Deutschland, the land of precision engineering and order, beer and sausage, a European powerhouse with world class cities and sports teams, a place where trains are on time (within seconds),where you can find a group of drunk twenty-somethings at the cross-light – at 02:00 in the morning, with a current mix of east and west, along with so many new immigrant groups from the Middle East, a country I first visited almost thirty years ago, is a Republic close to my heart. Each time I visit, twice in the last twelve months, my enjoyment only increases. Berlin, Hanover and Cologne are all astonishing cities, each with their own individual draw. Never was a bad time had in Germany – this year would be no different.
Most often when I visit Germany it is to see a close, dear friend, Thomas. We originally met over twenty-five years ago when he was an AFS high school exchange student staying with local friends of mine. His host brother, Baby Snooks, was the younger brother of a close friend and so often we would maintain the same company. Over time his silly fruitiness wore on me and we became friends. After moving back to Germany, one cold winter, he invited me to Tyrol, Austria to ski with his family for two weeks. After that first trip to Europe, I was hooked. Europe was just waiting to be discovered. I also gained a new friend in life, a refined gentleman, from good stock, well-mannered and courteous, with a heart of gold.
Since I spend part of my year living in Holland, Germany is a close drive. And although I love so many different regions and cities in Germany, Cologne is one of my favorite, and also the city Tom happens to currently reside. Berlin is by far my favorite city in Germany but it is too far a drive from Amsterdam for me at this juncture of my injury. I could do it in two days, whereas Cologne is a one day trip – doable. Considering stops for food and little boy’s room, taking into account the Audubon and local traffic, it’s a four hour drive. My first trip to Holland, earlier in summer, I visited Cologne for four days. My second trip I decided to take a road adventure with a friend who was visiting me in Netherlands for summer.
Unlike my first journey to Cologne, a few months before, where I had to get into a rental car, attach hand controls for gas and brake, after flying across the Atlantic Ocean throughout the night, only to drive four hours to check-in to my hotel – before heading out that night with local friends for some catch-up and drinks. The next day I paid the price, reminded I was no longer twenty-three. My second trip would allow me the benefit of being a passenger, a superb luxury. A super helpful strong friend from Philadelphia, Joe, visited me in Europe for seven weeks this summer. We decided on renting a car and visiting Germany and Belgium. It was Joe’s first time in Europe; a summer he’ll soon never forget.
Returning to Cologne brings back so many prior amazing trips’ memories, memories of times had with close companions where the smiles are forever indelibly marked on the soul. Each time I return, it feels like a homecoming of sorts, the experience only getting richer and richer. Over time I have made many good friends – friendships that continue to flourish the world over. Some friends having moved to other regions and continents of the world, yet communication and meetings continue unabated. It does not hurt that the food is so very delicious, not to mention how good the beer tastes. My favorite German beer actually comes from Cologne – Frueh Kolsch (umlaut amiss), with its roots in this distinctive city.
Soon enough Joe would be introduced to all the spectacular facets of Germany I love so much. Upon approaching Cologne from the highway, the Cologne Cathedral, dating to 1248, can be clearly seen, prominently and proudly displaying Europe’s second highest Gothic spires high in the sky. I can still remember my first visit to Cologne over twenty years ago. Tom’s mother, Gitta, one day after a nice lunch in Moenchengladbach, where his family resided, drove me there to see its majestic beauty; ever since I have been enchanted with this quaint city. This time my arrival was via highway from Belgium, where we stopped first on our road trip. It would be no less glorious this time; both were enamored.
Cologne, Koeln in German, fourth-most populous metropolis, largest city of Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with just slightly over one million inhabitants, located 45 kilometers from the capital of the Federal State of Rhine-Westphalia, Dusseldorf and only 25 kilometers from Bonn, where I have some very close friends and ‘second’ family, is a city that tickles my heart strings every time I visit her. Her Gothic charm, welcoming neighborhoods, diverse young population, that o’ so unique tasteful German good behavior, outdoor beer gardens, rich foods and decadent desserts, eclectic art scene with over 30 museums and hundreds of galleries all make for an unforgettable experience.
Cologne is one of the oldest cities in Germany and its name dates back to Roman times. In 50 AD the Romans founded the Ubii village on the Rhine and named it “Colonia.” As with all Roman cities, massive gates were installed as protection from entering into the city, surrounded by an impenetrable ringed stone wall of protection. It was originally four kilometers long, with nine gates and 19 round towers. Ruins of the Old-City walls and gates can still be found throughout the city. Located next to Cologne Cathedral, the Romano-Germanic Museum (Romisch-Germanisches Museum), has the largest collection of untold archaeological artifacts from the original Roman settlement, on which modern Cologne is built.
While in Cologne I only stay at one place, Motel One. Just like Generator Hostel, Motel One, a distinctive hotel model itself, is expanding throughout Europe at a rapid rate. People absolutely love both places to sleep in Europe – each offering immense value to the customer. I mostly revolve my travel in Europe around those two popular chains. On my visit Cologne only had one Motel One. This trip they had three. And I just read there are now eleven in Berlin. The creator cut out all the unnecessary costs like room service and daily towels and sheets, including a contemporary room with art and twenty-four hour lobby bar with contemporary furniture to sit and relax with friends. All for about one hundred Euros – Wow!
This trip I stayed at the newly christened New Market (Neumarkt) location. My previous trip was spent at their Old-City South (Alstadt-Sued) place. Both are great locations but the Old-City South is more centrally located to access all the best neighborhoods the city has to offer, and also tourist attractions. The Cathedral (Der Koelner Dom), Belgian Quarter (Bruesseler Platz), Old-City Roman walls, City Center, New Market (Neumarkt), Severinsviertel, Haymarket (Heumarkt), Rhine River and fine culinary choices to dine out, plentiful in every direction. Cologne is a youthful city, with the hippest culture of any city in Germany next to Berlin – truly a laid-back place to dive into history, the arts and a smorgasbord of fun.
The city skyline is dominated by Cologne Cathedral, Der Koelner Dom, officially Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petru, Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, seat of the Archbishop of Cologne, a renowned monument of German Catholicism. Construction in Medieval Europe began in 1248 but was halted in 1473, left unfinished. Work began again in the 1840s and was eventually completed, according to its Medieval plan, in 1880. It is one of Europe’s most fascinating structures and is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. It’s spires, 2nd tallest in Europe, can be seen from afar – they dominate the city landscape – giving it the largest facade of any church in the world. It is something worth seeing in your lifetime.
And just thirty meters from the church doors is the beer house (Bier Haus) of my favorite German beer, Frueh Kolsch. Who ever said that prayer and drinking do not go together. Catholics have wine at mass. Cheers – first round on me. Traditional beer houses in Germany are few and far between in modern times. Beers are delivered to your table by Koebes, traditional trained beer house servers, in tall skinny glasses each sitting in place neatly in a large round tray. When your glass is close to empty, unless a coaster placed atop, another beer is set down in its place, as the server marks your beer coaster with a pencil mark. At the end of the night, they determine your bill by how many strikes are on your coaster.
One day of the trip was spent with Tom’s family: Wolfgang, Gitta, Anja, Nadja and Pele the dog (Gram: @pelleparson). We decided to visit one of their favorite local beer gardens at the Haymarket (Heumarkt). As Kolsch beer is from Cologne, most places you visit serve that type only. We sat outside under an umbrella, in a lively outdoor walking area and square for the public, nestled among numerous beer gardens and restaurants. This section of the city is also very popular for bachelorette parties. Many a lady-to-be could be seen with her brood in pink in tow, out to party the night away. Under the afternoon sun great conversation abound, I ordered my favorite, Wiener Schnitzel with skinny fries.
After lunch we all walked to the Cologne Cathedral (Der Koelner Dom) in the City Center district, where we would enter to take a walking tour. The stained glass windows in the church are unlike any other I have ever seen – so large, bright and vivid in color, detailed in story – truly astonishing. Afterward, we headed to Alstadt (Old-City), filled with endless shopping, eccentric street vendors and performers, and food treats. One of my favorite foods to eat in the world is Turkish street food in Germany and next door in Holland. The Belgian fries and waffles are worthy of honorable mention too. The streets in this area of the city are cobblestone and so a bit rough on a wheelchair. Nothing a little street food will not remedy.
Another night an old friend, Yaki, originally from Hong Kong, who relocated to Germany eleven years prior, a budding prospering employee at Motel One well on his way into management (met him my first stay), along with some other local mates, invited us out to an urban public open-space city beer garden in the Belgian Quarter. Joe and I did not hesitate, immediately after a round of beers sorted, ordering a few sausage platters. There are a few things in the world worth traveling to eat: one is outrageously delicious sausages from Deutchland. Bellies filled with pork and grease, it was time to get down to serious business – beer drinking in Germany. It was a night filled with memories, and a rough morning.
As far as accessibility goes, Germany is a dream country. Only Scandinavia does it better in Europe. The highways are well equipped with accessible bathrooms and numerous places to dine. In one rest-stop in Belgium, on our way driving to Germany, well before Joe got a speeding ticket on the Audubon, in a dedicated family/handicap bathroom, there was DJ music playing aloud, along with a spinning disco ball. That was one hell of a symphonic movement – it filled my eyes with color, sound and tears. Getting around Cologne is easy in a wheelchair. Taxis are readily available – Uber now too. Public buses are all accessible. Street trams are level to the station for easy accessiblity; underground tram has elevators.
Each and every time I visit Germany it is memorable. It is a country I adore. My ‘second‘ family there was a huge pillar of support in my accident recovery. Traveling there over the years, especially one trip in the middle of my recovery to surprise thank them all in person, has never been easy. It is the maxim forever tattooed on my head: Doing the Dirty Dishes of living – for without doing them, we never learn from our experiences or mature and grow from the lessons of life. As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind,: Life begins when the story ends. No longer living a story, I am free to see where the journey takes me now. Often I daydream – pour me a skinny bier, lather my sausage with mustard and faschnizzle my schnitzel.
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