This tip is for visitors to Germany who are beginners in the German language like me. While in Germany, you will often hear the word "bitte". The link included with this tip instructs on the common usages of the term "bitte" in German.
Before visiting Cologne, it would be helpful if you could master the following phrase: "Ich möchte ein Kölsch, bitte." In this phrase, "bitte" means "please".
In Germany, you won't see signs for rest rooms. Instead, look for signs for WC which stands for Water Closet. Be sure to note that Herren refers to men and Damen refers to women.
Also, it is a good idea to carry some pocket change with you at all times because public toilets in Germany are generally not free. For instance, it costs 0.70 Euro to use the Herren WC at the Cologne Hauptbahnhof.
On the positive side, the WC's in Germany are generally clean and well-maintained.
Cologne's German name is Köln and its namesake beer is Kölsch. There were once 20 breweries in the city but the number has dwindled with big brewery takeovers. In 1985, they got together and created an appellation that stated that the Kölsch had to be brewed within the city limits (though some long time producers were grandfathered in) and that the beer had to be served in the traditional .2 liter glass known locally as Stange. It is a long cylindrical glass that affords great head retention. These glasses are placed in a circular tray called a Kranz which is carried by Köbes, the local name by waiters. These are always men. The Köbes are quite efficient and you'll not be long without a beer despite their small size and I find you drink even more quickly than when the glasses are bigger. The best varieties are served via gravity dispense which means there is no additional carbon dioxide infused to impart an artificial bitter flavor or carbonation. The small wooden kegs are quite traditional and add to the timeless air to the best pubs. These are sometimes hoisted from the cellar via a pulley system like at Früh am Dom and it's quite a production to watch as the eager patrons wait for the next barrel to be tapped with a small wooden hammer. Many breweries are doing away with wooden barrels. It is hard to find one in Munich for example other than at Augustiner but the Cologne breweries should be commended for thus far trying to buck this trend. They make the kegs smaller to ensure freshness to the highly perishable beer form. Kölsch is an ale which means it is top fermented. It is related though not so much in taste to rival Düsseldorf's Altbier. It is golden in color with a fruity dry palate and quite easy to quaff. By all means try one and make sure it's from the wood!
This being said, the bread pictured here should ONLY be purchased for family use! Was told by one of the VT'ers I met that it's rock hard. Somehow I don't find that hard to believe.
Atkins dieters beware. You WILL be offended!
We were suprised to see that in the bars and restuarants, a group of people ordering drinks, when the drinks arrived at the table they were in a long tray like thing holding 10 glasses, much better than to have to keep reordering through the evening. What a great idea.
Can you imagine Cologne without Eau de Cologne or better Kölnisch Wasser.
But watch out, next to Eau de Cologne there is Original Eau de Cologne which is a trademark. The 4711 brand of the Mülhens Company (owned by Procter & Gamble) originates from the streetaddress of the original perfume supplier at the Glockengasse 4711.
There are many Merzenich shops around providing fresh bread, pretzels and "kuchen".
Some of the shops have seating areas as well.
Do'n't carry food around when in Cologne; there's enough fresh food around.
The first time I visited Cologne, I didn't get Kölsch at all. This Cologne beer speciality was to weak and served in too small glasses for my more Bavarian liking :))) These days, my extended Cologne family have taught me how it is done and I have got used to the way it should be drunk and enjoy it even if it is not my great favourite. You cannot sip a Kölsch like other beer. Instead, down it rather fast and there is soon a new glass on your table! As they are small, you simply order a new one when you need it and there is even a special Kölsch tray for waiters to carry them in.
So, how do you behave? For a start, the waiters in the Kölsch brewery pubs are quite snotty but that's part of their image so don't worry. Instead, try to argue back at them, it's all permitted as long as it is done in a sort of sarcastic but joking way rather than downright bad mannered. As you cannot drink Kölsch forever because your stomach will start to feel like you have a swimming pool in it before your brain tells you that you're drunk, there is a way to stop more glasses being put in front of you. Simply put the beer mat on top of your glass (see second picture).
When you've stayed in Cologne for a while, you get your own Kölsch favourites and can distinguish between some. Sion is one of mine but Päffgen and Früh are also very nice although totally different! Gaffel seems to be the most touristy one and there are loads in between. The old rule says that a Kölsch has to be brewed within Cologne City to be named a Kölsch.
In February each year, the city explodes with fun as the famous carneval finishing events takes place. I have not yet experienced this but I hope to one day as most of my family comes back telling me what fun they had. Women cut men's ties off and there is an almost endless parade with candy throwing and general sing-a-long, followed by long nights in brewhouses. This is when the most Colonian songs of them all is heard in its proper situation as "Viiiiiva Colonia" is sung just about everywhere. In fact, if you want to make it as a local musician in Cologne, you have to have a carneval hit. Otherwise people simply won't remember you and you will drown in the flow of songs. The carneval season opens in mid November in Heumarkt near the Altstadt, but the real happening is in February. Even the Central station has a carneval souvenir stall during the season. Carneval times is a great period for getting to grips with the Cologen local dialect too as several colloquial expressions are heard, notably "Kölle! Alaaf!" which is shouted everywhere. This comes from the 16th century when Furst Metternich wrote that "Cöllen al aff", or Cologne above all. Yup, quite proud of themselves they are...
Cologne people are seen as lazy by other Germans and in particular the Prussians throughout history. This fountain near the cathedral is a monument to the Cologne temper as it shows a merchant's wife in a household where gnomes did all the work whilst the family slept, but one day the lady in the house wanted so much to see who did all the hard work in the house that she put peas in the staircase. What you see is therefore loads of gnomes falling over. They were supposedly so angered by this that they left the house, never to come back.
When the Prussians came to town, there was much being done that "those lazy Colonians" had never done. Finish the cathedral for once! Why had it been semi-finished since the 13th century, they wondered. And well...still today, Cologne is known for its carneval and relaxed lifestyle.
Rockpalast is the best known concert hall in Cologne but also, famous in whole of Germany and abroad. It is situated right next to the Hauptbanhof and a foot of the Dom. You can't miss it, easy to find and recognizable for its tent-shape rooftop seen from the far distance.
The most popular rock stars and bands, from all over the world, held their concerts here. If lucky, you may watch some of them in live concert during your stay in Cologne.
If you are in Cologne in one of the major religious "seasons" of the year - Easter, Pentecost, Advent - you may very well run into a procession winding its way through the city streets. The city is one of the most important centers of Roman Catholicism in Germany, and with the Cathedral attracting millions of pilgrims every year, there is a vital and living presence of the faith here. I was sitting with my guide in the Heumarkt enjoying a Kölsch when one of the processions came through the square. Stephan explained that it was a "first communion" procession for a couple who were probably going to be "confirmed" in their faith later that day. (Cologne has a significant immigrant population; it seems that the "couple of honor" in the procession were from a community of SE Asian immigrants.)
My impression was that the local Cologne population was friendly and welcoming to its visitors. I was being guided around the city by a really nice young fellow who studies in the city named Stephen, and when he had difficulty finding his way to St. Gereon's church, he asked a fellow riding a bike for assistence. Don't be afraid to ask for directions!
Cologne is one of Germany's most famous media cities and there is now even a whole quarter of the city given up to TV companies and such. Many media personalities come from here and there are lots of game and talk shows shot here which attracts audiences from all over the country. This picture shows the skyline including the TV tower which is one of Westphalia's tallest buildings but sadly no longer open to visitors.
Germany has a moderate climate with the summers usually warm but pretty cold winters. The warmest months of the year are from May to September. The average temperature in July, for instance, varies from 16C to 20C (61F to 68F) according to the location. In January, the variation is from -1C to 6C (21F to 34F). There is no particular rainy season.
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