In this journal:
- a firebreather in a medieval market;
- 2 tons of locks;
- unholy amount of salivating food.
My train slowly stopped at the familiar Cologne Hauptbahnhof, where I got to meet my old time homie Ulrike. She has become a common guest on my blog ever since her debut in Antarctica journals, and you can find her on all my past trips to Cologne. This time, instead of heading straight away to the gigantic Christmas market right in front of the Dom, she took me to a little one tucked behind a dense pack of trees, and filled with an even denser pack of people.
While I grabbed a classic cup of mulled wine (the 4th one in 2 days), Ulrike went for something more local. The above photo shows her with a large glass of Verpoorten brand advocaat. Do not be confused with the French word for avocado, or the French word for lawyers(which is the same as each other), this is a kind of egg-nog that is produced right to the south of the city, at Bonn. It is originally founded by a Belgian guy, and now still bottles hundreds of thousands of these Dutch liquor per day. I tried it, but the way it was served: hot, thick, viscous, sweet and topped with cream, made me feel like this was some kind of punishment on reality TV.
And what is a night out with Ulrike without unthinkable amount of kölsch? Per our previous tradition, every time I come visit Ulrike in Cologne, she had to take me to a different bierhaus for a round of unhealthy German food inhale session, coupled with my favorite kind of beer. Yes, Germans from the rest of the country are gonna laugh, claiming the only thing between kölsch and urine is that one costs money, but I genuinely think this lightly-alcoholic pee is my favorite, so I will tell them to piss off. We settled down, and each ordered a tall glass first. Ulrike decided for a traditional pork knuckle, which was GIGANTIC. Have you seen a full knuckle that goes bigger than my shoulder? And what was more incredible, however, was watching my tall and slender friend, whose famous skills involve crocheting and clay works, devour it down without blinking an eye. My gods, Germans are truly crazy.
I went for a grilled sausage with potato chips, which, if you can believe me, is the healthiest thing on the menu. It was fantastic, and I downed 3 cups of kölsch while Ulrike finished 4, using the traditional way of cheering with the “heels” of the glasses, of course. I passed out in her guest room soon after, without even changing out of my dirty travel clothes.
Next morning, we went for a rather interesting market in the nearby town of Siegburg. Sitting 26 kilometers from the center of Cologne, this city of 30000 people used to be the most popular monastery on this side of the Rhine, but it quickly faded into obscurity. Nowadays, it is one of those satellite cities that get to survive thanks to the easy train station right in town and cheap housing. However, right before Christmas, Siegburg is always transformed into a medieval wonderland with a 13th-century themed Christmas market! Forget about arts and crafts, this is a market of weaving machines and stonemasons! Ditch the modern lights and international food, here it is all about open bonfires and forgotten recipes. Let’s embark on a time travel!
For example, you have these machines that shave hard wood down to your desirable size, all using the power of your own legs, and the tension force of a long piece of string. I tried it for a bit, given that it is a free activity, but controlling the precision while not having my fingers cut clean off, was rather difficult. Meanwhile, at another corner, there was a blacksmith shop, and the owner was actually making goods for sale, with an avil and a hammer, just like the old times that I have never lived through.
And how can 13th century productions go without 13th century foods? Entire pigs were gutted and skwered on the rods, rotated by a guy spinning a rod, while being barbequed to a crispy brown. It may seem barbaric, but this is actually how it has been for thousands of years, as modern comforts have greatly sheltered the more “realistic” parts of meat consumption. I went for another food, a kind of sausage barbequed and chopped, and eventually dunked into a bed of salty kale drenched in ham juice. Yes, it is quite similar to the one I had in Hamburg, so I gladly finished the portion without a sweat.
For entertainment, a few stalls of artists dressed up in the appropriate attire provided all the fun one could ever need. This old couple mostly told folktales to children, who gathered around religiously. The old lady would play her hurdy-gurdy from time to time, with its droning sounds hypnotizing every young soul within the 20 meter radius. The old men also noticed me taking photos, and asked where I was from. After knowing I am Chinese, he bursted into a quick flute episode of the famous song Jasmine, to my amusement and confusion of all the German kids sitting around me.
There is also a main stage with a rotation of performances. While we were there, a large medieval band of jesters played songs of the bygone past with their flute, drums, violins and other instruments that I will probably misname. And then, a firebreather came up with seven fire torches, and he proceeded with juggling all of them while breathing fire when things were not flying. It sent the crowd cheering, and going wild by the end when he threw all of them over 3 floors high.
Back in Cologne
Back in the city, Ulrike took me up the tallest building near the this district by the Rhine, Kölntriangle. This 103 meter glass behemoth stands right above the famous Hohenzollernbrücke bridge, across the Dom, on the other side of the city, offering unparalleled panoramas. From the top, you can see everything stretched as far as the horizons, all the way to the rolling hills that will eventually turn into Swabian Alps to the south. After breathing in enough fresh air to renew my lungs, we continued next to the plaza by the Hohenzollernbrücke, which features an Equestrian Statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I. He is the very first head of state of a unified Germany, thus having a statue of him in the most scenic position is almost a requirement in every German city.
And ah, the familiar love paddocks on the Hohenzollernbrücke. The 40000 locks not only demonstrated the immovable love and fidelity in human relationships, but also stupidity in following modern capitalistic trends. Started just in 2008, this trend has led to 2-tons of locks, bycicle chains, door locks(yep), and many others being hanged on top of each other on the railings of this poor bridge, and single-handedly sustained the local lock-selling vagrants situated on both sides. This is a disease of arrogant, selfish display that has plagued all major touristy cities of Europe, ranging from Prague to Leeds. Just thinking of the 40000 keys tossed into the mighty Rhine makes me shudder.
And we promptly walked back to probably the most flavorful Christmas market in town. I have visited this market 2 years ago, and still remember it till this day. Hundreds of little gnomes pointed directions above thousands of people, each walking at a snail’s pace while gazing upon the myriad of items up for sale. I will not detail the interesting history in the market and its associated plaza, as you can find it in my older Cologne journal right here.
And just look at this noughat! Holy moly, the amount of nuts and pistachios and milk used in it must be insane! And it comes at a hefty price as well, which I can imagine must be of a great reason. However, while I was drooling over these sugary pieces of heavens that I will never be able to even catch a whiff of smell of, a German lady just casually walked by, saw the candies, and bought 2 solid kilos. 2 kilos of noughat! I had never felt the disparity of wealth in this world more than that very moment. Ah, world! Ah, fate! You cruel mistresses! Please! Just let me gain weight in peace! Or in pieces of sugar! Please!
I hugged Ulrike farewell, hoping to see her again sometime next year, and hopped onto my bus. It would take me all the way west towards Netherlands, and my first stop: the tiny student city of Tilburg. On the autobahn, everything was flashing in front of my eyes, as my bus was only able to go 110km/h, while most cars sped by at least 50% faster than us. Additionally, it was because I realized how quickly this trip had been. From the beginning of this trip in the Portuguese fishing village, to Rome, and Dubrovnik, and then London, Dortmund, and finally Cologne, it had just been 2 weeks. I certainly have picked up my pace since the very first EuroHop trip 4 years ago. It is as if I was traveling faster than light, without being able to see the time dilation passing by outside my perspective. And if general relativity holds true, then I wish time can go back for me, because these good days, I can never have enough.