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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
Ruth insisted we put one up…
…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.
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.
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.
Then they found out Martin was the new man upstairs and brought round all these shots.
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.)
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.