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The One with Kölsch and Dom

It still looks the same after my last visit eight years ago. The dom, Der Rhein and 4711 cologne billboards scattered all over the city (the cologne from Cologne is that famous until most people actually call the bottled fragrance, cologne). My uncle’s car took us from Dusseldorf to Cologne almost in no time since we were talking merrily along the freeway. Not much to see along the way other than trees and more trees. I began to see why Germany is said to be the most unpolluted country in the world. When you drive in Jakarta’s freeway, you wouldn’t find any tree. The view you’d get are other cars (since it would be very likely you’re going to stuck in traffic. Yes, it was supposed to be a freeway), polluted stream, abang-abang tried to get in to the freeway to sell you bottled waters or peanuts or porn tabloids.

After a delightfully hearty goulash beef and two bottles of Kölsch beer, I passed out inside the comfort of my Onkel and Tante’s house. For the next three days, my morning ritual would involved delicious breakfast menus, hot coffee and a half-mocking-half-laughing greeting, “Guten tag”, from my Uncle. I don’t think it is a crime for waking up on nine a.m, isn’t it? Hell, nine in international world is considered as morning. Of course the rest of international world doesn’t wake up on six, cycling for few kilometres and have started breakfast on seven. Could not complain tou’. The breakfast would beat any five-star restaurant in Germany. Fresh brötchen from bakery (which apparently my Onkel bought on his way cycling), meaty schinken or wurst, any known form of cheeses and for the final encore, fresh fruit and black coffee.

Their house is located in the suburb, deep, deep down in the final tram stop of Sürth. I only need to walk dozens of steps and I found myself gazing at the muddy brown Rhein. At the moment there is a major construction going on to prevent flooding so I didn’t find is as beautiful as it used to be. But I found a way into opposite direction and there you have it, a long countryside walk along the Rhein. It was my second day in Cologne and so far people that I met were neightbors around my Onkel’s house. Most of them are retired and rich. The husbands has big Germany belly and the wives were more-or-less gossipy hausfrau who loves exchanging cake recipe and weekly gossip magazine. They were all look nice although I couldn’t speak beyond ‘guten morgen/tag/abend, danke schön and tchuss’ to them. It was a Wisteria Lane neighboorhood, minus hidden mutilated corpse in a pool, bare-chested gardener and hot mamas wearing hot pants, of course.

So you can imagine my shock when I strolled along the Rhein and in front of me there were gay couple kissing passionately while their dog waiting. The other stroller just went through them like nothing happened. I’m not against G.P.D.A (Gay Public Display of Affection) or gay people in general, but after seeing so many straightness, this fact of life suddenly slapped me hard on the cheek. Cologne is truly the gay capital of Germany. I continued my walk and the Triple L (Loving Lesbian Lovers) gave me a warm 'guten abend'.

I spent my third day (I would be leaving for Amsterdam the day after) in the city. The domplatz were mobbed by tourists from God-knows-where and I even caught glimpse of some Indonesian between the crowds. How do I know, you might ask. I think you just knew when you met your countrymen, isn’t it? Indonesian could be found in any major tourist attraction, usually with shopping bag(s) in hand and habitually have their picture taken in front of the mentioned tourist attraction. I could spot an Indonesian from 500 metres. Really.

I have visited the dom once and I decided it was sufficient to last a lifetime. I stand in front of the dom for a few moment, gazing at the twin towers in which years ago I climbed under the torture of my Onkel. This dom was the only building fully intact from the bombing in World War II while the whole city was completely destroyed and 95% of the population were gone (either dead or evacuated to another cities).

Since I am a museum freak, I decided to survey the museums in Cologne. To my satisfaction, all major museums in Cologne were located close with each other. I went to Ludwig Museum that day (http://www.museum-ludwig.de/) and faced with few of the best pop art paintings. Marilyn’s Warhol, plenty of Picasso’s sketches, prints and photography collection by Man Ray and many others. I went in when the weather were all cloudy but still, yet I came out with howling wind and madding rain. Wasn’t it supposed to be summer in Europe, I asked myself. But I guess you’ll just never knew with global warming and Ice Age getting near (or so Al Gore said).

At the evening (which still felt like noon because the sun was shinning even if shamefully until around nine p.m), my Onkel and Aunt took me to a kirmis in Bruhl, a small town in Cologne now famous throughout Germany because of Phantasialand, the German counter attack of Disneyland). What is a kirmis? It turned out to be an amusement market with merry-go-round, ferris wheel and other adrenaline fuelled ride. Considering myself of non-adrenaline junkie, I tried to find my own amusement while my Onkel and Aunt took the kids for a ride. And *hallelujah chorus as soundtrack* I found it. Stall and more stall along the street selling food. Yes, FOOD. So began my culinary experiment with a wicked ‘reibekuchen mit apfelmoes’ (translated: a deep-fried vegetable cake with apple mousse). A pause for Kölsch. My next object of culinary experiment was bratwurst (of course!) with a lot of yellow mustard or senf. It was one of the best wurst I ever ate. A pause for more Kölsch. At that time, my stomach has started to send ‘I’m full’ signal which unfortunetely translated into my food-damaged brain as ‘one more while you are here’. After taking a walked to ease the pressing fullness in belly, I tried a grilled beef steak with brötchen and fried onions. It was heaven. I’m not exaggerating because after my Onkel tasted mine, he decided to bought one for himself. He is German, so it was that good. I threw few bites worth of brötchen into bin (after trying very hard to found the right bin. They had four type of bins for God’s sake. What if I threw it in a wrong hole? I could see all Germans around me threwing conscientious look) and walked very slowly, nearly crawled, into the car.

I closed my first days in Germany with art, abundance of food and Kölsch flooding into my cells and killing them one by one (but hey, Germans consumed so many beers per capita and German turns out to be one of the richest country in the world. Technically, I should be fine). I doubted my Onkel would take care of me after he saw me that day but to his credit, he kindly took me to the Hauptbahhof the next early morning. He taught me how to read the train schedule, went up with me to the platform and showed me how to find out where I should wait. Among my foggy early morning brain, I was amazed on how developed Germany really is. They even told you where to stand and wait for the right wagon. Super. I bid him farewell and waited for the zug to arrive.

While I stepped on the right wagon I can’t help but saying to myself cheesily, “This is one small step for moi, but a giant leap of faith in life”. It was the first backpacking trip I ever had in Europe. If I can handle this, I can handle anything that comes to life. It turns out to be hmm…not so true, you’ll find out later. But at the time, when I finally able to found my seat beside a curteous German man who muttered, 'guten morgen' while reading newspaper (an automatically programmed manner, perhaps?), I felt timid yet more alive than ever.


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