On our meanderings through Europe we found ourselves in Köln, Germany whilst we were visiting beautiful friends who invited us to stay with them. England, Scotland, France, Spain, Portugal….. then a country I didn’t even consider that we were to visit was Belgium – which we transited few just for a couple of hours… (but another country none-the-less. 🙂 )… then on to Germany.
Oh my goodness. This truly WAS like visiting a foreign country!!! I was totally clueless with the language and signs as we drove through. My high school French; Latin roots; and common sense helped me in simple conversations and travelling through France… but there was no way that watching Hogans Heroes as a child was going to get me through Germany. After managing to download a German Translation App at Starbucks… I was set – for a few days of exploring the small region of Germany called Aachen – (which I intend to share more about in another post…) but for now I would like to tell you all about our few hours in Köln (Cologne).
It was a day with no shadows and the colour of the sky matched the stone pavement and blankets on the back of plastic wicker chairs.
Tall grey buildings with regimented windows boxed in the streets which finally broke out into a large square encapsulating the largest Cathedral in the world, whose foundation stone was laid in 1248AD.
On large wheeled bicycles, ladies in black tights with high heels; low heels; no helmets; helmets; coloured scarves trailing in a stream behind as they dodge and make a swathe though the pedestrians in the mall; set their handlebars to the co-ordinates to navigate between the meandering crowd.
Moustaches the same colour as the nicotine of stained fingers protruded stiffly on faces which seemed to be treated with the same wax as the moustache.
People walked talking on their mobile phone; ate whilst walking and talking on their mobile phone; ate whilst in restaurants smoking and talking on their mobile phone…even riding their bicycle talking on their mobile phone. This gives multi-tasking a whole new dimension.
Musicians and buskers with well worn instruments in bandaged cases, filled both the open spaces and nooks and crannies of the centre of Köln. The familiar melody of Amazing Grace swirled on the exhale of bagpipes; piano accordions expired German traditional tunes; drumming and the melody of Graceland was sung by an African man with long black dreadlocks and his rhythm resonated amongst the gargoyles protruding from high on the pillars of the church. Across the mall a rather rotund man stood beside his open guitar case which seemed to be his partner in a duet of a wailing chorus which never seemed to end, and accompanied the multitude of sounds of dialects and languages spoken by the thousands of tourists visiting the largest cathedral in Europe. Periodically there was the percussion of grinding of luggage wheels trailing behind tourists in transit gathering glimpses of Köln.
Stone faces with lack of expression sat on wooden benches as hard as their manner.
Water fountains with cherubs and animals hovered above pools which were receptacles for cigarette butts and rubbish, yet provided a meeting place for those who were meeting for lunch.
Beggars whose eyes were glazed with defeat and skin paler than the sky, sat hunched in alcoves with blankets around their legs and held an empty paper disposable cup outstretched in a dirty hand.
Prams were pushed by women in black tights and g-strings with their pink runners close behind the wheels of their contemporary chariot carrying their child. Some children sat unrestrained in buckets in front of fast pedalling masculine legs dodging pedestrians as if they were cones in a time trial.
Some women with the stature of men were perched on high heels – which seemed to be incongruous with their masculinity.
Round shouldered adolescents speckled the square in clusters of 2-3 all wearing t-shirts which looked like they had been copied out of comic books.
It must be the fashion for young men to wear matching coloured shirts and pants -(which I think looks like wearing pyjamas), and I thought the days of matching was forever banned since the advent of the ‘safari suit’ -but obviously it’s ok if one has manicured and shaped eyebrows and hair with the sides clipped very short with it standing erect on top of one’s head.
I think there must be a different term used for what I am accustomed to calling those serving in the retail sector as ‘shop assistants’ – because assistance given to myself as a customer is something which just didn’t happen. It seemed like I was an imposition to even want to purchase something – even before I apologised by saying “Es tut mir leid, ich kann nicht sprechen Deutsch”.
Bald headed representatives with black product briefcases slinked from one double glass door to the next. Cardigans draped and twisted around waists of stubbled faced young men with tan leather shoes. Tourists ambled with cameras and ice creams which never seemed to drip down the cone. Elderly hands in fawn coloured suits and sand shoes took careful steps along the patterned pavements. Men with sling satchels with coloured slates of technology bounced past with what seemed like mini-springs in the soles of their lolly/candy coloured sand shoes with wide pale bases. Small long haired dogs sat snug between their masters feet as they were moved in a cavalcade around the town. Young tanned men with white t-shirts and trousers which looked like they had shrunk in the wash, walked confidently with apparent ambivalence yet with an inner yearning scanning for girls.
This was what I observed in just a few hours in Köln. As I waited for Max to descend the 500 steps he had just climbed up in the Cologne Cathedral I started to type some notes about what I saw of this foreign place. A man with small round glasses whom I sat beside, stood up and moved to a bench seat by himself as he noticed it was being vacated. This was a strange town. It seems to me that there is a general feeling of detachment…of hardness and lack of emotion and warmth. I have to be very honest and say that I didn’t really like the feeling of Köln at all, and it’s a bit hard to explain; but perhaps you can form your own feelings from my observations of our few hours in Köln.