Posted by: Shanna Germain | 07/11/2009

Pg. 102: The Art of Night


Part of the Kolner Lichter, the Cologne Lights, as seen from the bank of the Rhine. The bridge in the corner of the photo is the Hohenzollernbrucke bridge.



  • Weather: Rainy mostly. Sun for about two and a half seconds. The rest of the day was hurricane-like gales. I keep forgetting it’s July.
  • Mileage: Not many. Took it easy.
  • Food: Weinerschnitzel and a sundae the size of my head. Photos tomorrow.
  • Discovery: I am going to get my eye poked out by an umbrella. It’s in the cards.
  • Media: Tick comic. Start with July 8, and read upward.
  • Best Thing: It’s my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary today!
  • Worst Thing: That I can’t go and celebrate with the family. -cries a little-
  • Word of the Day: Bitte zieh mal dein hemd hoch damit ich ein foto für die ganze welt von deiner brust machen kann. Via Danielle. Babelfish translates this to, “please pull times your shirt highly thereby I a photo for the whole world of your chest to make can,” which seems close enough to satisfy J.Bell’s request for photos of shirtless German men.


It was a day devoted to night.

First up: The Der Mond (The Moon) exhibit at the Wallraf Museum, which looked at the way artists and cultures have viewed and represented the moon over the years, and the changes that occurred as science began to take apart many of the myths of the moon. From the very early pictures of the moon as it represented the Madonna all the way to the moon landing photos and beyond, it was a beautiful collection of paintings, photographs, instruments and journals. Galilei’s notebook, “Sidereal Messenger”, moon pictures by Edward Munch, Manet’s “Moonlight over Boulogne Harbour” (the first ever Impressionist nocturne), images from “The Magic Flute” and more. (You can see a slideshow of a few of the pieces here, I believe).

I have always loved the moon and the stars, I think because they are a combination of science and art that makes a great deal of sense to me. We don’t understand them, we don’t know them, and yet they rule so much of who we are and how we move through the world. We look up, they look down, and somewhere in between, everything is reflected and enlightened… Our shadows are darkened, our goodness is highlighted and all around us is pale wonder.

Coming out of the museum, I expected the night sky to greet me, and was blinkingly surprised to realize it was still three in the afternoon and there were nothing but clouds overhead. An overly large lunch, a short nap, a delightful voice chat conversation, and then it truly was dark, and I was ready for another night event.




Namely, Koln Lichter, the Cologne Lights, a once-a-year event that I just happened to be here for. Germany, or at least Cologne, does many things properly: Luggage, walkable streets, gardens and Gothic architecture. But perhaps more than anything else, it parties right. Hours before the lights were scheduled to start, the streets were packed with drinkers, smokers, tuba players, college kids doing sing-offs in the squares and people in outfits that defied both logic and weather. As night fell, things just got louder, tighter, and more raucous. People were lining up along the Rhine to watch the lit boats go by, the Cathedral area was packed and everywhere, hordes of people with huge bottles of alcohol and constantly flaming cigarettes were shouting, laughing, dancing and pushing each other (in what seemed, for the most part, a positive way). By nine o’clock, people were peeing in alleyways, falling down, and singing off-key in various languages.

Down at the waterfront, I found a spot to watch the lights. And while I waited, I watched the people. An Asian couple in front of me was photographing everything with a zeal that made me feel tired. On my right, a young man hoisted a small child on his shoulders. And off to my left, a not-so-young-man proceeded to guzzle beer and thoroughly embarrass both his girlfriend and the couple they were with. He wavered, he yelled, he put his hands on strangers’ shoulders. At one point, it started raining and he was holding an umbrella in each hand. The good news: he couldn’t drink anymore with his hands full. The bad news: He was a very big, very drunk man holding sharp umbrellas in a crowd of people and seemed to think the general purpose of an umbrella was not to keep oneself and friends dry, but to use it as a pointer. Note to self: Do not put the drunkest man in the group in charge of umbrella duty. Ever.

The lights themselves were a treat — all of the explosions timed to music that was piped along the river by some speaker system that I couldn’t quiet assertain. I snapped some photos, mostly stayed out of the way of the drunken revelers, and made it home without getting vomit on my shoes. Which, I have to admit, I consider to be a damn fine achievement, considering the state of the cobblestone streets at that point.

I suppose it isn’t any wonder we’re always looking up at the sky, scanning the horizon, imagining what it would be like on the moon. Or the stars. It would be a lot quieter and cleaner, for one thing. But it would, I imagine, also be devoid of many of the frailties and strengths that make us wholly human. Would there be art on the moon? Music? Hugs? Or would it be sterile and still, better suited to light-oriented science than to laughter-filled souls?

There was no visible moon in the sky as I made my way through the dark streets, but I knew it was there, following me home. And perhaps that’s all we can really ask of the moon: its light, its guidance, its mysterious mastery of the night skies.

Far and fast, s.



More fireworks over the bridge. It was like a rain of blood-red rubies. Gorgeous.


“I don’t know if there are men on the moon, but if there are they must be using the earth as their lunatic asylum.” ~George Bernard Shaw



  1. Haha. If you wanted to shorten that big long sentence you could also just say “Hemd hoch” (Hemd hoke – Shirt up) and gesture accordingly with your camera.
    They might think you’re crazy though. Might point their fingers at their foreheads.

    When my sister visited me in Germany, the only sentence she could remember from her audio-tape was “Ich bin krank” (I am ill). So she walked around saying that to everyone, ich bin krank, in the same dragging voice as on the tape. She made lots of friends of course. 🙂

  2. I heart the picture with the sparks falling over the bridge looking like blood rubies. As you know I am a sucker for sparkling things.

    I would probably be tempted to reach out and try to grab one and find out, like quite a few sparkling things, that its not that exciting.

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