A romantic gesture and a football stadium – first published 19 September 2014

Commando had finished the Cologne Marathon and I’d had a lovely walk along the medieval walls. With a late flight ahead of us we had one more day to explore Cologne. Of course, after Commando’s twenty six point two mile run and the fourteen miles I’d walked while he was doing it, we didn’t plan on a great deal of walking. This ruled out the Chocolate museum, much as I’d have liked to taste it, I mean see it. Commando had a plan though, he wanted to see the football stadium. After running all that way the day before I thought he should get his wish.

19 September 2014

After breakfast we packed, checked out and arranged to leave our bags at the hotel for the day. We also asked the concierge about getting to the football stadium. Armed with a map of the underground and some instructions, we set off in search of the station at Neumarkt. On the way there we passed the shop selling love locks. It seemed like too good a chance to miss so we went in and bought one. Sitting on a bench outside the cathedral Commando scratched our initials on it, whether we’d get time to put it on the bridge or not remained to be seen.

This was always going to be a leisurely day and we stopped on Hohe Straße for coffee and again on Schildergasse when Commando fancied some chips. He did have a bit of a calorie deficit to make up. We paused to look in shop windows, and, outside the Neumarkt station, marvelled at the giant upside down ice cream cone on the roof of Primark. What on earth is that about?

The underground in Cologne is not as much underground as you’d expect. It’s actually a mixed system with a combination of underground and overground trains and trams. We went down into the station to buy our tickets and then back up onto the street to wait for our tram. Using public transport in a foreign country, especially one where you hardly speak the language, is an act of faith so we didn’t relax until we got to the next station and knew for sure we were going in the right direction. When the ticket inspector got on we found out we’d made a bit of a faux pas and should have validated our ticket in the little machine we hadn’t even noticed when we got on. She didn’t seem very happy about it.

Thankfully, the stadium was right next to the tram stop which meant we didn’t have to wander around getting lost. Situated in Müngersdorfer and surrounded by woodland, it’s a pleasant place to visit. As we walked through the gates we passed joggers and walkers taking advantage of the grounds and, although it was closed, we could peek through the gates at the pitch. As FC Köln are a Bundesliga team I was surprised at how small it seemed compared to our own St Mary’s but Commando reminded me the stadiums in Germany still have stands which means you can fit far more people in. We strolled around the outside, peered through the fence at the running track and training pitch and then made our way back to the tram stop outside. It wasn’t the longest visit in the world but it was interesting.

We made it back to Cologne in one piece, even remembering to validate our tickets this time and avoiding the wrath of the ticket inspector. There was a little drama on the way when an elderly man tripped over the bag of a young German goth girl. He clattered into Commando, who was standing, head butted him in the elbow, looked at him as if he was going to complain that his elbow had been in the way and then turned an unleashed a shower of abuse on the girl. In fairness her bag was on the floor but she gave as good as she got. No apologies were exchanged. Very strange.

Once we were off the train we made for the riverside cafés for a spot of lunch. We avoided the restaurant where Commando had been served the wrong meal the night before the marathon. The waitress had been reluctant to change it even though it was her mistake and, when she eventually did, she made it clear she wasn’t happy about it. We also avoided the restaurant from the evening before where the elderly waiter had walked off to have a conversation with a friend half way through taking our order. That night we’d walked away after about five minutes and gone to the Thai restaurant a few doors up where the food and service were excellent. This time we tried a small place serving traditional German food. I wish we’d spotted it before. Finally I got my bratwurst and one last glass of Kölsch. The bratwurst was well worth the wait and we lingered at our table by the river for a while soaking up the sun and the atmosphere.

After that we climbed up onto the bridge one last time and added our love lock to all the others. I chose a spot right in front of the balancing man statue so I’d know where to find it if we ever came back. Commando insisted on waiting until no one was passing before fixing the lock to the mesh fence. He didn’t want to be seen doing something so obviously romantic in case it ruined his street cred. He did let me take a photo though.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering slowly through the parks and then sitting by the river. The little tourist train came past while we were sitting by the Rhine and an elderly man with a cane stopped to say “guten tag.” Time was getting on so, with one last look back at the love locks bridge, we ambled back to the hotel to pick up our bags and have a coffee before our taxi arrived.

It was still sunny so we sat at a table outside to drink our coffee. We were chatting and sipping when suddenly a red squirrel popped up on the steps right behind Commando. He sat for a while and I tried to get my phone out without moving too quickly and frightening him off. Of course he disappeared just as I took the photo. He dashed across the car park and darted up a tree. I did get a photo of him as he disappeared up the tree but not so’s you’d really tell it was a squirrel.

We don’t have red squirrels in Southern England, unless you live on the Isle of Wight. The grey squirrels, introduced from North America, being more successful breeders and able to digest a wider range of seeds, out competed them to such an extent they now only live in small, isolated pockets. I haven’t seen one since I was a child. What a pity he didn’t hang around a bit longer.

By the time our taxi arrived we were feeling relaxed and happy after a pleasant day. The chilled out feeling didn’t last. From the outset our taxi driver seemed a little on the manic side. If we’d known what the journey was going to be like we’d never have got into the cab. I have never been so terrified in my life. Seriously, this guy thought he was Michael Schumaker.

There are no speed limits on the autobahn but even Commando thought one hundred and thirty miles an hour was slightly excessive. Cutting across four lanes of speeding traffic had me clutching my seat.
“Are you in hurry?” he asked, turning round to look at us.
“No! We’ve got plenty of time,” Commando said through clenched teeth.
It didn’t stop him driving along the hard shoulder at eighty miles an hour. When the hard shoulder ended in a grass bank I shut my eyes and braced for the crash. Thankfully it didn’t happen.

We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, especially as our flight was delayed for half an hour. Still, it took at least that long for my legs to stop shaking. It also gave us time to watch the sun go down over Cologne one last time.

Cologne is undoubtedly a beautiful city. It was good to return and see how it’s changed. The medieval walls were interesting, if a little too sanitised and over restored for my liking. The marathon was a success, despite not quite being as quick as Commando would have liked. Would we return? Maybe, but I wish the German people we met would take life a little less seriously and be a little less grumpy.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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