"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cologne: History and beer on the Rhine

Exciting awesome weekend!... Fail.

Despite good intentions, this weekend may very well have ended up being even more boring than the last one.  More housecleaning (I found a Swiffer mop with wet and dry cloths!), gym (both days!), making food for the week (chicken vindaloo), and yes... TPS Reports, emails, and planning.  I am actually getting a class observed tomorrow, so Monday's guaranteed to be a great fucking day and not at all stressful.  Good thing my last class is five minutes away from the best cocktails in Kassel, at the one PentaHotel.

(I wanted to put a clip here of Nora Charles saying "All right, will you bring me five more martinis?  You can line them right up here."  Sadly youtube only has longer montages of The Thin Man, which would ruin my clever joke.)

Next weekend I am taking a day trip if it kills me.

Set the way-back machine to three whole weeks ago!  My final day in Köln.

Got a little bit of a later start on Sunday.  Saturday night, I hadn't wanted to eat a full dinner after my gigantic, filling, and late lunch, so just got something called a frikadelle, which is basically a small German hamburger patty.  It was tasty enough but just really heavy and greasy, and it didn't sit well in my stomach from the get-go.  'Course, come 4:00 AM Sunday morning, I had the intense privilege of climbing down from my creaky, squeaky top bunk so I could go and be sick in the room's ensuite.  When enjoying a hostel stay, there are just a few things beyond your control that you just pretty much hope will never happen to you.  Bedbugs are one.  Having to barf where the entire room can hear you, after your bunk exit has doubtless woken everyone up at 4:00 in the morning, is another.

Eventually got back to sleep.  And thank goodness, when I woke up at about 9:00, everyone else in the room had already checked out so I was spared any additional embarrassment.  Small favors.

Coffee in the cafe again, and out to see more of beautiful Cologne before my 4:00 train.

The first thing I wanted to see was the NS-Dokumentationszentrum, or National Socialism Documentation Center.  The site was a Gestapo headquarters during WWII.  But it was closed until 11:00 (Sunday, I'm glad it was open at all), so I walked down the street to check out the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum, which documents the history of the city from Medieval times up to WWII.  It hadn't been on my list, but yesterday I'd bought Cologne's Museum Pass, which meant both the Stadtmuseum and the NS-D were free!

The Stadtmuseum was pretty interesting.  They offered audioguides free of charge, and usually I'm not an audioguide person but I went for it and it ended up making the museum much more worthwhile.  Killed a pleasant hour here before circling back to the NS-D.

My auidioguide told me a fun little story about the "Inquisitive Tailor's Wife".  Apparently once upon a time, goblins would visit Cologne and do nice things without ever being seen.  However, one night the Tailor's Wife tried to trick the goblins into showing themselves, and as a result the little guys have deserted Cologne forever.

At the NS-Dokumentationszentrum, there isn't much on the ground floor.  The basement, however, had been used as a prison when this was a Gestapo headquarters, and they've preserved this as a museum.

This site was, unquestionably, one of the ugliest and most unsettling places I have ever been.

Many of the cell walls are covered in graffiti, and reading the translations was heartbreaking.  It's just hard to imagine that something like this could ever have even been allowed to happen.  And that in some parts of the world, it is still happening.

This is something you should not miss in Cologne.  It's important to remember that this ugly reality was really not all that long ago.  Just be prepared to leave feeling very chilled.  I was affected more strongly than I thought I would be, and was very grateful to emerge back out into the sunshine and 2014.

After the NS-D, I took a walk to the cathedral to reset my head, and decided I'd like to try my last-minute luck at taking a short river cruisetour on the Rhine.  I walked along the river and soon found an open kiosk selling tickets (most are still closed for the season), and they had a boat that was leaving in literally two minutes.  Last-minute luck extreme success!  I walked onboard and thought how sweet it would be if the boat happened to have drinks.  Sipping a glass of breakfast/lunch Kölsch while watching Cologne slip by sounded just about ideal.  And wouldn't you know, not three minutes I sat down, a waiter made a circuit and I got my glass of Kölsch.  Didn't even have to leave my seat!! :)

The tour was an hour, the sun was shining, it it was all-around a fantastic way to get some gorgeous views of the city and pick up a little extra history.

Medieval tower sandwiched between modern apartment blocks.

Post-cruisetour, I realized I had made a really stupid error by leaving Persephone at the hostel.  I was literally five minutes from the train station, and simply could have stashed her in a locker there.  Instead, I had to make an hour-long round trip to the hostel and back, which of course was an hour lost seeing the city.  Dumb.  I could have knocked out another church or two!  But I decided that, rather than rush at the end, I'd go get the backpack now, and eat lunch after.  So that happened.  I was worried I'd have to rush through my last meal in Köln, but I ended up having plenty of time.

For said last meal, I wanted to visit a Rick Steves-recommended place, Peter's Brauhaus.  I'm really glad I did.

Pork... leg(?), sauerkraut, mashed potatoes
This traditional German feast of a meal is one I won't soon forget.  How often do you get to say that sauerkraut was the highlight of any meal???  This sauerkraut was amazing.  So flavorful, with little bits of bacon!  The mashed potatoes and pork were delicious too.  Pair all this with a couple glasses of Kölsch, and Peter's Brauhaus was a very, very delightful was to say Auf Wiedersehen to Köln.

A beautiful city, and a great -- if exhausting -- experience.

Where to next, you ask?  Not sure, but Thuringia is looking pretty attractive.


  1. This day sounds incredible!! You are livin' the life.

  2. Greetings Mary,

    I randomly found this blog while searching about Kassel and thought I'd reach out and try to connect. I just recently moved to Kassel from Philadelphia to start my PhD and was wondering if you have any good information about the city and life around here.

    Let me know! Thanks!


    shotputsteve at gmail dot com

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Steve,

      Nice to meet you! Congrats on starting your PhD, that is huge. Kassel is a pretty fun town. Excellent day hikes to be had in the Bergpark, and the city's best cocktails to be found at the PentaHotel behind the Bahnhof Wilhelmshohe. :) I'd love to hear about your Kassel experience so far, maybe we could have a chat over some coffee sometime.