SUMMER IN EUROPE
Alfred Noyes, 18 May 1937
Romania has been struck by drought and violent thunderstorms. On the German-Polish border the River Oder is now only 74 cm deep, whereas during the floods last autumn, its depth was nearly ten metres. All river traffic has been suspended.
Experts predict that the eastern German State of Brandenburg will become like a Sahara, water-tables are falling and in 20 years time, the Rivers Spree and Oder will dry up in the summer.
On the River Rhine, a few hundred yards from where I am sitting, barges are not allowed to travel fully laden, for fear of their grounding in the half-empty river. Switzerland has had its hottest summer for over 200 years.
In the Po Valley in Italy the Pope is praying for rain. Parts of the river have dried up and temperatures have reached 46 degrees Celsius. So much electricity is being used by air-conditioners and refrigerators that there are power cuts. In France and Italy farmers predict that they will lose up to half of their harvest through drought.
In Athens the Greek government is licensing extra brothels for the Olympic Games. So much for an 'Orthodox government'. No wonder that in 393 early Christians, the real Orthodox, closed down the Olympics as a source of depravity. On the other hand, the present Greek government has all but bankrupted itself in order to earn the right to stage this excuse for the worship of the human body.
American tourism in France is down by 30%. All the old American clichés about the French, unwashed, garlic-eating, immoral cowards - 'surrender-monkeys', are coming out again as a result of the French attitude to their war in Iraq. A German magazine with a picture of a heavily-armed GI standing in a Baghdad street proclaims ironically: 'Der endlose Blitzkrieg': 'The interminable lightning war'.
The French 'Le Monde' newspaper concentrates rhymingly on 'La guerre de Blair' ('Blair's war') and what it calls 'Irakgate', the doctoring of a dossier which justified the war against Iraq and the subsequent alleged suicide. The suggestion is that Blair is finished and will soon be replaced by his Chancellor. An English-language daily reveals that 65% of British people believe that 'deceit lies at the heart' of the Blair regime, which was elected by only 28% of the electorate.
As I pass by a kiosk, I see from the Italian tourist brochures that the Italian for 'Cologne' is still 'Colonia' - the same as the name given to it by Roman soldiers 2,000 years ago, when they made it into their colony. Ironically, by the news-stand, a piece of graffiti proclaims that, 'Ich will nicht nach Italien'; 'I don't want to go to Italy'. This refers to the latest clash between the Italian government and the German, with an Italian minister calling Germans arrogant - the corrupt Italian leader Berlusconi already having referred to the German Nazi past. As a result, the vote-seeking German Chancellor Schroeder has boycotted holidays in Italy and many Germans have followed his example.
I pay the waiter and get up. Crossing the square, I see outside the Cathedral doors once young men, their faces ravaged by drugs. In this land of over four million unemployed, where 120,000 young people emigrated in search of work last year, these addicts declare themselves 'obdachlos' - 'homeless' and beg. By him stand thirty or so smokers, stubbing out their nicotine narcotic on the cigarette-end-strewn pavement.
I enter the medieval Cathedral, which is milling with tourists of all nationalities, men in shorts with digital cameras, women also in shorts but with bags. Nobody appears to be praying, only gawping. What was once a Cathedral filled with a noble and soulful pilgrimage has now filled with a seemingly ignoble and soulless inelegance. Europe is uniting not around a soul, but around spiritual emptiness.
502 steps up, I am standing at the top of the tower of Cologne Cathedral, which took 632 years to build. On the way up, I have discovered that the medieval walls are covered in graffiti. A Pole writes that 'Polska is godle$'. A French tourist writes 'Vive la France'. A Czech declares his love for a certain Milena. A Portuguese says the same of a certain Maria. There are Dutch and Swedish names, many English, Spanish, and in Cyrillic: 'Zdes' byl Kolia': 'Nick was here'.
Indeed, most of the sightseers at the top appear to be Russian. Twenty-somethings, a Katia, a Tania, an Olya, a Nadia, a Natasha. They are all dressed in incredibly tight jeans, except one who is dressed in an incredibly short skirt. Perhaps they are the wives of internet marriages. Young and pretty, married to middle-aged Germans who have bourgeois and boring houses and bourgeois and boring lives, they have perhaps fled the poverty, crime and ex-Communist Mafia leaders of provincial Russia. A Russian man in his early thirties, perhaps a former Red Army soldier who 'stayed on', has a copy of 'Evropa Ekspress', the Russian-language weekly for Germany, and tries to chat them up. I look down on the panorama of the former Roman colony, now a city teeming with a million inhabitants, and pray to St Maternus, its fourth-century Apostle and first bishop.
But now, at last, I am alone in the cool and dark silence of the Cathedral treasury, which is why I have come here. I venerate the sacred relics, which made Cologne such an important city in the Middle Ages. Here are the relics of the Magi, the Three Wise Men, which were brought here from Milan in 1164. Then, extraordinarily, there are a nail and splinters from the True Cross, here are links from St Peter's chains, relics of St Laurence and St Walburgh and many others.
Here in Cologne are the relics of the Three Wise Men. Some 600 million, 90% of the European population, is in almost equal parts made up of Three Ways of Men: Slavs, Latins and Germans. But the gold shrine of the Three Wise Men is deserted. The building is full, but the Treasury is empty. 'For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also'.
As I kiss the glass behind which the holy relics are protected, I wonder why none of the thousands of others who have come here today is with me here in the Treasury. And I wonder why Europe's rivers are drying up. Could it be because Europe's faith is drying up? Could it be because the faith and soul and nobility of spirit of Europe have all dried up? And I think of the Polish graffito. Perhaps it is 'Evropa' that 'is godle$'.
showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding
out of the throne of God and of the Lamb' (Rev. 22,1).