Sun 24 Jun, 2012
Last night I got back from a two-day trip to Bonn and Cologne with my German as a Foreign Language course. It was an optional trip and 20€ for the bus ride, hostel, and tours was too good to pass up. Both of those cities are on the Rhine River in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Bonn was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1991 (they picked it largely because it was free of the huge weight of symbolism that Berlin or Nuremberg had). In Bonn we saw the history museum of the Federal Republic of Germany, which covers the history of West and East Germany from 1949 to the present, and is probably my favorite museum yet in Germany. I was geeked to see General Montgomery’s actual beret and the spacesuit worn by Sigmund Jähn, the first East German cosmonaut.
Then we went to Cologne (Köln in German), which with a million inhabitants is Germany’s fourth-biggest city and has a long history as a Roman settlement (Colonia Agrippensis), Frankish city, cosmopolitan trading center, and center of Catholic political power. The world’s oldest perfumery is located there, making the original Eau de Cologne, and the Carnival celebrations are the biggest in Germany. Cologne is also known for its cross-Rhine rivalry with the city of Düsseldorf, giving rise to zingers like this:
Neanderthal man was discovered in Düsseldorf. It took so long to find him because he fit right in!
or, from the other side:
Why do people in Cologne call their church the “Dom”? Because they can’t spell “Cathedral.”
We were told to order Kölsch beer, and by no means Düsseldorfer Altbier, while watching Germany play Greece in the European quarter-finals. We saw it in a restaurant/bar that promised “the spiciest currywurst in Germany.” Now currywurst is more or less what it sounds like: sausage with curry sauce. It’s a classic street food but I had never eaten very good currywurst. It was supposed to be good in NRW, though, so I tried the “super spicy” kind. I didn’t know what to expect because frankly, food in Germany is not very spicy. This one was supposed to be approaching 500,000 Scoville units, and my eyes did tear up a little, but it was definitely survivable.
After Germany won, we wandered the streets and were amazed at how many people were celebrating, and how loud, just for the quarterfinals. It was an amazing atmosphere and I can’t imagine what it will be like if Germany wins the whole championship. Crossing my fingers! Or, rather, “pressing my thumbs,” which is how they wish luck here.
The highlight of Saturday was climbing the cathedral (Kölner Dom), which is the second-tallest church tower in Europe and the third-highest in the world. (I had climbed the world’s highest, in Ulm, back in March; that one is not technically a cathedral, since it isn’t the seat of a bishop.) Construction was begun in the 1200s and it didn’t reach its full height for 600 years; really is amazing how huge they could build with 19th-century technology.
All in all it was a great trip and a great weekend! Looking forward to having my family visit before too long!