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Why Germany’s Record-Breaking Cathedral Is So Impressive Posted by on Apr 16, 2021 in Culture, Language, Travel & Geography

Right next to the Hauptbahnhof (m, central station), the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) is one of the first things you’ll see when visiting the city in Nordrhein-Westfalen (North-Rhine Westphalia). It’s a cathedral with many world records in its name. What makes it so impressive?

It’s been a long time coming

Kölner Dom Cathedral Cologne

The Kölner Dom with a Zug (m, train) entering the Hauptbahnhof (m, central station) over the Eisenbahnbrücke (f, railroad bridge) in the foreground. Photo by RAVI TRIPATHI on Unsplash

The massive Kathedrale (f, cathedral) was only completed in 1880, even though construction began already in 1248. It’s not uncommon for cathedrals to take centuries to complete – but 632 years? Even for a cathedral, that’s a long time. What took Cologne so long?

First of all, the construction is massive. That by itself already tacks on some decades.

Let’s go back to the beginning, to 1164. That year, Erzbischof (archbishop) Rainald von Dassel returns to Cologne with bones of the Heiligen Drei Könige (The Three King). As these artifacts are a big deal, one of the most elaborate Goldschmiedearbeiten (f, gold smith works) of the Mittelalter (n, Middle Ages), the Dreikönigenschrein (m, The Shrine of the Three Kings), gives them a new home. This Schrein is completed in 1225, after 35 years of labor. Now, the city does not only attract pilgrimage for these valuable artifacts, but also their valuable shrine. To take this one step further, and to consolidate a powerful position for the city, Cologne decides to build the Dom. It serves as a steinerne Reliquie (stone relic) for the Dreikönigenschrein. So from the start, the Dom was supposed to be grand and important.

The first stone is laid in 1248, and construction begins with the Kapellenkranz (m, radiating chapels). The Baustil (m, architectural style) is gothic at first.

Construction progresses nicely for the next 300 years. The Südturm (m, south tower) is built first, and the Glocken (bells) are added. Two of the bells, Pretiosa and Speciosa, are hung up in 1449 and are in use to this day.

The first stone for the Nordturm (m, north tower) is laid about 50 years later, around 1500. The 16th century marks a problematic time for the Dombau (m, cathedral construction), however. Funding for the Bau are drying up, and there is a complete Baustopp (m, building freeze) in 1559.

Breaking records in record time

Cologne Cathedral Kölner Dom

Photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

For almost 300 years, there is no further construction. New elements were added to the existing cathedral, but from the outside, it looked the same for this whole time. It’s weird to think that the cathedral was known for a longer time in its unfinished form than its current form.

Construction finally resumes in 1842. With reinvigorated enthusiasm for the Prachtbau (m, magnificent construction), things move quickly. In only 38 years, the Dom is completed.

Part of the reason for this fast construction time is access to new technologies. Instead of an aufwendige Holzkonstruktion (f, elaborate wood structure) for the Dachstuhl (m, roof truss), it is made of Eisen (n, iron). Until the completion of the Eiffel Tower, this Dachstuhl was the largest iron structure in the world.

In 1874, a new Glocke is added, too. The Kaiserglocke is a massive swinging bell, at the time the largest in the world. However, it has a bad sound, and is replaced by the Petersglocke in 1923, which was the largest swinging bell in the world until 2018.

And then, finally, in 1880, the Kölner Dom is completed. Though construction is never done, and renovations are always ongoing.

Tallest for a short time

Furthermore, the Kölner Dom has one of the biggest Kirchglocken (church bells) in the world, the Petersglocke (Peter’s Bell).

Visit the Kölner Dom from your home!

After reading and watching all this, you might want to visit the Kölner Dom yourself. While there is nothing like seeing it in person, you can get really close to that experience. The Dom has a website where you can explore the cathedral in all directions! Here is the link to this amazing experience:

Have you visited the Kölner Dom? What do you think about it? Are there other constructions comparable to this that you know about?


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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


  1. Clive:

    Wo, what a piece of architecture, I thought Ulm was good but this is breattaking.

  2. Mark Bauer:

    Great article. I was in the Dom 3 years ago while on a river cruise. This article refreshed my memory.


  3. Pius Gross:

    totally amazing.

  4. Alan:

    This was an interesting piece. I didn’t realise it took that long to build. I’ve been to Cologne a few times now and the Dom still takes my breath away. It is the first thing you see as you step outside the train station. It is very impressive inside… and its massive.