The one lesson that stuck from our trip to Köln was how the Germans pronounce ‘o’s with an umlaut. From the name of the city, to their specialty beer (Kölsch), it definitely came in handy. And made us look like ignorant tourists when we twisted our mouths in all sorts of strange ways – tongues lolling out, spit flying – just to order the local brew.
By the time we took our train from Norwich to London, another train to Stansted Airport, and finally landed in Köln, it was late, dark and everything was in German. I guess none of this came as a surprise, but trying to figure out which train to take and discovering – by way of a kind, English-speaking local – that the train that would take us to our hostel was cancelled, sure did.
We sped by the city lights, thinking about how it would look lit with sun the next day. I saw outlines of tall buildings, something that looked like an arena, maybe. With the help of some more locals (and, not for the first time, Haydn’s navigation skills) we found out hostel. And walked right by it. To be fair, the path to the door was dimly lit, their sign with the black sheep logo was tiny, and it was behind a McDonald’s. All very comforting omens.
The next morning (midday?) we set out in search of coffee, tried to sit down at one café before finding out they were only serving food or it was too late for coffee or they don’t serve ragged, hungover students, I don’t know, none of us spoke German. In any case, we kept walking until we found a café/tapas bar that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Gastown. It was delicious and trendy. And had coffee.
We went to the Dome (which everyone we asked kept pronouncing like ‘dong’), bought bananas, and had the highly German experience of going to an Irish bar with karaoke. We met some Germans who kept explaining that they were not local Kölniers. This was made amply clear to us when they tried to show us another bar and we ended up walking for twenty minutes in exponentially more deserted streets, only to be told that they were lost and we could walk back twenty minutes to where we had started if we wanted to keep the night going. We decided against it. Instead, we waited a half hour in a KFC and found the only place still open at 5am – a pub with ear-splitting music and posters of Che Guevara’s face plastered over every surface.