The Roman roads that once led south from Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium to Moguntiacum, and west to Augusta Treverorum, still meet at the intersection of Höhe Strasse and Schildergasse, in Cologne's “Old Town.” Trains rumble across the nearby Hohenzollern Bridge, above which rise the magnificent cathedral and the striking Römisch-Germanisches Museum, a testament to Roman Cologne's brilliance. German troops marched across this bridge in 1936 to occupy the left bank in defiance of the Versailles settlement. Six years later, in 1942, the Royal Air Force launched the first of more than thirty bombing raids that utterly devastated this most emblematic of Greater Rhineland cities (see plate 8.1). The bridge was rebuilt. The cathedral and the city's dozen or so Romanesque churches were painstakingly restored. But many of the Old Town's historic buildings survived only as bits and pieces of masonry embedded, as a testament to Cologne's precarious geopolitics, in the metal and glass surfaces of industrial-age offspring.
Cologne's ruin culminated the disruption of western Europe's core regional economy by frontier geopolitics and the collision of mythical nations. As argued in previous chapters, that collision was the fact of an aesthetic project, conceived by poets in the eighteenth century and imposed on populations by state action in the nineteenth. That aesthetic project did not bring to light “authentic peoples,” as it claimed.