Sometimes you visit a city halfway around the world with an itinerary of historic and cultural sites to visit, but a simple conversation is what impresses you most. This trip's conversation happened to be with a girl selling artisanal licorice.
In early September, I passed an abbreviated weekend with a colleague in Köln ahead of three days of business meetings. We mainly spent our time traveling Jacob style -- walking everywhere, eating cheap food (in Deutschland, this would be blessed, celestial döner), and stopping at landmarks here and there. We visited most of the Tripadvisor sites that were accessible that weekend, so I will refrain from reviewing them all (photos seen here), and instead opt for telling a few stories.
At one point on Saturday evening, we got stranded in some pretty heavy rain. "Umbrellaless" and cast out of the lobby of the tallest tower in Köln, we made fast friends with the less fortunate of Köln. I even met somebody stranded in the rain who didn't speak English. I was quite proud when she understood my Ich spreche kein Deutsch. Disappointment soon followed, however, when I couldn't comprehend what she said while giggling with her friends. The rain subsided just enough for me to take courage and walk back to my hotel near the main train station. No, irony did not take an evening off. The rain immediately began to pour immediately after I started my walk home. I received strange looks upon entering the hotel lobby. It is not in my nature to get a taxi unless absolutely necessary.
Heavy rainfall left us searching for cover under umbrellas of Mongo's Restaurant after being kicked out of the Köln Triangle lobby.
Girl at the Licorice Stand
On Sunday we made our journey to the Rheinauhafen district, a narrow peninsula formed by the harbor (wait a second, harbor = haven = hafen! Language is fun!). The two biggest draws to this little harbor on the Rhein are probably the Lindt chocolate museum and three complexes called Kranhäuser. Near the Kranhäuser we ran into a little market, which was selling more trinkets and antiques than foods. I don't know that I have ever seen so much vinyl as I saw in Köln (at this market and throughout the town). But it was at one of the few food stands that my colleague and I stopped to try some of the artisanal licorices being sold by a young lady.
After sampling the different fruity and chocolate fillings, I attempted to pay the girl. She didn't seem to notice the bills in my hand, preferring instead to tell us all about Köln, as if she had never seen a foreigner to whom she could recount her plight (which I found interesting as most Germans think nothing of talking to an American). She saw Köln as homogeneous and closed minded. In her mind, Berlin was the contrasting ideal. In Berlin there was diversity, there was energy, there was youth, culture, and art. Little did she comprehend that I am an archetype of the gentrifying white, male engineer who many people believe is killing such culture and society in the Bay Area.
After this conversation, I did notice a lack of diversity, especially in the chocolate museum. Yet I found the lack of diversity an intriguing change in scenery, having spent most of my life in California. It was kind of refreshing to see the dread on dad's face as his three little children (whether or not they looked exactly like all the other children in the museum) all started filling out long custom orders of chocolate at the museum.
I suppose even the traveler of cosmopolitan provenance can learn something in an old-fashioned, traditional European city. These places may one day become incredibly rare and peculiar, perhaps something like visiting an aboriginal tribe in the pacific. I might be exaggerating slightly for effect, but hopefully you get the idea. And though a pleasant young lady is somewhat tired and ashamed of her city, she need not worry about my impressing an outsider from the Bay Area.
Kicking it in front of the Kranhäuser
The main section of the market on the south end of the Rheinauhafen
Another one of the more interesting events going on in town was some sort of Christian celebration near the Cathedral (though the celebration did not appear Catholic). There was music, singing, flyer flinging, and good old fashioned preaching. I love finding these sorts of events, perhaps even more than the iconic festivals (of which many in the world have religious origins). Such events let you see a side of a society that might not be apparent to an outsider (heck, even sometimes to an insider).
In America, one gets the sense that most of Europe has completely moved beyond God, and if not God, at least religion. And while that may be true on the average, there are still those publicly celebrating their beliefs, as we found. Perhaps Europeans are likewise surprised when they visit Pacific cities in the United States and don't hear anyone listening to Toby Keith or see anybody slinging shotguns. Before you make any judgements on my opinions, I'll say here that I am not a fan of country music, but thoroughly enjoy shooting.
A christian choir, Lichter der Hoffnung or Lights of Hope, sings praises to the Lord. "One Love, One Heart, Let's get together and praise The Lord."
I recommend you check out the link to photo album where you can see photos of the major tourist attractions including the cathedral, the Köln Triangle, the botanical ardens, and the chocolate museum. Maybe one day I will get around to captioning the photos. But if they aren't captioned, you can probably find information on The Google.