Cologne Revisit

Yesterday, I met up with my parents for the first time since September. They have come to Germany for the week to do tour a few cities and spend a bit of time with me. Cologne is the first city on their list. We met in front of the cathedral, hugged, talked, and then decided to tackle the cathedral tower. From the first step to the last, the tower extends 157 meters into the air. That's 515 feet, or 509 steps without an elevator. I knew I'd get my exercise in that day.

The staircase spiraled upwards with a clockwise twist and had just enough space for two people to pass each other. Given the number of people ascending, descending, and taking breathers much scooching ensued. My dad, the marathon runner, seemed outwardly unaffected by the climb. My mom and I had more trouble. Out of pride, I refused to stop unless she asked to stop, but I'll admit that I rarely objected to the breaks.

One built in break came when we reached the Glocken, the church bells. Narrow stone passages let visitors move from one viewing area to another. The bells ranged from the size of a barrel to the size of a bedroom. Some had bell clappers and electric motors to swing them about. The smaller ones rang when struck with an automated hammer. While my dad tried to take a selfie, the smallest bells sounded the quarter hour directly behind us. Wow. If you've ever heard an air horn blare unexpectedly you have an idea of how loud it was and how high we jumped.

We continued our ascent, which brought us at lost last out of the spiral staircase and into an airy opening with scaffolding and metal stairs in the center leading every higher. My dad and I continued, but my mom declined when she saw an even tighter spiral staircase near the top. When we finally emerged, we stood beneath a conical stone lattice with the sky peaking through. A path wrapping around the tower perimeter and encased by wire fencing allowed us to get mostly unobstructed views of the city and structures on the cathedral. It was such a shame that people had graffitied the walls with mostly pointless declarations of love or awesomeness. If you love someone or if you're awesome, you should not have to write it on part of a priceless landmark to prove it. That really just proves that you don't respect the people who have to maintain the building.

Despite the graffiti, the architecture was worth the climb. Should I receive copies of the photos my dad took, I'll be sure to upload them.

After the tower, we wanted something to fill our bellies. We ended up eating outdoors at a restaurant whose name has drifted out of my mind When the waitress came over, she asked "Nehmen Sie die Karte?" meaning "Will you take/like the menu?" Something in my brain wasn't clicking though. I though she'd asked if we had the menus. I just sat there wondering why she'd ask that when she clearly had them in her hand. The rest of our transactions occurred in English. Drat. I can explain the difference between cognitive and intuitive ethics or how to balance a system to reduce vibration, but ordering food escapes me.

My dad got bratwurst and my mom and I had currywurst. It differed from the street currywurst I'd enjoyed in Berlin. The sausage had been sliced in zig-zags to help it cook through, and the sauce resembled home-made barbecue sauce with curry powder rather than curry ketchup. It tasted pretty good, but I think I prefer the street food. I'll take cheap, hot, and greasy over expensive and refined most any day.

After lunch we wandered around a little longer, returning to the cathedral for a somewhat lack-luster English tour. Sure we looked  at drop of blood from Pope John the 23rd next to a statue of the Madonna covered in an insane amount of donated jewelry, but I had hoped to see parts of the building we wouldn't otherwise see or learn about the enormous hanging organ.

What stuck with me far better than the tour was an event just before hand. Outside the cathedral, a couple hundred people or so had collected and distributed multicolored balloons with cards dangling from them. On the card, you could write a message to combat homo- and trans-phobia. At 2:30, everyone released the balloons into the air while music played and enormous rainbow flags fluttered. I had heard that Cologne had an active lgbtqia+ community. I'm glad to have seen it in action.

Final Exam Registration Fun Time

One of the few things more frustrating than not knowing what you need to do is finding out what you need to do after you needed to do it. Registration for exams (still infuriatingly independent of course registration) was supposed to take place on the web platform that I'd had technical problems with last semester. I had expected to get a reminder email. The first I heard was from my advisor on the 13th telling me that I needed to register by the 15th. When I tried to email the people I'd had to email last time around, I found out that the deadline had been the 9th.

Fortunately, the woman I contacted said that she would put me in the system anyway. However, she claimed that she had actually sent out 3 emails about the deadline. According to my email logs, I didn't receive anything. I don't mean to say that I'm without fault here. I could have looked up the information ahead of time had it occurred to me to do so. Still, the fact that I did not get the reminders I should have bothers me to no end.

Time to do some yoga and thank God for the kindness of strangers.

Gregorian Improv

Several musical groups put on a free (but donations appreciated) concert in the Aachen cathedral tonight. The program cover reads "The Long Breath: modern choir impressions, Gregorian chants and early multi-part music, instrumental improvisation."

I arrived punctually late. Although I showed up just before the official start time, to get a proper seat I ought to have come ten minutes sooner. Ah well. I had spent the day sitting around anyway. I found myself a nice cool expanse of wall to lean against and settled in. Without warning, a susurration of tenor voices swept through the cathedral. Despite standing in the back of the room behind a pillar and facing away from the choir, I felt surrounded by the voices. Domed ceilings and marble walls do more than look pretty, it would seem.

As the first chant faded away, a saxophone swelled. The organ hummed out chords for the soloist to build his tune around. I had expected the improvisation to sound jazzy. I'd never heard any other sort of improv after all. What I heard reminded me of a prayer. The prayers I hear always seem to have an unconscious rhythm and pattern, making them both earnest utterances and half-formed poems, just as the soloist made both soulful phrases and incomplete melodies. Moreover, both left me feeling like I'd heard something publicly private.

A few songs were neither chants nor improvisation but rather choral pieces inspired by poems (texts unfortunately not included.) These pieces definitely felt more modern and upbeat but no less reverent. All three music styles flowed from one to the other nigh on seamlessly. I did not really expect the combination to work. I can gladly say that I was wrong.

Angela Merkel

The elections for the European Union take place on the 25th of May, at least in Germany. As a result, political ads for all sorts of different parties have cropped up around Aachen. I've seen signs for CDU, SPD, The Left, the Greens, and even the Pirates. Seriously, that is a fantastic political party name.

The CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) is currently "in charge" so to speak, making Dr. Angela Merkel, the leader of the CDU also the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzlerin.) I mention her specifically because on April 30th, she and the CDU candidates for the EU came to speak in Aachen.

The event was held in the courtyard between the cathedral and the town hall. Police and medical professionals dotted the perimeter. I arrived in time to hear the tail end of the pre-show, some band singing quasi-jazzy songs. Once they finished, drum core blared over the speakers. The same sort of music you expect for a basketball team entering the court played as the candidates and Merkel made their way to the stage.

As they approached, the crowd applauded, but not everyone. A group of mostly men as far as I could tell on the other side of the courtyard started booing and shouting incomprehensible insults. I suppose I had expected something like that. The more important the politician, the louder the inevitable haters. Looking around, I saw signs reading "TTIP No!", "Only with, not against Russia!", and "Angie f├╝rchte dich" (Angie, fear for yourself). I learned later that TTIP has something to do with European free trade. AFD is a semi-radical party (Alternative for Deutschland) also known as the Anti-Euro Party. It's therefore doubly unsurprising that they showed up at a campaign for EU elections.

I tried to ignore the hecklers and isolationist radicals and instead focus on the speakers. The host, so to speak, asked everyone a question before the speeches proper began. One of the stranger questions was "I've heard you, Mr. So-and-so, are a big fan of Darth Vader. How does he inform your politics." The answer went something like, "I try...not...to be like him."

When Angela Merkel's turn to speak came, the hecklers grew a bit louder. It impressed me how completely she managed to ignore them. She spoke of how this year marked two significant milestones, 100 years after the start of WWI and 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She seemed to center her speech on unity and difference. A united Europe whose countries still manage internal affairs and debts separately supposedly lets the continent rise together and fall individually. The economics of it all goes way over my head, but she sounded convincing.

She also addressed, you know, the whole Ukraine-Russia situation. She stated very clearly that military action was not an option, but neither was denying Ukraine its right to self rule. It looks like talks will be had. Sometimes I wonder what goes on in talks where military and economic threats are off the table. I highly doubt that pointing out the ethics works.

Overall, I thought she spoke well, handled the jerks, and had a pretty good message as far as I could judge. I'm glad that I can say I have seen the leader of Germany with my own two eyes.