I tried to assuage my confusion that afternoon by returning to my hotel and sampling pastries from a nearby shop. Pastries in hand, I crossed the Main via one of the westernmost bridges and worked my way along the southern bank towards the Sachsenhausen neighborhood. I had set out with nothing overly particular in mind. I thought only to make the most of the early afternoon sun and mild weather for which a glass of the city’s apple wine, quite close to cider in truth, seemed appropriate.
At a stroll, I progressed from west to east and paused now and again to find a seat on the stone ledge dividing river from riverside garden. From my seat, I watched the ducks. Their buff-red heads vanishing below water only to appear again with a choice morsel of aquatic plant in bill. When I tired of the ducks, I turned my attention to my book, wondered whether the grass was on its way up or down, or simply rose to move on.
At length, I reached the outer bounds of Sachsenhausen and was largely decided on descending a street framed by half-timber buildings. Casting a last glance backwards, I instead turned my feet about on themselves at the sight of a church belfry, clad in red sandstone. Though the final remark might give one to believe that I changed directions for a color, that impression would prove at least half-mistaken. After all, a visitor found red sandstone throughout the city’s quarters, as much a city emblem as the buildings in it.
Rather, I had stopped in my tracks for, or so it seemed to me, a ghostly presence at last embodied. For, in the belfry, I found a striking likeness, if not a stone-for-stone reproduction, of a ruined belfry in my adopted home. If the colors differed in the choice of materials, the Neo-Gothic style and architectural elements resembled one another to the point that I could match door to door, bay to bay, inlay to inlay, flourish to flourish, spire to spire, outer stair to outer stair.
Yet the churches differed in still another important respect at which I have already hinted. Mine stood in ruins, nave, altar and chapels lost to war and arson; Frankfurt’s remained whole, despite the wartime air campaigns. Indeed, it housed even then an active community of worshippers as the announcement board before the church suggested. Said board also allowed me to put a name to a face, a phantom made flesh: the Dreikönigskirche.
I gleaned more information still from a plaque affixed to the nave’s southern wall. It seemed that the Dreikönigskirche was older than its Neo-Gothic revivalist exterior let on, in that the original Gothic hospital church, raised in 1340, had given way in the 1870’s to a complete rebuilding, with Master Cathedral Builder von Dettinger overseeing the project until its 1881 completion. Between Dettinger and the architects responsible for Dreikönigskirche’s French twin did later research turn up little in the way of promising leads. Neither had they studied in the same schools nor had they collaborated in their professional lives.
At best, I might have supposed from both’s presence at an earlier period in another German city that some subtle connection had sprung up between the architects and allowed for a transmission of influences and subsequent converged in their works of the 1870’s. The connection would necessarily be such that this task fell only to an archeologist of sorts, senses heightened by coincidence and possessing the training and the gear necessary to follow the fine grain of chance. To such eyes would the imperceptible ties of chance reveal themselves; again would the French ruins resume their earlier existence by virtue of participation in the German.
As it was, I left that day satisfied, at last able to complete in real life what I had only ever accomplished in my imagination and old picture postcards.