Impressions of Cologne

I did a post on the work side of my recent visit to Cologne, but I figured I’d stick something up about the time I spent off-duty. Like a proper Paddy, I landed in Dusseldorf airport with the complete clan in tow – wife, three kids and my mother. From the airport terminal, we took a monorail to the train station, a double-decker train (with no luggage space) to the Hauptbanhof in the city centre, then a taxi from there to the apartment where we’d be staying.

The organizers of the festival found the idea of this Irish gang arriving very entertaining altogether, and were enormously helpful throughout our week there. But keeping a whole family happy on a city break is no mean feat – particularly when none of you has a word of German between you. Thankfully, the city had a lot of offer.

Impressions? The tram system is excellent, though the signage of the stations and access for buggies left something to be desired in some places. Older people were incredibly helpful when they saw we had young kids, or saw us looking round aimlessly holding our maps, but teenagers made a habit of pushing past us as if we weren’t there (young people these days etc, etc). Germans don’t seem to believe much in queuing, unless it’s enforced, but we learned to stand our ground getting in and out of elevators.

We stayed (all six of us) in a two-bed apartment on the outskirts of town. It was grand for what it was, but the two little girls started going spare if we stayed in too long, and the only thing we watched on telly were the Euro matches (Note to the team: Ah, Jaysus lads!’ – but at least we can sing) and two DVD’s of ‘Peppa Pig’ and ‘The Wiggles’ . . . over and over and over again – anything for a bit of peace.

As in France, we found ourselves eating a lot of bread and cheese. This might have something to do with the fact the cooker in the apartment was like something out of Star Trek (the original series) and we did most of our shopping in Lidl, which didn’t seem to do a whole lot in the way of fruit and veg. There were bakeries everywhere too, with all sorts of delicious stuff. They seem to eat pastries like we eat white sliced bread, but it doesn’t show. They’re a fit-looking bunch for the most part. The pretzels didn’t do much for me, though you saw them around quite a bit.

We lunched on currywurst (sausage in sauce), wiener schnitzel (veal cutlet) and fleischkäse (a kind of meatloaf) – though Maedhbh, being vegetarian, had to opt out of these. She did, however, discover the wonders of the flammkuchen, a kind of pizza without the tomato sauce. We learned that ‘apfelstreusel’ is apple crumble, a German dish, while ‘apfelstrudel’ is pastry, an Austrian dish. The local beer is Kölsch, and is light and easy to drink.

A lot of the architecture was very samey, what with most of the city being bombed into a wasteland (though many of the most prominent churches were miraculously spared) and being rebuilt in a hurry in the forties and fifties. But the restored section of the old town was lovely, and there were beautiful and quirky buildings all over the place. We had a great time at the zoo – with its aquarium – which is on a par with Dublin Zoo, but has some of pens laid out better, so you could see more (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a hippo shit underwater, up against the glass you’re looking through).

The football nut and I took a go on the cable car that’s strung across the river – two of us a few hundred feet up in a vehicle about the size of two telephone boxes. On another day, the two of us climbed the narrow spiral staircase up to the top of cathedral, which is stunning, but the walls of the viewing level were wallpapered in graffiti. You have to wonder what goes through people’s heads.

We all took a stroll through the Sculpture Park – the car in the picture above is not an accident, it was stuck on that pole on purpose. Through that week, we looked for things we could all do: the little tourist train that takes you through the old town (the locals hate it); the Volksgarten with its adventure playgrounds, ducks, pedal-boats and two turtles swimming in the pond. We spend one day in Phantasia Land, which I much preferred to Disneyland Paris. We walked through the city, along the Rhein, browsed in the Lego shop, had lunch in the Fischmarkt. Our boy got himself his long-promised Bayern Munich football jersey. We saw a bronze lion the size of a rhino outside a shop on a street, and smelled the cinnamon from the bakeries as we came up in the tram station elevators to the shopping levels, visited the sports museum, dipped into the chocolate museum and took a quick look into the Dutch Ark, which happened to be moored there that week.

It was brilliant, but exhausting, what with trying to keep the kids occupied all the time, walking everywhere with two buggies and just taking all this new stuff in. A fine time in a fine city. Thank you, Köln.