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Kölsch vs. Alt: Bier & Hockey-related Violence in Köln

Posted by on January 2, 2014

Because I know how much Ruth loves ice-hockey and getting drunk in the daytime (okay, so maybe that’s just me) I planned a romantic river cruise down the Rhine…with one of my best friends and hundreds of rowdy Köln hockey supporters, en route to the derby in Düsseldorf!

So, when, a few hours before leaving, I heard that some bitch had done a runner with our tickets, needless to say, I was not a happy man.

Plan B. We would steal (or rent) another, preferably more nimble vessel, load it with fireworks and, well, you can probably see where this is going. If we could get hold of some Düsseldorf flags at short notice, we might be able to make it look like a hockey-rivalry-motivated attack.

The mental picture of us pulling off whatever the nautical equivalent of a “drive-by” is – clad in the jerseys and scarves of the enemy – made everyone feel suitably better and we decided that, like most of my crazy schemes, this plan should probably never see the light of day. Luckily, someone was there to put a stop to this one. Often, I’m not so fortunate.

Besides, as you’ll see, there’s plenty to do in Cologne, what with the kölsch breweries and Christmas markets.

Moral of the story so far? Martin, think twice about where you put your dick next time.

First stop was Aldi, which we quickly discovered is even cheaper in Germany than it is in the UK, which I suppose makes sense now I think about it, and the same bottle of glühwein that cost us four Pounds back home was only just over a Euro.

kölsch glasses

Martin’s collection of kölsch glasses

Back at Martin’s we were greeted with various German drinking songs and Sharky, the break-dancing shark, who has his own music video:

After warming up with some glühwein, we hit the streets and found a little pub – or eckkneipe – where the music literally did cut off as we walked in and were confronted by the silent stares of the aging barmaid and assortment of grizzled old men. You could cut the tension with a knife. As you could the cigarette smoke hanging thick in the air…which is odd as smoking inside bars has been illegal in Germany for a fair few years now.

Altbier is the beer of choice in nearby Düsseldorf and is the arch-rival of kölsch. Ever since Martin told me I’d be killed for it, I’d been itching to try ordering an alt in Cologne. However, this was clearly not the place for that kind of stunt, so instead I tried my first kölsch. A Reissdorf to be precise.

From the descriptions of the two beer styles, I’d been sure I would prefer alt, which is often likened to English ale, while kölsch plays the part of lager. However, in practise I took to kölsch immediately, with its cool, melt-in-the-mouth feel.

While they’re mocked elsewhere in Germany (especially in Düsseldorf), the “test tube” glasses that kölsch is traditionally served in are the perfect size for that quick, refreshing drink. Called stangen (meaning sticks or rods), they help keep the beer from getting warm. Kölsch is specially designed to be served cold, and everyone knows there’s nothing worse than warm beer.

They are also ridiculously cheap.

It meant we were on our way again soon, which was sad really, as the clientele seemed to be slowly warming to us.

The Helios brauhaus - the smallest kolsch brewery in town

The Helios brauhaus – the smallest kolsch brewery in town

Braustelle – the Helios brauhaus and Cologne’s smallest brewery – was now open, so we went in for some incredible German food and to sample their beers.

As well as Helios kölsch, they also brew Apfelweiss, a delicious apple beer, Schwartze Sieben (Black Seven, a lethal, 7.8% dark beer) and Ehrenfelder Alt, Cologne’s only altbier, which the people accept on the grounds that it’s made in Cologne.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll already know that I recently discovered feuerzangenbowle, the German Xmas drink made from mulled wine and 80% rum and set on fire absinthe-style, so we headed for the famous Xmas markets of Cologne to get some at the source.

Though it wasn’t as strong as Julika’s homemade version, it was still pretty damn tasty. Getting to the bar was the only difficulty, as people attempted to negotiate their way through the tightly packed crowd carrying numerous mugs of flaming liquid in close proximity to people’s faces and clothing.

“Health and safety” would have a field-day with this in the UK.

A surly, Köln-supporting Xmas elf with mug of feuerzangenbowle

A surly, Köln-supporting Xmas elf with mug of feuerzangenbowle

feuerzangenbowle at Cologne Christmas market

Ruth with feuerzangenbowle at Cologne Christmas market

It was also at the Xmas market that I encountered Dr. Seltsam and his travelling absinthe counter. If you must know, I put this fancy effect on it in an attempt to hide the fact that it’s a shockingly bad photo. Did it work?

Dr doctor Seltsams Absinthe Counter kontor

Dr. Seltsam’s Absinthe Counter

One of Cologne's many Christmas Markets

One of Cologne’s many Christmas Markets

We managed to find Martin’s pal Henning in the crowd, then went to a kiosk for some more beer. We walked past Cologne Philharmonic Hall, where security guards stood around the perimeter and no-one is allowed to walk across when the music is on because some idiot architect made a huge balls-up and put it underneath a public thoroughfare so you can hear when people walk on top.

Then to the bridge, where hundreds of thousands of couples have chained a padlock and tossed the key into the river, symbolising their eternal love. I dread to think how many of these couples are still together now, but it is an inspiring spectacle.

“Won’t it weigh down the bridge eventually?” I asked.

“No way. That’s impossible.”

Love locks padlocks on the bridge

Love locks on the bridge

Ruth insisted we put one up…

…and then this happened.

...and then this happened.

…and then this happened.

Drinking another beer in the Hauptbahnhof (central station), I tried to open Martin’s, only to sheer off the top of the bottle. I prided myself on the clean break, until Martin came back and against all advice (and despite my efforts to buy him a replacement) decided to drink it anyway.

Then again, this is the guy who once picked up a contact lens from a club dance floor and put it back in his eye.

sion kolsch

Me looking radiant in the Sion Kolsch Brauhaus

We picked up Jörn and Martha and after another kölsch brauhaus or two, headed across town to Jay’s Hip Hop Bar & Lounge. Martin had just acquired the keys to his new flat, directly above the bar, and wanted to check it out.

Jay's Hip Hop Bar

Martin’s new “local”

I distinctly remember me, Martin and Ruth kicking ass at beer-pong, then the night started to slip away. They have a deal on where every time you order Jack Daniel’s new Tennessee Honey (which is amazing by the way), you get a free hat, so every time I turned around another one of us was wearing a Jack Daniel’s hat, until the staff brought round a load of free t-shirts and by the time we left the place we were a group of walking JD advertisements.

jack daniels hats and t-shirts tennessee honey

A walking advertisement for Jack Daniel’s

Then they found out Martin was the new man upstairs and brought round all these shots.

free shots woodruff

Woodruff shots, on the house!

By now we were joined by a Pascal and another Martin, at one point I was opening a dusty bottle of Baron Otard cognac, and everyone kept staring into my eyes and saying, “prost!” Which apparently is the done thing, or else seven years of bad sex.

We ended up in a tiny underground club. I danced like a fool for a while, then Martin declared it was shit and we left.

I’ll leave you with this parting image. (Even the German’s we’ve asked don’t know what the “sick” part means or why it’s appropriate for the name of a food service establishment.)

sick grill

Sick grill…anyone?

Oh, and here are some cool photos of Cologne and the Dom (cathedral), taken at sunset from the top of the “Köln Triangle”, which by the way is by no conceivable stretch of the imagination a triangle.

Sunset over Cologne

Sunset over Cologne

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne sunset from the Koln Triangle

Cologne sunset, taken from the Koln Triangle

Cologne Cathedral in the snow

Cologne Cathedral

Clapton Ultras hit Cologne

Clapton Ultras hit Cologne

2 Responses to Kölsch vs. Alt: Bier & Hockey-related Violence in Köln

  1. Martin

    I’m pretty sure Sick is a Kölsch word for Seite, which means Page or Side. It was a shame about the hockey, but it was still a good weekend.

    What is it with you and Clapton FC all of a sudden?

    • Roy Duffield

      This from “Gunnar”:

      “Schäl Sick” is an expression referring to the part of Cologne (and Bonn) which is on the (‘wrong’) eastern side of the Rhine (‘Schäl’ means cross-eyed/to squint, “Sick” is part or side – both in Cologne dialect ‘Kölsch’ – the only language one can speak and drink :-).

      Cologne did the double over Düsseldorf: in football (3-2 win away just before xmas) and ice hockey, which is always very nice indeed. Sorry to hear you missed out on Haie’s 3-0 win.

      Kölsch and Alt have got the same process of top-vermented brewing – so they are similar in taste even if no-one in Cologne or Düsseldorf will admit it – unlike most other German beers (beck’s or other Pils(eners).

      Glad you enjoyed your stay in Cologne!”

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