In a wildly unexpected and completely unpredictable turn of events, I fell madly in love, in Cologne. It was the sort of love that makes your heart pound. The sort of love that seeps into your arteries. The sort of love that leaves you smiling at nothing in particular.
It was May, 2006. I was happily married at the time, but that didn’t turn out to be a problem. My husband is a very reasonable man. And he has always believed in love.
Cologne is not the sort of city where you expect to fall head over heels in love. It is a beautiful city, but it doesn’t have the drama or the romance of a city like Paris or Havana. But, it was in Cologne that I fell in love. I fell in love with a church. A Catholic church. A church called St Agnes.
St Agnes is the second largest church in Cologne. Only the famed Cologne Cathedral is larger. St Agnes is a relatively plain church. Its beautiful but simple lines and its white, vaulted ceiling and pink-hued, stone columns give it a grandeur. Not a grandeur of superiority. St Agnes has an embracing, inclusive and very human grandness.
It is unadorned and unpretentious with a minimal amount of symbolism or decoration. It also has warmth. A warmth that is palpable. A warmth that allows your spirit to float, to soar, to question and to be challenged. A state that feels remarkably like being in love. Being headily in love. And I was.
There was, however, a problem with this love match. I am not a Catholic. I am Jewish. And it gets worse. I am an atheist. A Jewish atheist. Maybe I am not a one hundred percent, wholly committed atheist. Maybe only ninety percent of me is an atheist. Even if only ninety percent of me is an atheist, falling in love with a Catholic church is pretty problematic.
I was brought up to not believe in God. Not believing in God was like a family mantra. I was born to two people who had each survived years of imprisonment in Nazi ghettos, labor camps and death camps. My mother was seventeen when she was imprisoned in the Lodz Ghetto. She had four brothers, three sisters, a mother, father, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces. When it was all over, she was the only person in the universe she was related to. Every single person in her family had been murdered. My father’s mother and father and sister and three brothers were also murdered.