Must-visit cathedrals in Germany

Must-visit cathedrals in Germany

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Living in the States, I had only visited two cathedrals – Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, California and the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I remember gazing in wonder at the impressively high ceilings and the beautiful stained-glass windows. However, the moment I stepped into my first cathedral in Germany, I was mesmerized by the vast architecture, ornate details and the richly complex history. It was like stepping back into a place and being frozen in time.

There is no shortage of cathedrals and churches to visit — the two neighboring cathedrals in Trier (which are actually connected by a footpath inside), and possibly one of the most-famous— the Cologne Cathedral. While these are obvious choices to visit, here are five slightly lesser-known cathedrals in Germany that should be on your bucket list.

Aachen Cathedral, Aachen
The first monarch of the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne, was quite fond of the city of Aachen – so much so that it became his preferred imperial residence and he ordered a grand cathedral to be built. Constructed with two differing architectural styles (Romanesque and Gothic), the Aachen Cathedral was built between 790 and 800. When Charlemagne died in 814, it became his final resting place. For almost 600 years, more than 30 German kings and queens ascended to their thrones in this amazing sanctuary.

During World War II, the cathedral suffered heavy damage. The ornate stained-glass windows set within the choir were shattered and it took two years to restore. After undergoing extensive renovations, the Aachen Cathedral was finally completed in 2011. Visitors can gaze upon Charlemagne’s intricately detailed shrine, or marvel at the Pala d’Oro which makes up the high altar.

Frauenkirche Dresden

The Frauenkirche Dresden dates back more than 1,000 years. When the church was converted from Catholicism to Protestant in the 18th century, it was renovated in a Baroque style with one of the largest domes in Europe. During WWII, the Frauenkirche was completely obliterated. It survived the initial raids, but fires soon consumed the pews and sandstone exploded from supporting piers, which caused the structure to collapse under the weight of the dome. It wasn’t until almost 50 years later that reconstruction began. More than 3,800 original stones were used, and it was finally completed in 2005.

Today, the cathedral offers an English service once a month (usually on the third Sunday of the month). Between Easter and New Year’s Eve, this amazing space is transformed into a music venue with more than 130 classical performances taking place.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Although not technically a cathedral, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin is absolutely worth a visit. Located on the west-side of Berlin, the original church was built between 1891 and 1895. The building had five spires, complete with large bells. The bells were once the second largest in Germany, only behind Cologne. During the war, the bells were removed, melted and turned into munitions. As bombs rained down on the city, the church was heavily damaged, with the main spire crumbling down.

After the war, the ruins of the church remained to remind Berliners of the tragedies of the war. When plans surfaced to demolish the ruins and rebuild a modern house of worship, angry protests were held and the new building was erected next to the ruins. Visitors can walk in the main hall of the once majestic church and see photos and relics of its former glory.

Speyer Cathedral

Similar to the Aachen Cathedral, the one in the charming city of Speyer was built with visions of royal grandeur. Formally known at the Imperial Basilica of the Assumption and St. Stephen, the Speyer Cathedral was founded in 1030 by Konrad II. He wanted to construct the biggest church of his era. Built in a Romanesque style, the cathedral was the burial site of German emperors for close to 300 years. The original building was destroyed in 1689 by Louis XIV and his armies, and reconstruction took more than 80 years to complete.

The Speyer Cathedral has been used for several purposes throughout the centuries — as horse stables and also as an infirmary for sick and wounded soldiers. In 1981, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Be sure to stroll through the lush gardens and view the impressive statues.

Ulm Minster

Can you guess the tallest church in the world? If you’ve been to Barcelona, you would probably say the not-yet-completed Sagrada Familia and you would almost be correct. Until it is completed, Ulm Minster still holds that title. Built in the 14th century, the steeple stretches an amazing 161.5 meters in the sky. Although much of the surrounding city was decimated during WWII, the church buildings were left virtually unscathed, and the steeple remained intact.

Visitors to Ulm Minster can climb a very narrow and steep winding staircase to the top of the steeple. Once you’ve trekked up the 768 stone steps, you’ll be rewarded with commanding views and breathtaking panoramas. If you’re a little acrophobic, be sure to check out the organ. Once the largest in the world, this musical beast was played by the hands of Mozart.

Although it’s easy to see the more popular cathedrals, take a quick detour and consider these fantastic, must-visit cathedrals and churches in Germany. They’re well worth it!

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