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

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cologne: museums, churches, beer, and one very questionable condiment

Adulthood once again rears its boring head in Kassel!  This weekend has included:  the laundromat, the gym (only on Sunday, half a success), the housecleaning, the German tax form, the mending (socks and buttons), the grocery shopping (once again I forgot exactly how much a "kilo" of ground beef actually is, and will be having a friend for hamburgers tomorrow), and -- of course -- the TPS Report, the work-related emails (MANY), and the lesson planning.  And the blog, in progress.

The highlight of this weekend was Friday, where plans to make dinner at my place for a friend as a thank-you for a favor turned into my making dinner at his place for him and his roommate, and then, finally, dinner for friend, roommate friend, and two of her friends.  I made teriyaki salmon, cold sesame noodles, avocado crostini, and a green salad with strawberries, walnuts, and blue cheese.  I think it came out pretty well.  Go me.  It was very chill and laid back, and surprisingly not stressful at all.  Just some good wine and food and conversation with friends.  Home before midnight, whoop whoop.

Saturday and Sunday, unfortunately, were less fun.  But them's the breaks.  Shit is accomplished.

However, LAST weekend was pretty overflowing with awesome, so things balance out.  I went to go check out beautiful Köln, or as we Americans like to say, Cologne.

I couldn't leave Kassel until the evening on Friday, so ended up getting into Cologne at about 11:00 PM.  I came out of the Hauptbanhof looking for the sign for the metro, and got the surprise of my life as I found myself staring at the dark hulking gothic behemoth that is Kölner Dom.  "OH!" I said aloud, and stopped dead in my tracks, staring up, mouth open.  Highly uncool of me, and also possibly unsafe as surely I did not look tough, savvy, and unapproachable right just then.  (Germany so far has been almost weirdly safe, btw.  Of all the countries I've visited, Germany has offered the least harassment and shenanigans. [They make up for this with regulations, forms, and shock at jaywalking.])

I shook myself out of my tourist stupor and metroed to my hostel.  Weltempfänger Backpacker Hostel is pretty boss, I have to say.  There is a very adorable cafe/bar on the ground floor, complete with chandeliers, antique couches, indie rock on the PA, and -- of course -- bottles of Kölsch beer for the quite attractive price of 1.50 euro.  The rest of the hostel is clean and pretty quiet.  There's a nice common room/full kitchen on the 1st floor; it would be pretty easy to cook a cheap backpacker meal here, although I didn't.  I stayed in a co-ed 4-bed dorm with an ensuite (this will unfortunately become relevant later), and overall don't think I could find one thing to complain about here.  Staff were pretty great.  And hey -- no bedbugs! (That I know of.)  Highly recommended.

Saturday morning, I woke up at 7:30 AM for some reason.  Weird, but it meant I got myself a very nice early start.  Got some coffee downstairs in the cafe and planned my day.  When I asked the on-duty staffer for recommendations, she said that if she wasn't working, she'd be going to this flea market that happens on Saturdays, and gave me directions.  Now, I am not an "other people's crap" kind of person, but she seemed very emphatic and since it was still pretty early... I went to check it out.  I figured it'd be a nice step away from the de rigueur of museums and churches, at any rate.

Yup.  It was a big parking lot filled with... other people's crap.  Lots of books.  Tons of shoes, for some reason.  Clothes.  Crystal and china.  Antique cell phones and other defunct electronics.  Random creepy stuff.  I suppose if I were to ever actually put down roots somewhere, and had an apartment bigger than a shoebox, it might be cool to comb through a place like this and look for random funky touches to give my home some character.  But for my life right now... not so much.  I did a quick circuit and was probably on my way again in less than 20 minutes.  Enough deviating from the pattern!  I was off to see a church... and some museums.

Now, I have seen something like quite a few churches in my day.  Notable, famous, ancient, breathtakingly beautiful churches.  Kölner Dom, however, is just really something else.  It's the most visited site in Germany, and standing there in the platz and just looking up and up at this, it's obvious as to why.  The year it was finished, 1880, it was the tallest building in the world.  It is mind-blowingly, breathtakingly beautiful.  My favorite church ever.  Hands down.

I'd brought Rick Steves with me to Köln, mainly because of his very detailed descriptions of all the hidden gems and historical goodies inside the Dom.  I did not want to miss anything.

However.  Yet another travel disappointment here.  The back part of the church, were most of said goodies are, was closed when I was there.  According to Rick, this should not be the case as it usually only closes for confession which is in the afternoon and it was very much still morning, but oh well.  If I hadn't brought Rick along, I never would have even known what I was missing.  Ignorance is bliss.

Rick did point out this crucifix from the 10th century, very awesome.

And even with a significant part being blocked off, it was still very much full of awesome.

Back outside, it had turned into spring!  The sun was shining and it was 60 degrees at least.  I went around to the side of the Dom and sat for a little while, people-watching and cathedral-ogling.

Right next to the Dom is the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, which, as you might expect from its name, houses Roman artifacts excavated from the region.  The highlight is a mosaic floor, which was left in its original place and the museum built up around it.

The museum was cool enough but really pretty dry.  They had a large jewelry exhibit which was impressive.  But my favorite thing was a photography installation of works by Alfred Seiland.

Seiland has traveled from the Middle East to Hadrian's Wall, photographing Roman ruins juxtaposed, sometimes jarringly, sometimes whimsically, against some aspect of mundane modernity.  I got a kick out of this one:

This, ladies and gents, is a photo of a photo of an exhibit in the museum where the photograph is displayed.  I think I just broke my brain with irony.

Speaking of irony, it was time for some... modern art!  (Eve would be ready to kill me right about now, I expect.)  Also right next to the Dom is the Museum Ludwig, an impressive collection of modern art from the early impressionists up to contemporary installations.  I wish I knew more about modern art.  I didn't recognize many of the names here, although there is a truly noteworthy Picasso collection, as well  as a smattering of the greats -- Man Ray, Mondrian, Duchamp, even Giacometti.  On the top floor, they have a lot of Warhol and Lichtenstein but pop art is not my thing.  I did not find any of my beloved Arte Povera here sadly.

After the RGM and the Ludwig, I was seriously museumed-out.  I walked along the Rhine for a bit, and soon found myself at... the doors of -- yes, another church.  The 10th century Romanesque Groß St. Martin.

This church reminded me so much of a Georgian Orthodox church for some reason.  I especially loved how you could see remains of frescoes on the walls, sometimes barely discernible.  For .50 euro, you could go down into the basement where Roman ruins have been excavated.

Now, I still had not eaten that day, unless coffee counts as food.  I began my strolling search to find a promising prospect for breakfast/lunch/dinner (it was about 3:30).  I walked through a very cute square next to the Rathaus, but the sun and warmth had brought every Kölner out in force!"  Not a table to be had here.


However, because of the freakishly amazing weather, when I did settle on a place, I was able to sit outside at this very cute little cafe near(ish) the river and ordered up some Kölsch and some "Kölner tapas".

Before you, you see:  bacon, fried onion straws, a lil chicken schnitzel, liverwurst, blood sausage, lentils, gouda cheese, some very pretty garnish... and a ball of lard.

First off, I want to say that this lunch was very, very good.  It is hard to fuck up bacon and fried onions, although Georgians have tried.  I even really liked the liverwurst, which has not been my favorite in times past.

However.  I had never tried blood sausage before, because frankly the concept sounds really gross.  But I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations", and Tony never lets a chance slip by to tell me how fucking amazing blood sausage is.  Besides -- Germany.  I had to give it a go.

And now I know.  And I never have to eat blood sausage again.  Sorry Tony.

The other memorable lowlight of my otherwise fantastic lunch was that little white golf ball sitting between the liverwurst and the gouda.  I didn't know what it was, but my adventurous soul cut out a little sliver and put it in my mouth.  Yep, that was one giant tasteless, sticky, oil slick of an experiment.  Um... seriously Germany???  A ball of lard?  How is this in any way a good idea?  EVER???

After lunch, I was pretty tired and also pretty freaking full of Kölsch and German tapas.  I walked along the river some more, with no real plan or destination, for what ended up being quite a while.  Poked my head into yet another church (pretty unmemorable), just for kicks.

My own poor attempt at a Seiland-style photo
And then it was time to head back to the hostel for some much-needed downtime and yeah, another Kölsch.  My day had worn me out.  But my hostel had kindly provided me with a small local map of the area, that included vetted nightspots.  I felt like I couldn't just sit in the hostel all night, so at around 8:00 I headed out and checked out a few.  Had a pretty good time, as good as solo low-key barhopping can get.  It's just basically me and my kindle or my journal, ignoring everyone and everything around me, pretty much exactly what I'd be doing if I had stayed at the hostel.  Headed back before too late.  Had more on my list for tomorrow before my train at 4:00!

And that, lovers, was my very full day in Cologne.  I loved it, and the gorgeous weather certainly did not hurt.  At the very least, an extremely worthy follow-up to the success of Heidelburg.  Stay tuned for day two!

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