The weather was typical Deutsch grey as I walked out of the Ubahn station in Köln (or Cologne, as it is called in English). I have adjusted to making the most of this weather, though sunshine is always welcome! Just as you would expect in Germany, I waited for a good 2 minutes on the edge of a completely empty street, waiting for the lights to turn green, so I could cross over with a number of other strictly law-abiding locals. I didn’t want to be yelled at too early in the morning!
I could feel that I was out of Berlin. There were no English speakers on the train and everything was much more clean, ordered and precise, in true German form. Nonetheless, the longer I stayed, the more I realised how international it was in this city and, as a tourist, you could easily get by on English – everyone knows how to speak it. They just choose German first… naturlich!
I had breakfast in Herr Pimmock and was happy to be able to communicate in German to the waiter and to be able to understand most words on the menu. There seemed to be a particularly large variety of wurst, but I opted for an omelette and ginger tea, which came out in true hipster fashion.
As I walked down the narrow streets, browsing boutique stores and art galleries, the wind picked up and sent Autumn leaves flying everywhere. I soaked in the magic moment and then popped by the bakery to get my fix of afternoon baked goods- they were selling 2 Berliners for 1 Euro – the lady put them in a paper bag and I greedily devoured both of them, one after the other. Jam oozed out of the centre of these cinnamon covered buns as I contemplated the small joys of life!
First tourist stop was the Köln Cathedral, an elaborate building which houses the shrine of the Three Kings of Orient (the wise men who carried gold, frankincense and Myrrh). It is said that their remains were gathered together and put into the gold, bejewelled casket, which glitters gloriously inside the cathedral. It is a remarkably impressive sight and best of all, you can see it for free!
From here, I took a walk along the Rhine River and browsed the flea markets, which were full of antique items ready to adorn a hipster apartment. One day, I too will own a telephone from the 1920s, a typewriter and a functioning gramophone player, but they are a bit too heavy to carry around on my travels right now. Wandering through the cobbled laneways of the old town gave me the feeling of walking back in time anyway, with beer halls around every corner and the scent of sausages and potato floating on the breeze.
I went on a ‘Time Ride’ in the afternoon. After learning a bit about the history of Köln, I sat in an old electric tram, put on large goggles and was transported back in time in a virtual reality to before World War II. It was incredible to sit in an old tram and look out into the street around me, with people in old-fashioned dress bustling along the pavement, vendors selling wares at the markets and families riding in horse-drawn carts alongside our tram. It was a 360 degree experience and you even had to duck your head to check out some of the sights in the distance. Technology has come a long way!
That night, I drank beer from tiny beer glasses at Die Wohngemeinschaft – they would never allow such small quantities in Australia! Or maybe they just felt so small because I was really craving a large Radler. You can finish your glass in a gulp and they bring the beer on round trays, with compartments specifically designed to hold the small glasses. The vegetarian chilli con carne was much more satisfying, served in a wide jar with a basket of bread on the side.
The following day brought grey skies, icy wind and rain. I climbed the panorama tower for a dampened view of the beautiful city, as it was very unlikely that the sun would shine again whilst I was here. I walked across the love-locked bridge with thousands of padlocks, wondering what interesting love stories each of them told. I further contemplated this interesting thought whilst drinking hot chocolate in the Ludwig Museum at a huge round table, with live jazz tunes filling the room.
Later, I tried to get my head around modern art as I stared at canvases covered in blue paint, and bicycle wheels stuck on podiums. I will admit, I was excited to see Andy Warhol’s variety of pop art and works by Picasso and Klandinsky, which I had studied in high school, but most of the art work did not appeal. I stood for a long time in front of a painting with red and white squares trying to make sense of it.
I genuinely enjoyed looking at the black and white portrait photography and later, creating my own modernist portrait by standing in front of tall sheets of glass. I like to think it symbolises all the layers that make up a person (if you want to read into it)! Even as a skeptic of modern art, I walked away having a better appreciation of it, so I would definitely recommend the museum, especially on a rainy day!
That night, I nestled into the royal-sized hostel bunk beds at Die Wohngemeinschaft, wondering if I would ever find myself back here again. You never know where the path may lead. Let’s see!
Have you been to Köln? Any other sights that you would recommend?