A Travellerspoint blog


India Preparation - Vaccinations

Hepatitis? Check. A & B? Check. Tetanus & Diptheria? Check. Typhus? Check. Pneumokokken? Check...wait, pneumo what?

A couple of weeks ago a friendly, smiling German doctor took great pleasure in ramming a giant pneumokokken filled vaccination into my arm, why? Because I told her I hadn't had one before. Why did I say this? Because I didn't know what it was.

Rather than admit ignorance to the plight of those suffering from pneumokokososity, I took another needle. Some time later after the pain disappeared, I thought it best to find out what I was now immune to.

An internet translation of the German word kokken was required. I think it would be fair to say that I'm not the only English speaker who, when faced with a word like kokken, would be curious to find out which part of the anatomy is now vaccinated. Alas, kokken translates in English as coccobacilli.

With this new found fact, I surmised that I might now be vaccinated against some form of Italian pasta, a variety not sold in Lidl. Wikipedia was needed.

This is what I found,

Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus, is gram-positive, alpha-hemolytic, bile-soluble aerotolerant anaerobe and a member of the genus Streptococcus. A significant human pathogenic bacterium, S. pneumoniae was recognized as a major cause of pneumonia in the late 19th century and is the subject of many humoral immunity studies....

The last words... Humoral immunity... That's chilling. Did a German doctor immunise me against humor, albeit only American humour with that spelling? Not possible, although Germans are famous for not having a sense of humour so it would make sense... Hmmmm...

In the end, I still couldn't find out exactly what I was vaccinated against. But, at least now I can sleep soundly at night knowing the word Kokken won't be on my gravestone...

Posted by scotsman 12:48 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

An Unexpected Toilet Stop

A few weeks ago I found myself stuck in 20km's worth of Autobahn traffic performing some unusual crossed legged clutch manoeuvres. Morning coffee and battering rain had put into action every possible bodily function on my brain's „don't piss yourself“ list and left me wishing Renault had installed an automobile equivalent of a bedpan. Alas, they hadn't, they don't and likely never will. As such, my bladder drove me onto the hard shoulder, past a kilometre worth of patient, cursing German drivers and off the Autobahn in the direction of Kaltenkirchen, north of Hamburg. I soon found myself on a country road and began desperately looking for a suitable petrol station, cafe or bush where I could relieve nature's call. A sign appeared to my left, „KZ Gedenkstätte.“ As a former history student and someone bursting for a piss, a concentration camp memorial seemed like a perfect place to stop.

I parked the car in the waterlogged carpark. The rain had stopped and after an hour stuck in traffic, the crisp, clean air was a welcome relief. Hopping over puddles, I made my way towards a large portakabin with an open door. Just before entering, I was stopped in my tracks by a overly enthusiatic „Hallo!“ from a man off to the right. I matched his enthusiasm with my urgent request for a toilet, whereby he escorted me to a cupboard inside the portakabin. There was a moment of confusion as he switched on the light and leaflet laden shelves came into view. Was my German pronounciation really that bad? However, after fumbling with a previously unseen handle, a side door opened into a small WC and I was allowed my moment of relief...

Rejuvenated, I stumbled past the boxes in the cupboard, through another door and into a small exhibition room detailing the history of the camp. The man with the enthusiastic Hallo was enthusiastically awaiting me. As the sole visitor and user of his not so public toilet, I felt an obligation, despite my bad German, to try and speak to him. It turned out to be a good decision. He explained that the camp had only been operational for the final 9 months of the war, having originally been established to provide a workforce for a nearby airfield. The original runway was too short for the newly developed jet fighters and so a supply of free labour was needed. The SS duely obliged and prisoners were sent from the Neuengamme camp south of Hamburg. He explained that the exact number of prisoners to pass through the camp was difficult to pinpoint but that between 500 to 700 lost there lives there. Largely Russians, Poles & French, they died of hunger, disease and exhaustion. However, in Holocaust terms, Kaltenkirchen is a small fish in a big pond.

After politely pretending to read the German language information boards, I headed out to see the remains of the camp itself. Before the war, Kaltenkirchen had seen the Nazi's take 95% of the vote and the area was a National Socialist hotspot. As such, the populace didn't take too much interest in the camp during the war and especially not afterwards. In the 1970's it was completely torn down, nature was given free reign and the memories were buried away. In spite of this this I learnt from Herr Enthusiasm that an association is working to remember to various Holocaust sites around Schleswig Holstein including Ladelund, Husum and Ahrensbök.

The Kaltenkirchen result, white fencing outlines where the barracks once stood and towering pine trees cover the whole camp. I found myself being guided from tree to tree by information plaques marking areas where barracks, officers quarters and solitary confinement once were. The whole camp I covered in less than 10 minutes before I ended up in what was the parade ground. Here, daily role calls were held, sometimes hours long in wind, rain, cold and snow. A punishing daily ordeal for undernourished and inadequately dressed prisoners. Now, the only thing standing is a single stone pillar. Upon which, the words of a poem spiral round forcing several loops of the stone in order to read the entirety. I gave up trying to translate after the 5th loop and instead made my way back to the car with a spinning head.

I negotiated the puddles again and got back behind the wheel. I put the radio on but couldn't listen to it. My head was awash with thoughts and still twirling from pillar. I couldn't drive away. Instead I sat motionless in the car in a slight state of shock. All I'd wanted was a toilet...

Ashes of Birkenau, Stephan Hermlin (The Poem on the Turning Stone)

Die an die Hoffnung glauben, Sehen die Birken grün,
Wenn die Schatten der Tauben Über die Asche fliehn:
Lied des Todes, verklungen,
Das jäh dem Leben gleicht:
Schwer wie Erinnerungen
Und wie Vergessen leicht

Posted by scotsman 02:23 Archived in Germany Comments (0)


With a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.08 - 0.15%, the body is scientifically in a "risky state." Speech is slurred, balance and coordination impaired, reflexes slowed, emotions are unstable and there's a good chance you'll be making your own modern art in a toilet pan. Between 0.15% - 0.30%, a "high risk state," help is required walking, breathing is laboured, memory becomes blurred and, perhaps most alarmingly, loss of bladder control. At this point you should really be sitting out the next round. In fact at this point someone should be tucking you into bed and strategically placing a basin.

The following day is never pretty. Headache, weakness, light sensitivity, difficulty sleeping, all classic hangover symptoms. Between 25-30% of all people are allegedly resistant to hangovers, but for the majority of us, it means suffering. Alcohol depletes vital nutrients in the body, leaving us craving certain foods the next day. Bacon, eggs or anything protein rich normally on the menu.

The drunk in front of me, a classic example of the "risky state," has decided against the bacon and opted instead for a single carrot. He stands in line, swaying slightly, the stubbly vegetable cradled in his palm. His friend, recently denied the four beers he wanted, waits at the kiosk's door. The reason for this denial? He only has 10 cents. Carrot man is next to be served, he stumbles forward before coming to a halt by the shop counter. The exasperated female shop assistant weighs the vegetable and demands 14 cents. An uneasy pause ensues. Lines of concentration slowly appear across his face before he finally slurs something resembling the word "expensive".

It's 5.30am in Hamburg's St Pauli district and the shop assistant's jaw clenches slowly in frustration. Carrot man fails to clock this and instead resumes his silent concentration. What feels like a small eternity passes before he finally announces his decision with a lurch to the left and stumbling exit from the kiosk, devoid of carrot. Whether he was looking for a late night snack or breakfast is unclear. At this time in the morning, in this place, his night could be at an end or it might be just beginning.


St Pauli, dominated by the mile long Reeperbahn, is Hamburg's 24 hour district of sex, drugs, alcohol and any other vice you may be looking for, carrots included. Indeed if the city were personified by St Pauli then Hamburg would be an alcoholic nymphomaniac of the highest order. The district boasts enough bars to keep even the hardiest drinkers happy 24 hours a day. A simple Yellow Pages search immediately provides 140 possible venues of intoxication. A healthy number for an area of only one square mile. In addition to this, drunkards spoilt for choice are also pestered by hawkers for peep shows, sex shows, strip bars and even Amsterdam style "window shopping." The infamous Herbert Strasse, from which respectable ladies are forbidden, a replica of Amsterdam's red light district where lingerie clad mistresses coo seductively at passing males. All in the name of business.

However St Pauli, or The Kiez as it's known locally, also offers something prevalent throughout Hamburg, contrast. In spite of the degeneracy, the Reeperbahn and surrounding streets are home to some of Hamburg's finest theatres. The Imperial, the Schmidt and the St Pauli theatres offer everything from Sherlock Holmes to modern German performances. The TUI opera house also offers regular shows and for a taste of something bigger, a boat ride across the Elbe from St Pauli leads to the "Theatre in the Harbour," currently home to The Lion King. St Pauli is also sprinkled with a number of museums and numerous of live music venues, attracting artists from across the globe. The Docks, Große Freiheit 36 and perhaps most intriguingly Übel & Gefährlich, housed in a giant second world war concrete air raid bunker, provide regular opportunities to enjoy international musical talent.

Consequently, holidaying German families often find themselves caught between cultural attractions on the mile of sin. Inadvertently perusing sex shop windows filled with toys, gadgets, gizmos, plastic things, shiny things and everything one might possibly need for a night when there's nothing on TV. In fact the best time to appreciate this antithesis is during the city's Harbour Birthday celebrations, held annually in May. As the streets fill with bumbags, SLRs and guidebooks, the ladies of the night branch out from Herbert Strasse and the scene is suddenly awash with enough cleavage to make even Hugh Heffner blush.

Of course Hamburg's sex industry, and H&M's lycra sales, would be far from what they are today had it not been for generations of frisky sailors coming into port... Hamburg's harbour is the life blood of not only St Pauli, but the entire city. It's the pumping heart where Hamburg's wealth originated and upon which it's still largely dependant. Despite being over one hundred kilometres from the coast, Hamburg boasts the 3rd largest port in Europe and in 2008 handled over 9.5 million containers, creating tens of millions of euros worth of revenue for the city. Thus the annual birthday bash is more than merited. Although it's not only international trade that fills the Hanseatic coffers along the Elbe. Boat tours and souvenir shops selling sailor titbits abound along the Landungsbrücken in an attempt to give tourists a taste of being a salty seadog. It also offers an excellent vantage point to view the harbour at work and, as such, thousands of tourist cameras are drawn here every year. One plus point of this, from a Hamburgers perspective, is that the rest of city's plentiful waterside spots are left largely to the locals.

Harbour Night

Harbour Night

In fact a stones throw from the harbour cruises are a couple of Hamburg's best summertime secrets. Hamburg City Beach Club or Strand Pauli Beach Club embody that typical Hamburg theme of compatible incompatibility. A brown, sluggish, ugly river combined with the infrastructure demanded by an international port, doesn't exactly sound like an ideal location for a beach club. Soft white sand under bare feet, hammocks and bean bags strewn around under thatched beach umbrellas, house lounge music creating a soft, encompassing atmosphere, brown bodies leaning against a bar and at the same time a China Shipping container vessel slipping past in the background. It shouldn't work but somehow, in Hamburg, it does.

In fact the love of being near water is undeniably a constant throughout the city. From the beach bars on the banks of the Elbe to waterside cafes in the leafy districts around the city's much loved Außenalster lake, Hamburgers make a dash for the water at any given chance. Possibly with this in mind, it was decided in 1997 that the time had come to build some new waterfront property for the city's fine citizens. In addition to this, some public parks, squares, promenades, 10km of new waterfront, cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, supermarkets, a new underground rail connection, a cruise ship terminal and to top it all off a new philharmonic orchestra hall, all on the banks of the Elbe. The new Hafenstadt, Harbour City, is the largest inner city building project in Europe and at a cost of approximately €7 billion will increase the city centre by around 40% and create 40,000 jobs in the process. A daring project no doubt and not without it's critics. With the orchestra hall alone running approximately three times over the intial €75 million budget, with two years of construction remaining, Hamburgers are left questioning where the money will come from.

In spite of this, of city's 1.7 million inhabitants, the vast majority would willingly admit to dreaming of a house by the Elbe or the Alster lake. Those who don't are most likely to come from the city's bar and cafe laden alternative Sternschanze district. If St Pauli is Hamburg's nether regions, then the Schanze, is the city's warm bosom. Still a little cheeky with the chance of some fun but without getting too dirty. And yet again, contrast is ever present.

On a hot, lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon whilst relaxing with a beer outside one of Schulterblatt's many bars and cafes, you can watch the world go by. Hippies, hobos and the too cool for school crowd, all mingling happily and peacefully together. Browsing cafe menus or pondering over shisha pipes, kitsch t-shirts and art nouveau paintings in shop windows. A scene of urban tranquillity. Yet slowly and gradually the soft bass pumping from the cafes is replaced by a wailing noise. It gets louder and closer, allowing itself to be distinguished as a siren. But it's not alone, there's more than one. Suddenly, with screeching tyres, four police vans turn into the street and come to a stop. The back doors burst open and a stream of riot police pour out. The reason? Nobody is sure. Their target? The urine drenched, decaying edifice of the Rote Flora. The Schanze's "Autonomous, Occupied Culture Centre," specialises in social movements, political pressure and a couple of cafes as a sideline. As such, it's Hamburg's alternative heartland, and thus a quiet Sunday afternoon can swiftly turn into a street battle between Lefties and the local Polizei.


Although, despite the occasional riot, Hamburg is generally a safe and trouble free city. In fact, when asking any locals about dangers in their city, they tend to struggle for an answer before opting for drunkards on the Reeperbahn. In reality however, Hamburg's mile of sin is as dangerous as Kofi Annan on marijuana. Somehow Hamburg has avoided that almost automatic step from alcohol to violence. How? Perhaps the sex. Or maybe it's the attitude of tolerance Hamburg has nurtured. The acceptance of contrasts, black or white, straight or gay, ugly or beautiful, it doesn't matter, you're in Hamburg.

So whether you're looking for alcoholic adventures, theatres, museums, protests or a political chat with a transvestite, there's a good chance you'll find it in Hamburg. And after all, 14 cents for a single carrot isn't so expensive.


Posted by scotsman 13:51 Archived in Germany Tagged postcards Comments (0)

The Woes of an Addict

(Part One)

sunny 30 °C

Travel is an addiction. It’s as simple as that. It shares with drug abuse and alcoholism all the major addiction symptoms. Withdrawal effects, desire for a bigger and better highs and, quite often, no real control over ones actions.

This latter point is very much on my mind as I sit in my Hamburg apartment, glued to my computer, scanning the outskirts of the city on Google maps. It’s a beautiful 30C summers day outside, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and the majority of the populace are doing the right thing by lounging in parks, relaxing and generally enjoying a lazy day. I, on the other hand, am hatching a plan involving four train rides, kilometres of physical labour on a bicycle and a morbid tourist attraction in the form of Neuengamme concentration camp. Like I say, it’s an addiction…

My tourist attraction of choice is actually so far from the city that it’s completely off my Hamburg map and as such I desperately resort to scribbling a route from Google onto a piece of paper. I turn the computer off, get myself ready and head off. I study my home-made map as I lock the front door and realise it looks like a treasure map drawn by a retarded pirate. The possibility of getting lost in suburbia looks quite likely.

I walk out of the apartment block into a wall of heat and make my way to the U-Bahn (underground) station. It’s an easy 2 minute cycle but by the time I get there I feel disgustingly hot and sticky. I take comfort from the chap standing next to me at a pedestrian crossing, his light grey t-shirt informs the world just how hot it is by being almost entirely dark grey with sweat. I haul my bike up the station stairs and onto the platform. A train pulls up almost immediately and I inwardly thank the public transport gods for the efficiency of the Germans. Three stops later I’m at Berliner Tor station and looking to change onto a suburbia bound S-Bahn train. I get lost in the myriad of tunnels and I’m forced to surface onto street level to hunt down the different section of the station.

I manage to find the adjacent S-Bahn quite easily but, my pride in my own simple accomplishments is soon shattered by the realisation that by breaking away from the rest of the human traffic, I’ve made myself more vulnerable to attacks from the clip-board and question wielding fraternity. I’m accosted at the entrance by a Frau armed with the board, a pen and a plethora of guilt inducing scenarios complete with monetary solutions stemming from my bank account. Being very aware of my own financial plight, it crosses my mind to strike the first blow and ask her for money but instead I claim complete ignorance of the German language and, with an apologetic look, walk straight past her. She shouts questions at me in fluent English and we have an increasingly distant conversation as I continue walking towards the platform.

The train arrives after a couple of minutes, I wheel my bike on and realise that outside it’s 30C but inside the compartment it’s 40C. Everyone looks like they're being cooked. It dawns on me that these carriages are almost completely air-tight for rain protection (Hamburg’s normal weather) and little thought has been given to the occasional hot summer’s day. Only two small windows at the front can be opened and air-conditioning is non-existent. Death by public transport, a novel idea…

The train driver announces each station we arrive at, but he does so with a very distinctive muffle, as though he might be eating socks for lunch. I resort to counting the number of stops to go instead of trying to understand what he might be saying. I slide off the train after 10 minutes of baking, 3 kilograms lighter and with a thoroughly soaked t-shirt, confirm that I can count by checking I’m at the right station and then make for the streets. As I walk out into the sunshine and hop onto my bike, I realise that my hastily drawn and increasingly retarded looking map has no directions from the station itself. Brushing any doubt about my navigation skills aside, I set off in search of the first street on my map. I quickly make my presence felt amongst the locals as I free-wheel along on the wrong side of the pavement. At least I think that’s why the old women are scowling at me. Or maybe I’m on the wrong side of the street too? Perhaps it’s a no cycle zone? Do I need a license to ride a bike in Germany? This is after all the spiritual home of bureaucracy. Whatever the reason behind the scowls, I flash them a big toothy smile that I hope they interpret as “Feck off crinkly!”
I find my first road on the treasure map after a brief but extensive tour of the local vicinity and I’m soon fighting my way past roadworks, building sites and throngs of shoppers. Not the leisurely country amble I had envisioned. I persevere nevertheless, perhaps because the idea of getting back on a sauna train so soon strikes sweaty fear into my core, and I’m soon wheeling my way down a large but mainly empty thoroughfare, skirted on either side by red brick houses, more reminiscent of Manchester than Germany. After 5 minutes of brisk pedalling I reach a sign for Neuengamme. I swing right onto the long straight countryside road toward the camp and begin my 6km slog in the afternoon heat…

Posted by scotsman 03:36 Archived in Germany Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Kaffee und Kuchen


Seldom am I tempted to travel long distances purely for food. There are of course exceptions, like the legendary Mrs Macs meat pie from Western Australia which, purely for the pastry and gravy alone, I might actually consider walking over hot coals and simultaneously sacrificing small woodland creatures, but as a general rule I try and avoid lengthy trips solely for culinary purposes. Taking this latter point into consideration, you may then understand my mild confusion as to why, on a wet, Friday evening whilst whizzing down the Cologne bound Autobahn at a velocity previously unknown to this Scotsman at ground level, I find myself feeling strangely excited at the prospect of my impending Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee & cake) weekend in a friends cosy, familial abode somewhere in the depths of Rhineland-Palatinate.

I must at this point confess that, if you were to put a map of Germany in front of me right now, my fingers would scan searchingly across the it, much in the same manner as a blind man reading brail, and would likely never find the said Bundesland of Rhineland-Palatinate. In fact, unless a city is on the coast or near the edge of the country, it will probably elude the geography department of my goldfish like memory for all eternity. This is unfortunately the same with most other populous nations boasting a hectic central core. England for example is jam-packed with industrious communities at its heart and yet, were I to try and pick out Birmingham or Leeds it would be like Stevie Wonder playing pin the tail on the donkey. But I diverge…

Of course the coffee and cake aren’t my only reasons for heading into the German heartland, the opportunity to visit Cologne and take in the visual splendour of Germany’s countryside are also important, but the sweet homemade delicacies which had been promised in advance definitely hold a lofty position on my list of expectations for the weekend.

After six hours of Autobahn driving we pull up outside my friend’s home in the town of Brachbach. I stumble out of the car and attempt to make use of my sleeping legs. It’s almost 2am and, despite being a novice with German culture, I’m pretty sure that it’s too late for my first slice of sugary sweetness. We head inside, are greeted by the parents and immediately offered some refreshments and sustenance in the form of coffee and cake. A smile starts to creep across my face, I love these people already. Just as my head starts to nod and my belly rumble, my ears catch wind of my fellow weary travellers saying “nein danke...” Unfortunately the curse of coming from a culture which classes having a biscuit with your tea as mildly excessive means that, despite hankering for cake, if nobody else is having some then I can’t either. A British mental barrier that I will sadly never overcome and no amount of counselling can help. As such, an hour later I find myself tucked up in bed with beer in my belly and cakes drifting into my dreams.

The next morning we all take up residence at the dining table for a big German breakfast of meat, cheese, dark weighty bread and gallons of coffee before making our way to the station for the Cologne train. I spend the hour long journey watching the landscape roll by through a dirty, rain-drop smeared window. It’s a bleak, grey day outside and the generous lathering of industry in this part of Germany combines with the weather to create a dull depressive atmosphere. However the downbeat feeling is soon swept aside and replaced by an excited state of anticipation as we enter the city. Never in my life have my nostrils been so open in expectation when stepping off a train. As the place which it’s name to macho perfume, I have, for years, believed that Cologne must be a musky but pleasant smelling metropolis. And as such, during the languorous meander from the platform to the central plaza outside the station my nose is pointed skywards and my nostrils to the fore as I waft Cologne in, so to speak.

My sniffing is soon halted by the sight of Cologne’s hefty gothic cathedral parked right outside the station. The main square surrounding this impressive, twin-towered piece of religious brickwork looks like it has been designed with a concrete football pitch in mind. Such is the contrast between the two that the cathedral looks slightly out of place and ill-fitting, despite of course being more visually appealing. We head inside to see if the innards are as impressive. After passing through the large arched doorway we’re immediately confronted by a sea of camera-happy tourists shuffling over every imaginable square foot of the open space. I spy a corner with a table of tea-tree candles flickering happily beneath some sculpted religious scenes and I involuntarily shuffle over and start taking pictures. Normally when I’m surrounded by tourists going trigger happy with their umpteen mega pixels I can’t bear the thought of taking my camera out and being one of the crowd but for some reason this moment is different. Maybe subconsciously I feel the need to be part of a bigger entity whilst in a religious building and, as I’d rather read a Lonely Planet than a Bible, I subsequently open my arms and camera lens to the tourist brethren.

We soon move onto a communal pilgrimage of sorts, marching upwards in a spiralling fashion, our aim being the top of the cathedrals towers. The staircase boasts over 500 steps, all of which lead you in a never ending clockwise twirling ascent. They’re the kind of stairs where if you were to take the roof off the cathedral and look down, you’d be faced with a large concrete washing machine with people inside on a very slow and tightly packed spin. Upon emerging from the cycle at the top, not only are you greeted by some impressive, heaven bound spires but also a generous helping of wire mesh hindering every possible view point. This leaves me slightly unnerved as, in my mind, there are only two possible reasons why the wire is there. Either the cathedral is a popular spot for suicide cases looking for an adrenalin rush before a squishy end or the birds of Cologne are very possessive of their airspace and the pilgrims need to be protected.

Now, if I were to lose my lust for life and thus see no future, I don’t think I’d put myself through a rigorous 500 step, spinning workout before leaping off a tower to meet my maker. I haven’t given suicide much thought but I imagine if I had to then I’d go for a much easier way that doesn’t leave a stain on the pavement. And so with this in mind I’m grateful for wire mesh, despite it hindering an otherwise clear view down towards the Rhine and central Cologne, for I do not wish to have my eyes pecked out by a demonic crow.

After 10 minutes of wandering around the top and reading the graffiti etched onto the historic walls we make for the stairs again. Going down is far more interesting than the upward slog as not only do you have the benefit of the wider side of the triangular, “wedge of cake style” stairs, complete with a banister and little windows, but also you get to watch others struggling whilst going up. About two thirds of the way down we pass an Indian family and for one of the uncles it was clearly a little too claustrophobic. He had stopped dead in his ascent and clung to the wall much in the same manner as a 3rd class passenger to a lifeboat on the titanic. He doesn't look as if he's going anywhere in a hurry and so I refrain from telling him about the remaining 300 steps.

We stumble dizzily onto the streets outside the cathedral and weave our way down towards the Rhine. The sky is still hanging low like a grey blanket over the city and it makes the Rhine look suspiciously murky and unappealing. The tourist ferries are, however, still doing a bustling trade and the bars and restaurants near the river front are packed with happy, contented folks. There’s a weird feeling of seasonal confusion as the summer joggers bounce along the riverside promenade but in amongst the bars there is a Christmassy twinkle to the lights and the sense of an approaching winter as some outdoor drinkers sport scarves and various other winter regalia.

We walk along the water front before meandering into the old town and enjoying the sudden transformation in architecture. Such was the destruction of many German cities during the war, Cologne included, that in the post-war reconstruction period, architects who seemed to be primarily inspired by shoeboxes and concrete, were given free reign to design a new city. And so it is that when you suddenly find yourself in a world of cobbled streets and narrow lanes away from the modern Cologne of grey, square boxes it’s a highly unexpected pleasure. I find a beer museum on a side street but decide not to go in for fear of spending the entire day there. Instead I content myself with a quick photograph before continuing the exploration of the old world. We wander up a small narrow lane and step out into a large rectangular square the size of a football pitch. It’s surrounded on all four sides with bars and restaurants and when faced with such a plethora of establishments boasting beer taps, it’s difficult to say no. A small but refreshing Kölsch beer is soon quaffed and a plan of action is hatched involving a tour of the main shopping street, followed by a consolidation of drinking activity in the Cölner Hofbräu.

We subsequently do our best to enjoy a relaxing amble down Cologne’s main shopping thoroughfare but the density of shoppers means that it feels more like dodgeball than a leisurely stroll. By the time we reach the end of the street I’m more than happy to dive into the aforementioned beer house. As I step through the front door I have a strange sense of having been here before. However it’s not until we’ve ordered a round of beers from the particularly smarmy waiter that I realise this place is exactly like a small version of Munich’s legendary kitsch Hofbräu Haus, except here there are no buxom waitresses or lederhosen clad oompah band.

Another distinct difference being that in Bavaria a litre of beer will lighten your pocket to the tune of €7 whilst in this particular establishment you are bestowed a mere 200ml’s for €3. Now, maths is most definitely not my forte but when it comes to beer related numericals I know when I’m being had. However love, money and logic do not always mix well and as such I find myself ordering a second with a view to possibly stealing a glass. The waiter, a perfect example of arrogance personified, seems to be able to read my thoughts on this small matter of theft and he eyes me cautiously for the remainder of my patronage. He flicks a quick smirk as we leave and I instantly regret not smearing the table with mustard and accidentally spilling the salt and pepper.

Despite the unique brand of service in the bräuhaus, we’re in a happy, buoyant mood as we hop down the steps next to the cathedral and make our way over the plaza del concrete and on into central station. A quick scan of the departures board reveals that we are an hour too early and so we retreat back to the steps by the cathedral and join the youth of Cologne lazing outside in the weak autumnal sunshine. The hour soon passes and I’m slightly amazed at how quickly it disappears. Sitting on your backside doing nothing for 60 minutes should, by definition be boring. But when confronted with a large area packed with people happily minding their own business and shuffling from one unknown destination to the next, it takes on a zoo like quality. I had even started to think about information boards for some of the more permanent members of the exhibition. Nothing too fancy, maybe just a brief definition of the word “emo” or perhaps the daily habits and routines of an average tramp. It could be Cologne’s newest tourist attraction with guides and an interactive corner where you can prod at a drunken hobo. The kids will love it…

However I’m soon whisked away from my grand venture by one of Deutsche-Bahn’s double-decker trains and left to ponder what could have been. The landscape outside is slowly being covered by a veil of darkness and by the time we reach my friends house in Brachbach there is a definite chill in the air. His house looks warm and inviting from outside and as we step through the front door into a sea of warmth I hear those beautiful words, “Kaffee und Kuchen?”

Posted by scotsman 14:03 Archived in Germany Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]