Germany's friendliest cities
04/10/2014 - 04/13/2014 48 °F
Going off recommendations from Germans that I’ve come across, I found myself on a bus to Koln, Germany (or Cologne for the English speakers). Despite not being able to correctly pronounce the name of the city after 3 days (it sounds like Cone, but with an L squeezed in there awkwardly), I have come to really like Koln.
I wouldn’t rank this as a must see for tourists, but more a great place to slow down and meet some people. I’ve found people here SUPER friendly, which I’m told I won’t necessarily find to this degree thru the rest of Germany. Koln is the liberal city in a fairly conservative country, and for some reason it is warm and inviting, with a metaphorical Welcome to Germany doormat.
Although I found friendly folks all over this city, the best example was when I was outside of a Nazi-Socialist museum. I had just left that museum and had my map out trying to figure out my next destination. A kind white bearded man left the museum and asked me if I needed some help. I told him that I wasn’t sure where to go next, and he started giving me his recommendations of places to see. One of his recommendations wasn’t marked on my map, so he ran back inside to get me a better map. While he was inside, another man came up to me and also asked if I needed any help or suggestions on where to go. I chuckled and thanked him, but said I was already being helped. I felt like I was at a store counter being helped by employees, not total strangers.
I’ve also come across some very friendly travelers as well. The budget bus that I took to Koln dropped us off in a random parking lot. I had directions of how to get to the hostel from the main train station, but had no idea where that or I was. I saw 2 other backpackers also consulting phones and such, so I decided that I could follow them, at least to the nearest tram station. After a few minutes of standing around, I realized that they were looking to follow me as well, so I walked up and said hi. It turns out, we were trying to get to the same hostel, haha. So, Nikki, Vinny, and I just picked a direction and started walking. Without WiFi, we were sortof flying blind, but we found a metro stop pretty quick and 20 minutes later we were checking in. Nikki and Vinny were from Australia and New Zealand, respectively. They were a lot of fun and also traveling on a similar (super cheap) budget. The 3 of us stuck together for much of our time in Koln, which was nice. It's too bad we were heading to separate destinations afterwards, but maybe I'll meet up with them again in Europe!
The big tourist attraction in Koln is the Dom Cathedral. The construction of this stretched from the 1200s all the way until the 1860s, taking more than 600 years to complete. I knew where it was on the map, so just took off in that direction. I enjoy using the compass approach of just picking the right direction and heading off, taking whatever random streets and turns look the most interesting. Eventually I’ll take another look at the map and reorient.
Because of this strategy, I wasn’t totally sure exactly where the cathedral was, and I came upon 2 other large Gothic churches where I paused thinking, “Hmm, could this be it?” After consulting the map, I realized I wasn’t there yet, and once I made it to the proper square, I laughed about how foolish I had been. The other churches were quite large, but were laughable compared to this enormous structure. The incredible size was matched by the level of detail etched into so much of the stonework, both inside and out. This is definitely an example of a must-see tourist attraction.
Here are some shots from further away
Beyond the cathedral, Koln also has a couple smaller, but unique museums. Traveling around Europe can definitely leave you museumed out, so I was happy to find some different ones here. Given my great enthusiasm for the subject matter, I had to check out the Chocolate Museum. It was interesting to read and see about where chocolate comes from, from the ground up, literally. They walk you thru how cocoa is grown and harvested, and even have a little greenhouse area with real cocoa plants. I was surprised to learn that almost all of the growing and harvesting is still manual labor. This is partially because the areas that grow cocoa are mostly 3rd world, but also because you have to be gentle in many of the steps to keep the cocoa beans in good condition. One very sad fact that I learned is that due to the poverty of the areas that grow cocoa, 75% of cocoa farmers have never actually tasted the finished product . I had some fleeting thoughts of traveling to one of these areas to see it 1st hand, and to bring a ton of chocolate with me to share with the workers.
Then you move on to hear about how chocolate is processed from beans into the “Nectar of the Gods” (actual translation in some language). It did not surprise me to learn that this part was almost all automated with very precise temperatures and methods to aerate the chocolate and draw out those magical flavors.
At the end of the processing section, there was a chocolate fountain where you can get a taste of the goods. Naturally, I circled around and got a few. Finally, you could also pay about 5 euros to get a custom bar of chocolate, with an array of toppings added in. Here’s a picture of mine being made:
M&Ms, tiny marshmallows, bits of pretzel, and caramel bits - MMMMMMMMmmmmm Word to the wise - it takes 35 minutes for them to make your custom bar, so you could go to the end and create it, and then go back thru the museum.
Right next to the chocolate museum, is the Sports and Olympics Museum. While it covered sports and olympics all over the world, the obvious focus was on Germany. It had some special exhibitions for the 1936 and 1972 Munich games, both of which were rather historic, not always for the best reasons. It also had a boxing ring with a bag you can hit, a wind tunnel with a bike in it, and a soccer field on the roof:
Walking around Cologne, I saw a number of signs for Art Cologne. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but my last morning in my hostel, I chanced upon a jovial Englishman named Kane, traveling around Europe on 2 week military leave. He told me that Art Cologne was a once a year event held over a weekend in Cologne that assembled artists and works from all over the world. Not only did he recommend it, but he also passed on a VIP access card that he received from a French artist who had attended, but then left Cologne before the end of the exhibit. This pass would give me free access the the exhibit and the VIP section! Armed with the pass, I set off to track it down.
Since I was hopping on a bus afterwards, I had my big, heavy pack with me. When I got there, I was relieved to find the coat/luggage check and was even more excited when the attendant said that the backpack would be free because I wasn’t allowed to where it in there. Not one to argue with that, I dispatched with the pack and went inside.
I have never in my life seen such a large collection of art of such varying types before. Everything from traditional portraits and landscapes to frustrating modern art to diaramas suspended from the ceiling, to works with neon lights integrated in it. I gave up very quickly on trying to develop a system of navigating thru the collection and seeing everything, instead just content with wandering. With 2 floors of a full warehouse, with numerous small restaurants or bars spread throughout, the whole thing was gigantic and pretty awesome. Even those that don’t typically lend themselves to art, like myself, could find plenty of things to entertain them. Below are some of my favorites.
This one I think was my #1 favorite
I thought this looked like a crazy Where's Waldo? scene, but with a bunch of violence and death instead of guys in striped shirts
Some other random pictures and moments:
During another CS meetup at a bar, we happened to see a scene happen from some type of German "Cops" show:
Police pull up right as a fight is breaking out and you suddenly see these cameras and such pop out of the car with the cops. We were all debating whether it was real or staged - the acting was pretty darn good so I thought it was real - but were then disappointed when it all ended and the "drunk jerk" starting the fight is shaking hands and laughing with everyone, cops included.
Was randomly walking around when I see this guy in a pink hat destroy a guitar:
Never figured out what was happening here
And the Red Bull - Can you make it? challenge! Here's the map:
And here is "The French Flair" and their mascot along for the ride - Ratatoille:
Ratatoille was their first trade - a red bull can for the mouse. They built him a little home in a small cardboard box and brought him all around Europe! To find out more about this crazy competition, check out http://www.redbullcanyoumakeit.com/. Click on teams and scroll to The French Flair to see the guys I met.
After that, it was an overnight bus to Munich as the journey marches on!