The world’s tallest cathedral towers over Ulm, Germany. Climbing its steep and rail-less stairway is both a terrorizing and exhilarating experience. My great-great grandmother came from Ulm. Climbing the cathedral followed her footsteps.
Cathedral Ulm took 500 years to build. Completed in 1890, the gothic spire rises 143 meters, or 469 feet above Ulm, rising like a jagged spear piercing the Bavarian sky. There are no elevators. 768 steps await you.
Heights are not my favorite environment. The first 2/3 of the climb is a cardio challenge as you round the spiral with glimpses of Ulm and Swabian countryside as you climb. On 19 December 1944, an allied air strike destroyed most of city, including the medieval town centre. The Cathedral Ulm was unscathed.
The last third of the climb challenges both the heart and the nerves. Steps narrow to barely one person yet there is two-way traffic. There are no internal guard rails to protect you from a plunge down the center of the spiral into the Cathedral Ulm sacristy. I crept up with my back against the outside wall. In front of me a young lady knelt down and cried, resisting prods from her boyfriend. I felt like weeping with her.
Like many challenges, the prize at the top pays for the effort. Flowing by Ulm is the blue Danube River. You almost hear the tune. Beneath are the red roofs of city and the rolling Schwabian hills. On a clear day, the Bavarian Alps and Zugspitze are visible. My great-great grandmother likely climbed the steps, stood in the same spot, and enjoyed the view. Her grave is in the Ohio family plot near my father. What a small world. Like her, I faced the climb down those narrow steps.
Ulm is 73 km/45 miles southeast of Stuttgart on A8, the autobahn to Munich. If you are in decent shape, and do not severely suffer from acrophobia, stop, and climb Cathedral Ulm. It is a rush.