Cologne Cathedral′s Gothic splendor is big business | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 16.07.2009
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Culture

Cologne Cathedral's Gothic splendor is big business

What would the city of Cologne be like without its majestic cathedral? Certainly not the tourist magnet it is as home to the world's third largest Gothic church. With all the visitors, though, comes a lot of dirt.

The Cologne Cathedral lit up at night

Cologne's cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Cologne's magnificent cathedral is eye candy for Goth fans. On a sunny day, its blackish spires contrast starkly against a bright blue sky. The clouds on an overcast day, on the other hand, seem to swallow the steeples as they shoot up to the heavens.

All that beauty costs time and money, however. While the some 100 million tourists who travel to the city on the Rhine River - nearly 6.5 million of whom visit the cathedral - help fill the municipal coffers each year, millions of euros must be spent on the church's maintenance.

Along with their money, visitors to the cathedral (known as the Koelner Dom in German) drag in substantial quantities of dirt, which doesn't just cover the floor, but also the church's countless statues, mosaics and other artworks.

The Cologne skyline, including the cathedral and other churches, at night

The cathedral is one of many churches in Cologne

No ordinary cleaning personnel would do for sweeping away all the dust.

"My daily equipment consists of a vacuum cleaner, various paintbrushes, dusting towels, a headlamp, scalpel, sponges and fiberglass pens," said Bettina Grimm, Germany's only female specialist in the field of plaster restoration. "I also use mortar and pigments when more restorative work has to be done."

She was given the title Putzrestauratorin by the cathedral's master builder Barbara Schock-Werner as a play on words: Putz in German means "plaster" but the verb putzen means "to clean."

More than blowing off the dust

Restorative specialist Grimm looks more like an archeologist than part of the cleaning crew as she sets about her task with both precision and a gentle touch. Holding a small paintbrush in one hand and the vacuum cleaner in the other, she carefully removes tiny particles of dust from valuable statues. In this business, normal cleaning detergents are completely off-limits.

Grimm works together with some 60 stone masons, sculptors, carpenters, painters, electricians, locksmiths, glass restorers and gold and silversmiths to keep the cathedral shining. It's a tall order, considering the toll both the city pollution and thousands of visitors take on the 800-year-old Dom each day.

As the sole person responsible for "dusting" in the cathedral, Grimm must cover over 6,000 square meters (around 64,500 square feet) of space.

Scaffolding surrounds a spire of the cathedral during restoration work

Restoration work on the cathedral is a balancing act

"I have to dust off seven choir chapels and the choir stall and at the end of the week, on Fridays, I have to do the wood carvings and the cushions so that everything is sparkling clean for mass on Sunday," Grimm said.

"I also have to clean the Stations of the Cross," she added. "Actually, I'm always trying to catch up because there are not enough hours in the day."

Architectural and advertising icon

The cathedral's annual budget is between six and seven million euros ($8 to 9.4 million), which mostly goes to the staff.

All the money and maintenance efforts, however, pay off since the Cologne Cathedral is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany. Cologne would not be Cologne without the city's landmark, said Josef Sommer, managing director of the Cologne tourist office KoelnTourismus.

"The cathedral is inherent to Cologne," he said. "That's been the case since the Middle Ages, since the time the architectural drafts were made for this outstanding cathedral. Cologne's reputation and its attractiveness as a tourist destination are closely connected to the church."

People praying inside the church

The Dom is home to many nooks and crannies waiting to be dusted off

The Cologne Cathedral was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. According to the United Nations agency, the Dom embodies the High Gothic architectural style like no other cathedral in the world in its purity and perfection.

Construction of the church began in 1248 and was not completed until 1880. Since its completion, its 150-meter-high (492-foot) spires have become the city's trademark - so much so that even companies use the spires as advertising icons.

One could almost say that the city of Cologne thrives financially from the cathedral.

"About 5.5 billion euros are generated in the tourism industry in Cologne," said Sommer. "That means that without tourists, who also come to see the cathedral, 5.5 billion euros fewer would be spent in this city."

In other words, every cent spent to keep the cathedral sparkling is a cent spent to keep the city going.

Author: Frank Gazon (als)

Editor: Kate Bowen

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