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8:52am on Thursday, 8th October, 2015:

Cologne Vignette


My talk yesterday seemed to be liked, which is just as well given that they gave me two rounds of applause before I'd even said a word, so expectations were high.

My only experience of Cologne in the past was when I was on a school trip aged 13: we drove on a coach through Cologne on the way to Heidelberg. All I remember is being pointed out the cathedral as it showed up between buildings (few of us actually saw it) and the fact that the telegraph poles had ivy growing up them. This time, I saw the cathedral but no ivy-strewn telegraph poles.

Because I arrived in the morning, I was able to spend four hours or so exploring central Cologne. I was hoping to do the same today as my flight back isn't until 19:45 or thereabouts. However, the weather forecast on Tuesday lied, saying it would be cold (so I brought a jumper) but not raining (so I didn't bring an umbrella); it's actually warm and raining. Oh well, it doesn't really matter: walking around yesterday gave me a blister on my left heel, so I wasn't going to do much more than sit around today anyway.

Here are some of my observations from yesterday's wanderings.

It costs €2.80 to get from the airport to central Cologne by train. In the UK, it's normally ten times that.

There was a group of tourists being given a guided tour of the central rail station. Germans love engineering.

The cathedral is right next to the railways station. It's so close that I'm surprised there isn't damage from train vibrations.

If the cathedral were cleaned of grime externally so the stones were the same colour as inside, it would completely change its character.

There was a period drama being filmed in a small square off one of the side streets. There were four actresses and perhaps 20 other people doing cameras, sound, lighting, make-up and so on. I looked to be set in maybe the 1940s, judging by the fashion. Whether the actresses were famous or not, I have no idea.

There are lots of little shops dotted around, all with the sign KIOSK. They're not what we'd call kiosks in the UK, though, as they're embedded in buildings and not all that small. You can't walk into a British kiosk and look around, but you can in a Cologne kiosk. They're more like gift shops here.

Some bloke had an amazing verbal tic. He seemed quite normal, wearing a suit, sitting on a bench in a square with two colleagues having a discussion, but every 15 or 20 seconds he would shout HAAA! at the top of his voice. He'd then carry on as if nothing had happened (not that he could really do much else or he'd spend all his life apologising). It's not something I've seen before, though. There can't be many people with this affliction.

There are lots of buskers in Cologne, but I didn't see any of them playing the same instrument.

There are similar numbers of beggars, too. None of them young people. The men tend to have dogs. The women tend to have headscarves and they look down so you can't see their faces. One in particular was set up resting on her knuckles, like a gorilla. She remained completely stationary.

As with many other German cities, the RAF and the USAF really did a number on Cologne in the Second World War. Other cities reconstructed their centres to reflect what was there in the past, with ancient buildings rebuilt just as they were except with lifts and electrical fittings in them. Cologne didn't do this, though: it built new buildings instead, with little reference to what was there before. Thus, instead of looking like an Epcot visualisation of Germany, it looks like Birmingham.

None of the usual continental shops where I can get Stuff for my daughters had Stuff they would now wear. The co-ordinated decision by all German clothes shops to sell nothing but coats didn't help, either. I was reduced to scouring sale racks.

In the cathedral, I didn't see any steps to get to the towers so thought it was not allowed. Later, though, I spotted people at the top so went for another look. It was nearly 1pm, and men in red gowns were ushering people out. Cathedrals in Germany must get used for religious ceremonies or something.

It's surprising how menacing Hare Krishna guys can look.

Aiii! Bagpipes!

Along the Rhine promenade are lines of restaurants, but they weren't doing a lot of business as it's the tail end of the season. The number of them shows that Cologne must attract large numbers of tourists in the summer, though.

There are more ice-cream shops in Cologne than I've seen in any other German city.

So that's Cologne.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).