Roman History and Modern Art


I was excited to visit the Roman-German Museum and it was the first thing (other than that incredible massive awesome cathedral) I went in to see when I arrived in Cologne. As I was in there, though, it all seemed rather redundant. As I was beginning to realize, all of Germany is a Roman-German Museum,.

There were Roman gravestones


but the churches have crypts and shrines and, yeah, old graves.

There was an arch


but outside the museum, just a few yards away, there was a smaller, more sturdy arch that I could sit on and climb if I was so inclined.

There were beautiful mosaic floors


but all the old churches had gorgeous mosaic floors, too. Apparently, it was all the rage around 600 A.D. I can’t even remember if the mosaic floor above came from the Roman Museum or a church.

The Roman-German Museum would be a huge hit in DC or San Francisco, but in Germany it was like seeing a furniture store.

There’s also a modern art museum, called the Ludwig Museum, also on Cathedral Square. They had a Mondrian exhibit, and my card gave me an entry discount, so I decided to check it out. The museum itself reminded me very much of SFMOMA, except that (understandably) most of its artists are northern European. Like SFMOMA, it’s in a tourist area; like SFMOMA, it has some great views of its city; and like SFMOMA, it deliberately includes art to piss you off. Unlike SFMOMA, its guards are total photo Nazis, but as Peter said, he’d be disappointed if German art museums didn’t come with photo Nazis.  I ran afoul of the photo Nazis several times simply for daring to hold a camera in my hand. And some photo Nazis were more serious photo Nazis than others, but I disgress….

Most of the artists I didn’t know, so I was kind of happy when I found some stuff my Claes Oldenburg. He’s the guy who made the giant diaper pin at the De Young Museum. I saw a trailer like this for Gore Vidal’s Caligula, which promises to be the most godawful film ever (Courtney Love as Caligula, and one actress who doesn’t bother to speak English), but I’d go see it.

Down at the bottom of the museum was an exhibit which you had to make noise, such as stomping, clapping, or shouting, to get it to light up so you could see the art (chairs) within. It was guaranteed to make Germans uncomfortable, and I watched as my fellow art people carefully stomped, delicately clapped, or tried clearing their throats loudly in order to see the art. I have to say one thing that struck me about the Germans was how incredibly quiet they were in public, at least compared to Americans and Brits. Even the children shouted quietly. The only way they could get loud was to get drunk, but other than that, they walked around like they were in a library.

But I think what amused me most of all in the Ludwig Museum was the high school group. I noticed them first in the modern advertisements section, as an English-speaking German teacher posed a question to the group: “What do you call an advertisement that plays on TV?” She was met with dead silence. These were the quietest, shyest teenagers I’d ever seen.

Later I caught up with them at the end of the tour. Apparently, a morning at the Ludwig Museum had been this class’ English lesson: they’d had to tour the museum completely in English. And now, they’d had to write brief skits and perform them in English. I watched 4 guys reading woodenly and stiffly from a badly-written script that I think had something to do with getting around the museum’s photo Nazis. I gave them a thumbs up, but frankly, they looked like they’d be frightened out of their minds if I’d tried to converse with them in English. Fair enough! This was Germany, and that night’s soccer game was far more relevant to these kids than discussing bad abstract art in a foreign language. These boys would never go euro-English all over my ass for using an outdated German form of address, and I loved them for it.

Cologne was going to turn out all right…

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