, I had grown up with an understanding of how divisive and important the wall was, and was shocked and delighted at its fall.
These posters, located just west of the Brandenburg Gate, show some of its history. Those of us old enough to have seen it on TV it will never forget the lower scene as Berliners celebrated the fall of communist East Germany. This is also the spot where Pres. Reagan memorably said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
As you walk through the aisles between concrete slabs, you are at times part of the surrounding world and at times isolated from it. Other people are visible, and then disappear. At times you can only see the sky, and at others the long, somber aisles. Are the slabs coffins? Tombs? Headstones? Be sure to walk through this profound monument -- it's an experience you will never forget. Location just south of the Brandenburg Gate: 52.513907, 13.378719
114 metres (374 ft) long, 73 metres (240 ft) wide and 116 metres (381 ft) tall, it was designed to compete with St. Peter's in Rome (but those of us who have been to both know which one is more impressive!)
Having heard much about it over my education and career, I was excited to see Humboldt University. It opened in 1810 as the University of Berlin, and until the early 20th century was the world's leading university for Natural Sciences. Any university that had Albert Einstein on its faculty earns my respect! Its faculty have earned 55 Nobel Prizes. Other notable faculty have included Karl Liebknecht, Arthur Schopenhauer, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Max Planck. On the other hand, it also included Karl Marx.
Chances are, when you think of a European castle, this is the one you picture -- Neuschwanstein in SE Germany near the Austrian border. The name means "New Swan Lake." Website. Location: 47.557567, 10.749493
Link to images.