Route and arrival
We’ve arrived in Köln late in the evening on Friday. We were travelling from Rotterdam and it took us about four hours to get in Köln.
Our apartment, which I booked through Airbnb, was in the beautiful neighbourhood of Ehrenfeld. The building was old but not too old, with a modern feel about it. The apartment was the perfect allocation of space for every room – not too tight but not enormous. White walls, tall ceilings, big windows; everything was modest but good quality. The thing about Germany and Germans – it’s not OTT (over the top) but there’s no lack also. Everything is perfectly moderate and modest but stylish and high standard.
Parking on the street is also free – a big bonus for travellers with cars.
The neighbourhood was thriving – shops of all sorts, restaurants, supermarkets, kiosks (the local newsagents/grocery shops). We also had the tram/metro, called U-ban, just a couple of minutes walking distance.
On the night we arrived we went out locally and found a busy pizza place where the chefs were all Italian. They didn’t know any English but one of the waitresses did – thanks be to God.
Myth: Most English-speaking nations think/believe/say that “everybody speaks English”.
Fact: Not everybody, even in Germany, does. The majority don’t. In fact, in the Netherlands we had more interactions in English than in Germany.
Although we managed to decipher some parts of the menu, we were lost. I would recommend getting a bit prepped in terms of language if you’re travelling in Germany and getting a phrase book. I regret I didn’t prepare better and felt the barrier strongly enough. Funny enough, we did get some Italian like Grazie and Chiao but we were in an Italian pizza.
On another occasion a waitress in a coffee shop in the city centre asked me in German if I know any French or Spanish and something else, but she didn’t have any English. The other guy who served us was Italian.
So in overall Köln is a very multicultural place but I wouldn’t rely on the belief that everybody knows English.
Another challenge, besides deciphering menus, was negotiating public transport. This one is always a big one but in Köln I did eventually experience this feeling of hopelessness when the automatic ticket machine just refused to take our coins after struggling to find our route in German.
For future reference: always read a bit on the peculiarities of local public transport. And usually, even if you do, you will experience some challenges. That’s part of the trip alright.
Part of the desperation was due to the long day we had in the city. Like every busy tourist destination the centre of Köln was packed. One of the main attractions, the Dom – an impressive cathedral with a long history of destruction and rebuilding, was flooded with tourists in and outside. It is a stunning piece of architecture and the tallest cathedral with two spires which form the shape of M. You can go inside and light a candle if you wish or even sit down for a prayer.
Due to the nature of our travel – a family with a small child and a minimum length of stay – and weather conditions, we chose to do the bus city tour. We were able to at least get an impression of this diverse place and also our little man was able to snooze on the bus.
We caught many sights of beautiful historical buildings and quarters, Gothic and Romanesque churches, ruins of Roman walls, modern buildings, parks, several bridges over the river Rein and more. There is plenty to explore and sample.
But what struck me after we took off the bus were the crowds. We ended up walking down a busy shopping area and it felt daunting. With a small child, I didn’t feel people were considerate and that they would walk through you if they could. And that was another thing – I didn’t see many children at all. But I understand that because you do need to be rather brave to bring out your kid shopping downtown with you. On the bright side, we did buy a box of Lego for the lil man from an original Lego shop with Santa build up with tiny Lego pieces. Enough to make the little man’s day and ours as well.
After some more menus and transport negotiating, we were too exhausted to go out to the Belgium Quarter – a hip little area in Köln.
My personal impression is that I wouldn’t want to live in Köln. I know that my judgement is based solely on a single experience. If I could go back another time, perhaps more prepared, I might enjoy it better. But do I want to come back? Only if destiny directs me that way again but not by choice.