Gloomy skies, freezing winters, lack of sunshine, strict and hard-working Germans had made up my scenario of Germany over the years – Most of which were told by friends and family who had either visited or lived in the country. According to them Racism ranked high and communism was still profoundly sensed among the people in the East.
It had been quite a while since I had gone through my WWII phase! I go through phases every once in a while when watching a film or reading an article on a specific subject switches on the key of curiosity in my brain and makes me go nuts on the subject. After that I’d be watching films, documentaries and reading on the subject until I’ve made things clear for myself. (weirdo, I know!) So you can imagine I had already seen lots from Germany and I was impatiently waiting for a chance to visit the country, while having my eyes on Berlin.
However things didn’t go as plan and I was forced into either skipping out on the whole country or taking a train to the closest German city by the Belgian border.
This is how I got to Cologne! I knew Cologne was not big but as long as I got a glimpse of Germany for now, I could plan on visiting the rest later on.
Most of the Iranians I knew would portray the Germans as not the most hospitable people. Basically I was quite skeptical about my visit beforehand – Not because Germany was going to disappoint me but mostly of how I was going to be treated there as a foreigner, specially a Middle Eastern. I found myself to be extremely conscious on people’s behavior and their attitude toward myself.
I’m against generalization of any kind. Specially when it comes to a whole nation. I don’t know whether it was me being picky or things were actually a bit more different here. I wouldn’t call the Germans cold, and while I did meet some lovely people and who were willing to help me out, I also confronted quite a few who seemed to not appreciate being disrupted in any way. (our hotel’s receptionist was one of a kind in this matter!!!) And let’s say there were actually people who would deliberately deny knowing anything about one street away from their workplace when I asked for directions. I know this is nothing unique. There are many places where people either avoid answering questions in a language either than their own, or they’re just not so keen on responding to tourists all the time. However this came in deep contrast with my life in Portugal, where people are naturally extremely welcoming toward tourists and would even walk you to your destination if they have to.
The days I spent in Cologne were surprisingly filled with sunshine and a delightful summer breeze. So there was no witness to the gloomy Germany and it’s summer rainfalls by all means. (phew!!)
As soon as we stepped out of the train station we were stopped and left in awe by the ginormous Cologne cathedral. A dazzling show of Gothic architecture in which only closer inspections reveal the madness underlying it’s construction. I’ve seen quite a few of these majestic cathedrals for which your hat would fall for your eyes to reach their top. Yet I’m still standing in front of Dom zu koln while I’m blown away by it’s craftsmanship. This cathedral with Hohenzollern Bridge (Yes! that’s a name of a bridge!) are the most iconic attractions of Cologne. Apart from that you can go on the hunt for Roman Cathedrals which are scattered all across the city, check out the zoo or just chill out in the many parks by the Rhine riverbank.
Cologne isn’t very big and there isn’t a ton of super famous places to visit. This is a good thing every once in while. It’s good that you’ll have time enough to wander in the streets or visit museums that you wouldn’t normally think of in other times. It’s not like Paris where a week is hardly enough for you to visit the highlights and the temptation of the Louvre, Orsay and Pompidou doesn’t allow you to discover the smaller museums of Montmartre. Here in Cologne I wasn’t on the run. I could actually go for picnics every afternoon and have my dinner by the Rhine without having blisters on my feet from hours of walking and queuing for palaces and museums. I know it’s ok not to see everything and I always tell myself that the second time I make it to here I’m going to take it slow and let the city surprise me. But there’s just too many places to go and too many countries to visit that second chances hardly ever come around. (Anyone else can relate to this?)
I have a lot of respect for the Germans. They’ve had a hideous history filled with agony and darkness. They’ve gone through hell to get to this point. But they have come far. Very far indeed. The train system of Cologne was the first I saw in Europe where there were no bars or ticket inspections. Everything was based on trust and that says a lot!! Add this to free education and other bonus points Germans get and it’ll overcast it’s bitterly cold winters and gloomy skies.
Have you been to Germany? What’s your experience? Do you also try extremely hard to absorb as much as possible in a new destination? Share your thoughts and opinions down below.