this place is the dirtiest and most offensive we have yet seen, or rather smelt, in Europe

Dear ——,

I do not know by what dignitary of the ancient electorate the hotel in which we lodged was erected, but it was a spacious building, with fine lofty rooms and a respectable garden. As the language of a country is influenced by its habits, and in America everything is so much reduced to the standard of the useful that little of the graceful has yet been produced, it may be well to remind you that this word “garden,” signifies pleasure-grounds in Europe. It way even be questioned if the garden of Eden was merely a potager.

After breakfasting we began to deliberate as to our future movements. Here we were at Cologne, in Prussia, with the wide world before us, uncertain whither to proceed. It was soon decided, however, that a first duty was to look again at the unfinished cathedral, that wonder of Gothic architecture; to make a pilgrimage to the house in which Rubens was born; to pay a visit to the eleven thousand virgins, and to buy some Cologne water: after which it would be time enough to determine where we should sleep.

The first visit was to the bones. These relics are let into the walls of the church that contains them, and are visible through a sort of pigeon-holes which are glazed. There is one chapel in particular, that is altogether decorated with the bones arranged in this manner, the effect being very much like that of an apothecary’s shop. Some of the virgins are honoured with hollow wooden or silver busts, lids in the tops of which being opened, the true skull is seen within. These relics are not as formidable, therefore, as one would be apt to infer the bones of eleven thousand virgins might be, the grinning portion of the skulls being uniformly veiled for propriety’s sake. I thought it a miracle in itself to behold the bones of all these virgins, but, as if they were insufficient, the cicerone very coolly pointed out to us the jar that had held the water which was converted into wine by the Saviour at the marriage of Cana! It was Asiatic in form, and may have held both water and wine in its day.

The cathedral is an extraordinary structure. Five hundred years have gone by, and there it is less than half finished. One of the towers is not forty feet high, while the other may be two hundred. The crane, which is renewed from time to time, though a stone has not been raised in years, is on the latter. The choir, or rather the end chapel that usually stands in rear of the choir, is perfect, and a most beautiful thing it is. The long narrow windows, that are near a hundred feet in height, are exquisitely painted, creating the peculiar cathedral atmosphere, that ingenious invention of some poet to render solemn architecture imaginative and glorious. We could not dispense with looking at the skulls of the Magi, which are kept in an exceedingly rich reliquary or shrine. They are all three crowned, as well as being masked like the virgins. There is much jewellery, though the crowns had a strong glow of tinsel about them, instead of the mild lustre of the true things. Rubens, as you know, was of gentle birth, and the house in which he was born is just such a habitation as you would suppose might have been inhabited by a better sort of burgher. It is said that Mary of Medicis, the wife of Henry IV, died in this building, and tradition, which is usually a little ambitious of effect, has it that she died in the very room in which Rubens was born. The building is now a public-house.

I do not know that there is a necessary connection between foul smells and Cologne water, but this place is the dirtiest and most offensive we have yet seen, or rather smelt, in Europe. It would really seem that people wish to drive their visitors into the purchase of their great antidote. Disagreeable as it was, we continued to flaner through the streets until near noon, visiting, among other things, the floating bridge, where we once more enjoyed the sight of the blue waters of the Rhine glancing beneath our feet.

(aus: James Fenimore Cooper, A residence in France; with an excursion up the Rhine, and a second visit to Switzerland; Paris, 1836)