Bag ban at Cologne cathedral leaves visitors seething

Authorities at Germany's most iconic church brought in a ban on bags for security reasons on Wednesday. But visitors arriving from the adjacent train station are far from pleased.

Bag ban at Cologne cathedral leaves visitors seething
A visitor is turned away at Cologne Cathedral. Photo: DPA

Shaking his head, an old man turns back from the entrance to the Cologne cathedral. A red-robed guard has just told him he isn’t allowed to bring the suitcase he is dragging behind him inside.

“I only wanted to go up to the Mary altar to light a candle,” complains the man, who introduces himself as Josef and whose accent immediately gives him away as a local.

“I’ve been living in southern Germany for 50 years now and every time I've come back to my old hometown it has been possible to take a suitcase into the cathedral – until today.”

On Wednesday Cologne Cathedral brought in stricter security rules for visitors, meaning that no one is allowed to enter the church's huge interior with a suitcase, a travel bag or a rucksack.

The measures have been justified as a response to a heightened terror threat in Germany.

Over the past 12 months, the country has been hit by several terror attacks, the worst of which killed 12 people in December in Berlin.

The Isis-linked assaults have led to a tightening of security at public events such as Oktoberfest and Karneval, and at places where large groups of people gather.

But the Cologne security measure is causing particular frustration because the cathedral lies directly next to the central train station. The two buildings are so close to each other that in the church choral room it's possible to hear the schedule announcements at the station.

Countless travellers who have a few minutes between trains take a moment to visit the medieval church – one of Germany's most popular tourist attractions.

Watchman Hans Rögels reckons that well over ten percent of the 20,000 daily visitors to the cathedral coming carrying bags.

Gerd Bachner, the dean of the cathedral, says he was expecting the negative reactions. He explains that it was no easy decision to ban bags. But he said that as far as he could see, most people understood why the measures had been brought in.

Heiner Drees from Gütersloh is another visitor who was turned away on Wednesday.

“I think it’s stupid,” he complains. “It’s going too far when, as a German citizen, I can’t visit our holy places. They should at least put in some lockers. They’ve certainly got enough money.”

At the same time he is sure that the church will be hit by a drop in visitors.

“Almost everyone lights a candle for 50 cents. They won’t have that any more.”

Some families take to leaving one of their group outside with the bags. One trusting tourist leaves his bag with a beggar sitting near the northern entrance.

Josef, the old man visiting from southern German, has also had an idea.

“Can you look after my bag?” he asks. “I’m only going in to light a candle.”

Just before he disappears inside the northern entrance, he turns around.

“Young man, I may already be 84 years of age. But I still can run a bit. You won’t get away from me with the suitcase that quickly!”

By Christoph Driessen


Ancient Jewish settlement to be brought back to life in Cologne

No city north of the Alps has been home to Jews for as long as the Roman settlement of Cologne. A recently discovered Jewish quarter is now being brought back to life.

Ancient Jewish settlement to be brought back to life in Cologne
The site of the construction in Cologne. Photo: DPA

If you are a tourist walking through the centre of Cologne, sooner rather than later, you'll come across a construction site located in the very best position, in the middle of the town hall square.

At the beginning of this millennium, the people of Cologne dug into the earth directly in front of their historic city hall and found a treasure from another millennium: the Jewish quarter.

Complete with a dance hall, a hospital, a bakery and a synagogue, the quarter contains the ruins of a settlement from the Middle Ages. It is a city within a city, a miniature world of houses huddled together. 

Of course, all that is left is ruins – one needs a bit of imagination to picture how the whole thing once looked. But experts from Germany and abroad agree: there's nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

Ancient tradition

No other German city has been associated with Jewish history for so long as Cologne. 

The first documented Jewish community dates back to the year 321, making it the oldest north of the Alps. 

But in 1349, the neighbourhood was destroyed and its inhabitants were murdered or expelled. Local Christians blamed Jews for the outbreak of the plague.

Currently, a museum is being built over the site on the town hall square. It will be a parallel world underground: visitors will be able to relive life in the Jewish quarter in the era of knights and minstrels on a 600-meter-long trail. The trail also visits the governor's palace from Roman times, which was rediscovered in the 1950s. 

The museum is called MiQua after the name for the Jewish ritual bath, Mikveh.

Exhibits will include artifacts found during the excavations; among them is a crescent-shaped, gem-set gold earring from the 11th century. 

The researchers also discovered a tablet dating back to the Middle Ages with the inscription “yt in ys neyt anders.” This could be translated as “Et is wie et is” (It is as it is) – a classic Cologne saying. 

The museum is scheduled to open in 2024, but through the panorama windows on the third floor of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, also located on Rathausplatz, one can already follow the progress of construction work.

This year Jewish life will be celebrated across the country – the anniversary year '1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany' will be celebrated nationwide. 

Hamburg is organising a themed week entitled 'More than Little Jerusalem'; in Nuremberg the photo exhibition 'Germany's Emigrants' will be opened; and in Herxheim in Rhineland-Palatinate the play Judas by Lot Vekemans will be staged.

READ MORE: 9 hilarious gifts Judaism gave the German language