Cologne Part 5: Churches, Big and Small

A City of Churches

Cologne is a city of many churches. The iconic Kölner Dom is world-famous and the instantly-recognizable center of the city. The city is literally built around Der Dom, and for good reason. It’s utterly massive and absolutely impressive. Pictures don’t do it justice.

But Der Dom is hardly the only church in the city — it’s just the most famous one. There are twelve famous romanesque churches throughout the city. I’ve visited a few of them, and they are absolutely beautiful. There are also a number of more “ordinary” smaller churches and parishes throughout the city. Cologne boasts one of the highest percentages of church-goers in the country, both Catholic and Protestant. In exploring churches in Cologne, I made a point of visiting both the big and the small, the famous and the ordinary. And what better way to explore churches than by going to Mass?

It’s easy to feel small inside the massive Kölner Dom

I have found that there is a certain appeal to both types of churches, big and small. Mass in the massive (pun intended) Kölner Dom makes one feel miniscule and insignificant under the lofty roof and towering gothic pillars. It reminds me how small we humans are in comparison to God. At the same time, praying with the rest of the congregation in the large cathedral fills the empty space with something holy and unites us tiny humans to something bigger. Der Dom is an experience of big and small all at once.

The light through the stained-glass windows at Dreikönigen is gorgeous

Meanwhile, going to Mass at smaller churches where the locals tend to go has its appeal as well. They feel much more homey and comfortable. One of my favorite places to go has been Dreikönigen parish. There, I feel like I’m part of the community, united by faith to the native Kölsch. The variety of people, young and old, reminds me of the variety in the Church and brings the liturgical experience much closer to home.


One of the coolest parts about going to Mass in Germany: the music! St. Augustine once said singing is like praying twice. Singing in a foreign language might be like singing three times, in that case! German liturgical music tends to rely heavily on the organ, which fills up the space and echoes beautifully throughout the church no matter its size. The Gotteslob books, pictured below, are the hymnals used in almost every church.




When it can be quite a task to understand the priest or figure out the meaning of the readings, music is a much more relaxing, powerful way to praise God and is always much easier to translate than other parts of the Mass. As it has been said, music is the universal language, and it mediates both prayer and learning a few new German words!

The organ in Der Dom is located high above the congregation

The Best Part: People

In addition to being a great way to pray and connect with God, going to church has also been a great way to connect with new people! Mass is as much of a social event in Germany as in the U.S. or anywhere else. I have enjoyed a few nice conversations with people I’ve met at Mass, and the sign of peace offers a liturgical moment to meet people in the surrounding area. The Eucharist is a sacrament that brings all sorts of people together, and that has rung true during my time in Cologne.

Outside of the liturgy, parishes are often the site of extra-curricular social events as well. In Dünnwald, the local parish was the center of the Dünnwalder Frühling festival. After Mass last weekend at Dreikönigen, a marching band performed on the church grounds in the celebration of a local parish group much like the Knights of Columbus in the U.S. Der Dom, as a tourist attraction, brings people from around the world together to catch a glimpse of the architectural wonder. Churches bring people together and are a great way to connect with the local community.

The main stage at Dünnwalder Frühling
The band gets ready to perform after Mass at Dreikönigen