Thought I'd start putting some photos on the site. These were taken in Cologne and Bonn in January of this year. My companion in crime was once again the well travelled Steve, who shares some of the blame for England's defeat yesterday. Members of the jury you are invited to look at the evidence. Twice the defendant left his seat in the Rose and Crown and twice the Germans scored. It is believed that he remained on his stool for the whole of the victories in 1966 and 1975. Various bondage techniques were utilised for the 5-1 victory in Munich.
Anyhoo, if I can find my travelogue notes I shall do my Bill Bryson bit later.
Cologne 2007 : Introduction
The trip to Cologne was booked in November 2006 after an abortive attempt to travel there earlier in the year. I managed to pick the only day in the year that Britain had heavy snow resulting in the closure of Liverpool John Lennon Airport . The cost with EasyJet was an incredible £21 return. There is an additional levy in the guilt felt at further damage to the ozone level. The same amount of money would barely pay for a rail trip to Manchester.
Cologne has been on my list of ‘must see' places in Germany for some time. It is twinned with Liverpool. I had travelled through the city before; I managed to visit the shopping centre in the main railway station for a couple of hours and beers. This, however, was the chance to spend a few days exploring the city.
One invaluable help to our trip was the guide to Cologne pubs by Ron Pattinson which can be found at (http://www.europeanbeerguide.net/kolnpubs.htm ), The Wcities guides (www.wcities.com) and the Metro program for the Palm PDA (www.nanika.net/Metro). (Not to mention my sub-O Level standard German!)
The Palm handheld computer is a great help as it precludes the need to take bulky computer hardware. It allows me to take and read notes relating to the trip, calculate currency conversions, and catalogue photos.
The Metro program is available for other formats such as Windows Mobile and is free! It is updated with details of local transport routes (trains, trams etc) for most cities worldwide. You can even get SatNav for these devices. However, as I don't use a car I've had to invest in new software that co-ordinates trips via footpaths, fields and subways. The latest Version 2.0 also includes updated information on uneven pavements (to avoid or sue over) and fast food container and vomit hotspots. But I digress.........
I was unsure as to whether staying in hostel/backpackers accommodation would be such a good idea. This was probably down to visions of some 1970s style youth hostel. However, the facilities in these places are quite good given the cost. I stayed in a great hostel in Berlin , which had cheap rooms, beer and internet access. The thought of sharing a dorm with complete strangers can be a daunting one. In Berlin, for instance, I was allocated a room with 5 Japanese guys. Every night I would come back to the room and they would be asleep. In the morning, they would still be asleep when I left so they may not have known of my existence. It was also very quiet notwithstanding the age group in the place. In any case, we decided to book a room for 2 rather than tempt fate.
And so it was that early on the Friday morning we set off for the airport.................................
From January 2007 Liverpool Airport's owners, Peel Holdings kindly decided to implement a new levy (the first in the country) for added security checks (£2 each way). This is in addition to the new fuel surcharge rate introduced by Mr Brown and the limits on hand luggage liquids (puts paid to my patented 'smuggling of cheap red wine in a ribena bottle to avoid exhorbitant prices on board scam'. Fortunately this was an early flight lasting 1 hour 40m, the security tax was not in place and the tax was not retrospective. I could go on for hours about the over-reaction of the authorities to the 'terrorist threat'. Suffice to say, any potential terrorists are probably laughing their collective bollocks off at the turmoill caused and we will all have to have ID cards. A little bit of politics there!
The flight was uneventful save for the "Welcome to Geneva" greeting upon landing. Ah! the life of a trolley dolly, international pop star or Rubber Chicken circuit US politician: if it's Tuesday it must be Tulsa.
The airport (known as Cologne/Bonn) is actually named after Konrad Adeneuer, the Mayor of Cologne in the pre-Nazi period. He was forced to flee by Hitler but returned after the war to become the first Chancellor of West Germany.
The city centre of Cologne is not that far from the airport, an inexpensive €2.30 covering the 20 minute journey by train. Passengers formed into two distinct groups upon arrival at the automatic ticket machines - the foreign visitors feeding in inappropriate notes whilst the natives hit the jackpot every time on the adjacent one.
Cologne Cathedral (Koelner Dom)
Cologne Cathedral is the major landmark of the City. It dominates the skyline of the city and is a good guide when negotiating your way home after a night out. It has survived despite the best attempts of Bomber Harris and remains under constant renovation and maintenance. The sheer size of this Gothic building demands a few hours to do it justice. There are guided tours available and it is also possible to climb the steps to the top to take in the view of the city. Throughout the day there are actual religious servies taking place and at periodical intervals, red-robed church officials rope off the main body of the cathedral to allow this to occur. Confession is also available for the faithful. The adjoining gift shop sells a number of items for the tourist including books and even photos of the German Pope, Rattzinger.
Basic leaflets outlining the layout and history of the cathedral are on display for an outlay of 1€. This seems to be based on honesty as there is a box for the money. Despite my aetheism, I found myself hedging my bets and duly counting out the coins. The same cannot be said for a fellow visitor taking the Spanish version! How costly that Euro may be in the final reckoning (even allowing for the fact that Spain does not suffer exchange rate blues as we do.
Whilst there we came across a Cologne tradition. On January 6th (Epithany) the city celebrates Three Kings Day where children dress up as the Magi and visit local homes to daub chalk on the door to promote good luck for the year. Some of the groups were accompanied by adult minstrels. Another bizarre sight when not aware of the meaning.
The Magi are of course very significant to the Cathedral. It is believed that they visited Cologne Cathedral and were eventually buried there in a shrine.
The Rheinenergie Stadion (home of FC Koeln) was used for several of the early games during the World Cup in 2006, including England v Sweden. I wanted to travel to Germany for the tournament but as put off by the high prices and the England intelligentsia section we call 'fans'. It seems that on the whole the supporters behaved well despite our usual disappointing showing. I was interested to hear locals' thoughts on the tournament, for which the Germans received universal praise for its organisation. From the people we spoke to, it seems that the English fans were, on the whole, well-behaved and friendly to their hosts. Unfortunately, when we visited, the Bundesliga was having a winter break so no games were available.
FC Koeln was relegated from the top division in 2005/2006. Despite this there were plenty of fans wearing their replica shirts which made a refreshing change from seeing the ubiquitous Bayern Munich shirts as in other parts of Germany I have been to.
No trip to Cologne is complete without a walk along the mighty Rhine. Although the river is less scenic in this section, it is still an essential place to visit. The weather and time of year meant that we were unable to enjoy a Rhine cruise and the cable car crossing near to the Zoo was also unavailable.
The Station Hostel helpfully provide 3 different tourist walks and we chose the one that followed the path of the river taking in the main bridges over the water.
Perhaps the best known and most distinctive bridge is the Hohenzollern Bruennen. This was rebuilt after being destroyed during the war. On each side of the bridge are statues of Friedrich Wilhelm IV and Wilhelm I (Deutz) and Wilhelm II and Friedrich III on the city centre side. Incidentally, the promenade on the Deutz side from the bridge until the Deutzer Bridge is known as Kennedy Ufer. Ich bin (eine) Koelner too! The bridge connects the old town of Cologne with the Deutz district, known locally as the Blank Side. Coming from Birkenhead I can understand their pain but as with the Mersey, the best views are from this side!
The Deutzer Bridge carries a heavy load of trains into the city. The railway station is one of the busiest in Germany. It is unusual to look at the bridge and not see a train entering or leaving the city.
Cologne PubsI was told that a visit to Cologne would not be complete without a trawl around its famous brewhouses where Koelsch is served. There is also the tradition of the Koebes bar waiters dressed in blue. These meisters of service pride themselves on being able to ensure a customer's glass is never empty even in a crowded inn. Remember that next time you are waiting for the privilege of ordering a drink in Wetherspoons etc. I am indebted to the excellent web site of Ron Pattinson for some of the suggestions for places to drink in Cologne. We did not manage to visit every place on the list but it provided a great base and also allowed for the discovery of others. The local brew Koelsch is far from the greatest beer produced in Germany. In many places it tended to be rather bland and unremarkable. The fact that most pubs serve it in 0.2l glasses does not help either. Most of the interesting pubs are contained in a small area in the old town.
The Brauerei Zur Malzmuhle
This was difficult to reach in the dark given the Heumarkt tram station in the vicinity. It was busy when we arrived and many were availing themselves of the various cuts of pork on the menu. We noted that Haxe, which had been listed as a house special in many a pub, was in fact pig's trotters. Yum! We had already enjoyed a sumptuous Italian meal not far from here so food was not on the menu so to speak. The beer was one of the highlights of the pub crawl as it had a distinctive flavour compared to the more blander Koelsch examples. Well worth a look.Bier Esel
We managed to visit this pub twice on walks through the shopping precinct area. It was nothing special. The service was probably the slowest of all the places we went to. There seemed to be a bias towards the restaurant part of the pub and the kitchen looked quite busy. The menu indicated that most meals had been substantially reduced. The beer was from the Sunner brewery. However, the pub does provide a handy watering hole when trapped in the shopping area on a Sunday. (Surprisingly, the area was crammed with window-shoppers despite only food outlets being open. We came across an antiques/car boot type sale in the plush surroundings.Peters Brauhaus
This was also one of the highlights of the trip. The place was very busy upon our visit and we were forced to stand at a strange shelf in the centre of the room. Other rooms were also busy and the surroundings are very ornate as can be seen from the picture below. The toilets were as expected here, immaculate. Most establishments employ the services of an attendant to maintain hygiene standards. To the newcomer the presence can be a bit off-putting.
Papa Joe's Jazz BarWe visited this pub together with its sister pub. Both have distinctive décor. This had a small stage with live Jazz musicians. The lead singer had the broadest Scouse accent this side of Kirkby. I'm not a great fan of traditional Jazz but this was enjoyable as it was lively and a good finale to the night.
The second pub had a piano player. Either the piano need tuning or he was a great fan of Les Dawson's comic wrong-note style. There was also an animatronic duo which could be activated as a jukebox with songs such as Lili Marlene and Karneval songs.
CorkonianThis was an Irish pub which we visited to watch the Liverpool v Arsenal game. It was packed with sports fans. Strangely, it was not merely frequented by expats and tourists,. There was a large contingent of German Liverpool and Arsenal fans complete with replica shirts. The banter was largely friendly although this was perhaps the only place we encountered mild drunkenness and falling off chairs behaviour. There was one Liverpool supporter (in Karneval gear) who was bit of a pain with his constant singing but there you go. The pub served pints rather than the tiny koelsch glasses with Guinness and Kilkenny alongside Koelsch and Paulaner Weisse beer.
A good place to take in a football game and catch up with UK news but not for regular visiting. Prices were quite reasonable. Incidentally, my attempts to order in German were rendered totally unnecessary upon hearing the waitress's lilting Irish tones. I know, what else do you expect in an Irish pub.
BONNDespite John Le Carre's description in his novel, it still comes as a surprise how unlike other capital cities Bonn is. It is only recently that Berlin has taken over the mantle. On the surface there is little to suggest how important Bonn was in economic and political terms. It gives the impression of an unspoilt little town. Much is made of the Beethoven connection but whereas Cologne has a plethora of pubs, Bonn is predominantly an eating place. We found it very difficult to find an old fashioned kneipe type pub. The University in the city is one of the most eminent in Germany.
Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 16/17 1770. The original house in which he was born has been turned into a museum. As with Mozart's house in Salzburg when I visited, Ludwig was not in. There is also a Beethoven Walk taking in such places of interest as the monument above, the Minster, and the cemetery where his mother's grave lies. The statue was commissioned for Beethoven's 75th Birthday. an original score of the 9th (Europa) symphony is contained in the foundation stone. The words JCB and eBay spring to mind but this would be neither funny nor clever.
The zum Beguestchen was the first proper pub we found. it served Kurfursten Koelsch. We made the mistake of sitting down at a free table only to be shouted out by a strange woman who pointed oout that it was for waiting staff. Therefore we ended up in the window watching the rain soaked shoppers outside.
Later we came across a Munich themed bar, serving Paulaner Weissbier and Pils. The barman was a friendly chap who took no time in making it clear his local beer was superior to the ordinary Koelsch. He also predicted Bayern Munich would beat Liverpool in the European Champions League. One day this Tranmere Rovers fan will be able to converse on the same level as those illustrious teams. One other thing to be said is that at least you get 0.5l glasses.
There are more photos to be uploaded to the above slideshow and further travelogue details.