Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tues 29 Dec - Thurs 31 Dec

Got home last night (Monday), unpacked, and then repacked again for our short stay in Cologne. A very straightforward journey: train from Mons to Brussels, and then the high-speed train which travels from Brussels to Frankfurt, via Cologne.

Extremely impressed by the train manager's ability to make his annoucements in German, then French, Dutch and finally English. These high speed train managers must be an intelligent bunch. The train too felt like the European section of the UN: I must have heard at least 8 different languages spoken in our carriage alone.

Once you get through the Channel Tunnel you really are in Europe proper. It did make me think of how isolated we are as a nation, or how isolated we seem to want to make ourselves from the rest of Europe. There is so much we can and should be learning from our European neighbours, but all you ever hear about in the British media is how corrupt and undemocratic the EU is, how taxpayers' money disappears without trace. Yes, many of these things are true, but it really isn't as bad as we make it out to be, and so many progressive and forward-thinking policies that we benefit from are thanks to the EU.

Maybe I'm confusing the EU with Europe itself. Maybe I have rose-tinted spectacles when it comes to all things European. Probably. All I do know is that several countries in Europe have a range of cheap, efficient and punctual high-speed train services that allows them to be even more connected than they already are. And we have none. For the price of a peak train ticket from Bristol to London you could travel through 3 countries in Europe.

So, my first time in Germany and a good time it was too. Cologne itself is a pretty ugly city but then like most German cities it was bombed to bits during the war and so has had to rebuild itself almost from scratch. In fact, according to a certain free encyclopedia on the internet, always known for its accuracy, 90% of Cologne's buildings were destroyed by the Allies.

You have a mixture of narrow buildings which look almost Flemish or Scandinavian in style , with other concrete tower blocks which look almost communist, ironic considering it is nowhere near East Germany. Although, apparently Cologne has always traditionally harboured deep-seated communist views and was one city the Nazis struggled to take control of. Which makes it unsurprising that it is now regarded as one of the most liberal and alternative cities in Germany.

Saw some wonderful art at the Museum Ludwig, and was most impressed by the Expressionists' work, particularly two pieces by the German artist, August Macke: "Man Reading in the Park," and "Lady in a Green Jacket." I have since discovered a whole array of his works online which I also really like. My kind of modern art.

We spent two days wandering and getting a feel of the place, with the rain never far behind. Many of the shops reminded me of the kind you'd find in England. Lots of department stores, and many more chains. Also saw The Dom, the enormous cathedral Cologne is famous for, which looks filthy during the day, but eerie and spectacular, with the top shrouded in mist, at night. Not a patch on the ones I've seen in Italy, but then none are.

Passed many windows with sausages of various shapes and sizes hanging in them. All of them pork no doubt. Also saw a shop which claims to be the home of Eau de Cologne. And if you take an empty bottle with you, there's a running tap for you to fill it with some cologne.

The best observation though from our very short stay in Germany has to be their language. What a laugh I had. It really isn't a very nice sounding language is it? Doesn't sound as if it flows off the tongue or could actually be that easy to learn, considering it includes 3 genders: male, female and, er, ambiguous?

My favourite words: vom (veal), knoblauch (garlic) and ausfahrt (exit). There were several others but I've forgotten them. Needless to say, I found their menus very funny indeed.

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