Bella Donna: Beauty in Cologne


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Posted by HSG on February 09, 2005 at 06:48:54:


What is the first thing that comes to mind, whenever one thinks of Cologne, Germany (or Köln, auf Deutsch), the greatest city on the river Rhine?

The Cologne Cathedral, of course. The mighty Kölner Dom.

This cathedral towers over the city, both in actuality, and in the consciousness of its people. Its scale is scarcely comprehensible, with twin towers reaching 157 meters heavenward. (By comparison, the height of the Statue of Liberty, from the ground at the foot of the pedestal to the top of the torch, is a mere 93m.)

Begun in the Middle Ages, the cathedral was only completed at the end of the nineteenth century, thanks to the Romantic spirit of the age (and the generous funding of the Prussian Crown).

During the war, the cathedral took 14 direct hits from incendiary bombs, but refused to fall, even as every building for miles around was shattered and reduced to ash.

In the 1950s, the city of Cologne was rebuilt (practically from scratch) in the dullest, most soulless manner imaginable.

And this has rendered the Cologne cathedral a well-nigh unearthly vision. A Neo-Gothic colossus marooned in a sea of modernist mediocrity, it rises like a relic of another era. One is even tempted to believe that it is the creation of a primordial race of giants, long forgotten, who built it, and abandoned it, leaving behind no other trace of their existence.

The cathedral stone is so dark that it swallows any light that shines on it, and thus it stands as an impenetrable black mass looming over the city, dark and myserious even in the broad daylight. But at night, the city bathes the cathedral in powerful white light, which gives it a ghostly aura, as if the entire cathedral silhouette were but a visual echo, an outline of a building that can only partially take form, a structure so sublime that it cannot fully exist in the prosaic contemporary world.

To get a sense of what it is like to stand at the foot of this monstrous edifice, consider this aerial photograph of the Kölner Dom, and note the tiny area marked off in red:

Now see what a photograph of just that "tiny area" looks like, with people milling about, in front of it:

Just imagine standing before these enormous doors, and looking upward. You breath catches in your throat as you take in the full magnitude of the sight towering above you. But what astonishes you even more is the intricacy of detail that you note in the stonework. Every inch of this colossus, you realize, has been masterfully crafted into the most elaborate Gothic shapes and patterns. And this level of detail is maintained throughout the structure, all the way to the pinnacles of its towers. It is like a mountain hewn by the hand of man, an Everest of stone erected by the hammer and the chisel . . . and the will.

This cathedral is the very essence of the Romantic Sublime, a majestic structure that inspires even as it humbles, that evokes reverence and, perhaps, even a touch of fear.

It is a living testament to the Romantic world that once was, a fragment of the cultural memory of humanity. And the modern world that now surrounds this wonder seems very small, and . . . insignificant, by comparison.

* * *

Oh, but wait. We were supposed to discuss the beautiful in Cologne, not the sublime.

Very well. A transcript of a news story about a new plus-size model agency in Cologne was posted on the Web site of Deutsche Welle (German television) just the other day.

The article, linked below, is mostly positive, although the English translation resorts to some hair-raisingly scrappy wording. In the most agreeable segment of the piece, a fashion-store owner describes the growing sense of body love that he sees in the younger generation:

Women are becoming more self-assured and have come to accept the way they look, said Hofmann, who added that he has observed new self-confidence. "Looking at young women today, many of whom are really not that skinny at all, you notice that they have a different body consciousness than just a few years ago," he said. "Nowadays you easily walk the streets in a tight-fitting outfit."

According to Renate Schmidt, [full-figured] women feel increasingly less like torturing themselves with strict diets and sports to achieve the super slim ideal. She's pleased they're willing to accept their love handles . . .

Bravo. It certainly is encouraging to hear that size celebration is making a foothold north of the Alps.

Germany has arguably lagged behind England (and certainly behind Italy) in promoting size celebration, but a few agencies have finally emerged that specialize in full-figured girls. And although they are still somewhat limited to a "character actress" rather than an "ingenue" view of plus-size modelling, their very existence is worth noting and applauding.

The Web site of Bella Donna Models is at www.belladonna-cologne.de. The agency's most notable talent is Sandra, pictured here.

This agency may finally give the people of Cologne something else to attract their gaze, besides their great cathedral.

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