Colonia im Mittelalter

Posted on April 27, 2012 by

Yes, I’m reviewing a book only available in German. The book was long, but I’ll keep this short, since you probably can’t read it. It’s entitled Colonia im Mittelalter: Über das Leben in der Stadt, by Dieter Breuers, and it traces the history of the city of Cologne, Germany, during the 12th and 13th century.

The book uses this author’s journalistic style to cover medieval history with personal narratives and play-by-play accounts, and rarely gets dry or dull. It devotes a chapter to each of 23 topics, covering everything from toilets to children’s crusades, to monasteries. The chapter on beer was of particular interest to me, as everyone knows that Kölsch isn’t real beer. There were some sexy bits and some tragic bits, confusing bits involving multiple popes and feuding emperors, fighting bits, gross bits, and there was a bit on torture that I couldn’t finish reading because it was so disgusting.

But the one thing that left an impression on me was a section in “Chapter 21: The Cathedral” (translation mine):

Today they brought him a piece of parchment that the famous Gerhard had scribbled a blueprint on. It was quite intimidating. “How big will the cathedral be?”, asked Phillip. He was stunned as they answered, “180 steps long and 100 steps wide.”

“It will take you more than one-hundred years to build that,” he prophesied, without realizing that it would be exactly 632 years before the Cologne cathedral would be finished.

I was also stunned, after reading that, so I repeated it for my husband. He thought about it for a moment and then said, “Think about that. They built on that church for longer than America has been a country.” Yes, think about that. Even if you only take into account the years they actively worked on the structure, it still totals 263 years, and is still longer than America has been a country (that would be about 236 years). That puts a lot of things into perspective.

Posted in: Book Review