Destination: Cologne, Germany
Hello, and welcome to part four of my Destination: Europe series. In this post, you're going to get all of the deets on Cologne, Germany. Though I have to be honest, I wasn't there long, so this is probably going to be a short one.
Flying into Germany had to be one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I wish we had just skipped the city and gone into the countryside because it is breathtaking. Alas, we did not, but that is okay.
Upon our arrival to Cologne, Isaac and I got the wrong train from the airport and ended up having to walk about a mile and a half to our hostel with luggage. As always, wonderful on cobblestone streets. We walked through one of the biggest outdoor shopping areas in Europe by accident, Schildergasse. While we were walking around, people were all dressed in the weirdest costumes. It was so confusing, but more on that later.
For this particular stay, we stayed at the SMARTY Hostel. I'll be honest, right off the batt, I didn't have great vibes about the place. The staff was off-putting and almost rude, so I felt instantly unhappy. To top it off, when going to my room, I was met with a tiny, practically closet-sized room with four beds that smelled like cat piss. It was nothing like the photos they use online to showcase their wonderful property. My room didn't even have lockers in it, which made me very uncomfortable. Traveling with photo equipment, I need the locker that was promised when I booked the room. Not cool.
We got to the hostel pretty late in the day, so we weren't able to go out and explore. We took this opportunity to watch a movie recommended to us by a meme: The VelociPastor. If you haven't watched this movie, I urge you to do so. It is about a pastor whose parents are murdered. He then goes on a trip to find himself and is cursed with the ability to transform into a dinosaur. He uses his powers to fight evil and battle ninjas. Yes, it is just as bad as it sounds, but it is worth every moment of laughs.
Later that night, back in my room, I met someone who honestly made Cologne worth it to me. I met a midwife named Gal (pronounced gaul). She was initially born in Israel but lives in Germany. We spent a few hours talking about everything from women's reproductive health, to healthcare, to politics. It is her dream to better educate women on safe practices for giving birth, specifically about how unsafe the position you see women in giving birth in hospitals on TV is. I cannot begin to express how much I learned from her, just chatting away from the top bunk. It is incredible how inspiring and knowledgeable strangers can be.
The next morning, Isaac and I ventured out to town back towards Schildergasse. Again, people were dressed up in all different costumes and colors. We were surrounded by music and life. Little did we know, we walked into the biggest party in Germany: Karneval. Karneval is a pre-Easter Lent celebration that translates to "meat farewell". It has been a celebration since the city was founded, though it didn't always have the religious connection. The best way to describe it is a week long, city wide costume party. When we booked this trip, we had no idea this was happening! So obviously, to fit it, I had to get a costume of my own (a picture of which I will put at the bottom of this post).
After a quick change of attire, we went to a nearby grocery store called Lidl. Here, we stocked up on food to cook back at the hostel. The kitchen was the one thing I happened to actually enjoy about this location. After a bit of snacking, we headed back out: this time without cameras to enjoy the festivities of Karneval first hand. On this particular day, on top of regular parades of marching bands, the main square was also full of party-goers and live music. The music would switch from German to English, to Scottish and everything in between. Even though half the crowd didn't know what the music meant, everyone was just happy to be there. It was such a unique experience. To top it off, having a German Bratwurst made my life. Holy cow, for a festival about saying bye to meat, they sure know what they are doing.
Day three, we ventured back out into the crowds to explore. On this day, rather than live music, the square was filled with carnival rides and bumper cars. It had a much different vibe this day, almost as though the masses were hungover from the festivities the day before. In the shopping areas, through the marching bands, workers were busy boarding up shop fronts to prepare for Monday: the biggest day of Karneval. Nothing was open, so we had to make the most of what we could find.
We headed over to the Kölner Dom, Cologne's cathedral which is famous for its incredible gothic architecture. The inside was breathtaking. I especially loved how onlookers were silent and respectful of the ongoing Sunday morning service. Even if you are a different religion, or aren't religious at all, you should see some of the architecture in the cathedrals in Europe. They are incredible, each so unique.
We then went towards the river, wandering mostly empty streets in the rain. We came to these buildings, which are famous for their pastel colors, though I found the structure behind them to be far more eye-grabbing. We continued along the river until we came across Vapiano. Vapiano is a unique restaurant chain. They don't have servers, but they aren't fast food. You place your order with the chef, scan a card and get a buzzer, collect your food when it's ready, and check yourself out. It was interesting to me. It was also incredibly delicious. I loved the pasta pesto basilico vegan. I'm a sucker for pine nuts.
After this, the weather was so severe that we opted to call it a day.
The final morning, we had to be up incredibly early. I was so cranky, had gotten zero sleep at the hostel. There was a party that went on all night in the room next to me. That's Karneval for ya. After some cobblestone streets, two trains, and a very, very slow airport experience, we were on our way to Prague.
Okay, so Cologne wasn't my favorite. It didn't have the diversity of London, the adventures of Copenhagen or the charm of Bergen. But I will definitely be giving Germany another chance one day. If I could do it differently, I would want to be out in the countryside, traveling around and experiencing the fantastic castles and green rolling hills Germany has to offer. Maybe it's the country girl in me, but this city didn't click as much as I wished it would.
When I return to Germany, I want to experience more of the day-to-day culture. I want to learn more about my heritage and where my family came from. I want to learn our history, not just the negatives we learn about in school. I know there is so much more to this country than costume parties and I can't wait to experience it one day.
What experiences have you had in Germany? Any recommendations for next time?
Comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Until next time!