Cologne, Urbanization & German Romance

Posted by D on Saturday, May 19, 2012

Week two recap time! About to fall asleep sitting up though, so bear with me if it's a little incoherent. So last Saturday (the 12th) I ended up going to Cologne (still in the North Rhine-Westphalia region) and spent the day with N, one of the other interns, and her boyfriend K. They were absolutely lovely hosts, and I got a great tour and learned loads about this area, Germany, Mexico...
As soon as you exit the Cologne Hauptbahnhof, you're immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), a massive Roman Catholic church dating back from the 13th century. The dichotomy between the prominent structures (the station and the cathedral) right beside each other, one modern and high tech and the other Medieval and historic is kind of rad. Erosion, weather and time are obviously inevitable forces acting on it, so it's basically constantly undergoing renovation. It still looks amazing, but apparently a lot of the exterior isn't actually remnant of the Middle Ages. 
From the outside the cathedral is very dark and imposing looking - massive and intimidating, sure - but not particularly welcoming. It just kind of looks grey. From the inside though, it's another story. Huge panels of stained glass filter the light to a soft glow. Lit candles, ancient tapestries and numerous pews inhabit the interior. In a restricted access area is a shrine said to contain the remains of the Three Kings/Three Wise Men. Wikipedia says it's a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts approximately 20,000 visitors a day. 
The weather in this entire area has been really insane the last week, effectively alternating through the course of basically four seasons in the span of an hour. It'll literally switch from massive downpour to perfect sunny day within minutes - and because the office is in a high rise building with a view of the entire city, we can literally watch the weather come in and differentiate between parts of the city that are sunny/stormy. N said it hailed in Cologne one morning.  
The Rhine meanders in graceful curves, looping its way through the region, but it's not super wide. There are a number of bridges that span the river. We trekked onto a large on in Cologne, where the fence blocking the pedestrian traffic from mechanic is literally covered by locks.

So apparently it's a thing - especially when people get married - to get a lock, have your names and the date engraved or carved, lock it to a bridge, then each take one of the two keys and throw it into the Rhine. The concept of a locked bond in which you've thrown away the key takes on a literal meaning here (and apparently there are such bridges in Italy as well?) The Germans may not have a reputation for romance, but they seem plenty romantic in actuality...

Heart-shaped doodads are readily available, PDA is commonplace, and there are a number of intriguing courtship rituals. May 1st, May Day, is a sort of celebration of the arrival of Spring. Young lads who've got a crush on someone will go and decorate a May Day tree outside her house with colorful ribbons and maybe her name. There are two potential outcomes: 1) she accepts the invitation and they go on a date or 2) she declines and her father buys her rejected admirer a drink. Win-win situation? This year's a Leap Year so apparently the girls got to confess their crushes like this too. On Saturdays you see a lot of bachelor/bachelorette parties around town as well. 
Some famous Germans ^. Statues are larger than life - some of them look like they have bullet holes in them, but who knows. K basically put Cologne as a city that's very free-spirited. Could kind of see that, from the hours spent there. For linner (dunch?) we actually ended up getting Lebanese food from a cute little place. On N's suggestion, I got Halloumi. I'm not always the most adventurous eater when it comes to trying new food, but this was actually amazing - it's basically fried goat cheese in a pita wrap with vegetables (and sauce?) (I've tried looking for it here, but to no avail yet.) The cash register at this place was insane - it was some vintage thing that was 150 years old and you had to crank it and the numbers would display!
We walked around for a bit, seeing Old Market, New Market, beer gardens (biergarten)... There was also a massive multi-level store with sports/outdoorsy ware that was pretty next level. On the bottom floor, there was a diving pool where people were taking scuba diving lessons. There was a hiking patch where you could test shoes, and a storm room which could simulate rain/wind so that coats could be tested as well. Takes "try before you buy" to an extreme. 
They recently found some remains from the 15th century just under the surface of the city, so the area around the Cologne Rathaus is currently undergoing archaeological excavation. It's speculated that many goldsmiths worked in the building, back in the day. We finished off the day by getting some Früh Kölsch (at the brewery?) - it's a multi-level building with a conveyor belt system and barrels of beer. 
Attended a panel discussion on urbanization Tuesday night, which was highly fascinating. The panelists had very diverse backgrounds, and a lot of interesting ideas were exchanged. It was also neat to see how a panel runs in German culture - slight nuances differ from North American (although it could be attributed to the style of this particular moderator for all I know). The catering for the reception was pretty good as well - there was Dom Kölsch, hors d'oeuvres/open-faced sandwich things, & some sort of peppermint strawberry thing for desert. 

All in all, it's been another week of fascinating exposure to German living. Cheers!


  1. Sounds like you've been having an amazing time. The cathedral looks amazing, I hope I get to see it for myself someday. I saw a few bridges with locks in Paris as well!

  2. I love the lock bridge tradition… there is one in Venice and I want to find a lock SOOOOO BAD!

  3. Cologne is one of my favorite cities in Germany!! Have you had the chance to go to Trier? It's really amazing as well.

    1. Haven't made it out to Trier yet - considering swinging by there & Luxembourg for a day trip though! :)

  4. yum! fried haloumi is wonderful. I didn't know that Cologne had love locked bridge too.

  5. Definitely good thing you got the Kölsch bier checked off your list. So crazy how you see the cathedral right when walking out of the train station, that shocked me as well

  6. That's a really cool tradition with the locks. I saw a bunch of locks on a bridge when I was over in Prague and wondered what it was all about

  7. Cologne was the first time I saw that lock thing too, but I looked it up when I got home and apparently this is a worldwide phenomenon, and there are bridges and gates from France to Ukraine to Korea with these things. I wonder if there are any that have popped up in Canada?


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