Now that we’ve arrived within the most festive month of the year, it seems only too fitting to share this week’s Through The Eyes Of A Local interview early. Welcome to Cologne in Germany – home to some of the most incredible Christmas Markets!
Let me now hand you over to John, the brains behind travel blog: From Real People to tell you all about this incredible city…
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself and where you come from?
My name is John and I’m originally from the UK. After 20 years in the Royal Air Force, I moved to a new job as a civilian in Cologne, Germany. I’m still working full time in aviation thankfully and it’s a huge passion of mine as well as my job. I’m lucky enough to be joined on life’s adventure by my Scottish wife Trudy and our daughter Chloe. We have another daughter, Lucy, who is currently at University in the UK.
2. How long have you lived in Cologne? And what brought you here?
I’ve been living in Cologne for just over 6 years now. It’s ironic, I was in the RAF for over 20 years and never got to live outside the UK. When I was leaving and the chance came up to work for an international organisation here in Germany, it was too good an opportunity to miss.
3. What do you love most about Cologne?
Cologne is a really cosmopolitan city where the locals are so friendly and welcoming. As a traveller visiting the city, you’ll find so many people dying to practice their English with you. As someone trying to learn German, it’s sometimes hard to improve when the locals are trying to practice their English at the same time. My favourite thing about the city is that it doesn’t really matter what time of year it is, you can always sit outside at a cool bar or restaurant and try something new. Be sure to visit the Christmas Markets if you get the chance, there are 6 different ones to visit and they all have a different theme.
4. Is there anything that frustrates or annoys you when tourists visit your hometown?
Not really, it’s always nice to see people coming to Cologne and learning more about the city. There’s so much more to Cologne than the Dom Cathedral and the River Rhine so it would be nice if tourists looked beyond these parts of the city. If you want the best of the city’s restaurant scene, head a couple of tram stops to Rudolfplatz and check out this part of town. When it comes to the Christmas Markets, if you buy a Gluhwein you have to pay a deposit for the cup as well as for the cost of the drink. Every year I spend half my time at the markets explaining this concept to tourists. It does drive me a little crazy, especially as it is clearly signed in various languages.
5. In your opinion, which places should be at the top of any visitor’s wishlist in Cologne?
Having said that there is more to Cologne than the Cathedral, it really is a stunning place that you must visit if you come to the city. Walk across the railway bridge over the Rhine and take a look at the thousands of love locks on the railings. If you want to add a lock yourself, the best place is to go to the path on the north side (away from all the tourists) where there’s still a lot of space. When you get to the other side of the river, go up to the top of the Koln Triangle building for the best views of the city. You could also take a river boat trip down to the beautiful city of Koblenz. There are also some great museums to visit, including the NS-DOK Gestapo Museum, the Ludwig Art Museum and the German-Roman Museum next to the Dom.
6. What foods must visitors eat whilst in Cologne?
People in Cologne are passionate about their local beer called Kolsch. It’s quite a light beer that is traditionally served in small 200 ml glasses called fingers. For the best of the local food, visit one of the famous Cologne Brauhaus restaurants. One of the best local dishes is called Himmel und Ard, which literally translates as Heaven and Earth. It’s black pudding sausage with an apple and potato mash. I also love the Schweinshaxe, which is a lovely pork knuckle that is normally served with fried potatoes (Bratkartoffeln). When it comes to the Christmas Markets, there’s so many amazing things to eat, it’s hard to know where to start. My personal favourites are the flame grilled salmon rolls (Lachsfilet), fried potato cakes (Reibekuchen) and the big meat sticks (Fleischspeiss).
7. What’s your favourite German word? Why? What does it mean?
To the uninitiated, German can seem like quite a harsh language, especially when compared to other romantic European languages like French and Italian. One of the things I love about German is their use of smaller compound words to build up other longer words. It makes it easier to learn what is quite a difficult language for the beginner. Some of them are practical words like Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften (Insurance companies providing legal protection). Others are more usable, like Lebensabschnittpartner which means the partner I am with today. My favourite word is a bit simpler though. In German, the word is Eichhörnchen, which is the word for squirrel. I first learnt it when I was 14 on a school exchange trip. The thing I love about the word is that I find it almost impossible to say it without pulling a silly face. The word just makes me happy.
8. What advice would you give to somebody moving to Germany from another country?
Learn to embrace the German love of rules, it makes life so much easier if you don’t fight it. You might even learn to love it. There’s something oddly relaxing about waiting for the green man (Ampelmanchen) before crossing the road, it adds a little bit more thoughtfulness to your day. When I lived in the UK, I got so used to rushing around on Sundays like it was just another day. Here in Germany, it’s a proper day of rest and I always feel a lot more relaxed for it. Follow the rules, be nice to the slightly scary ladies you will inevitably encounter at the various city offices (the Amt) and things will generally work out fine. Finally, whenever you take out a contract for a mobile phone (a Handy in German) or indeed anything else, write a cancellation letter as soon as you get home. Most German contracts like this are for 2 years and if you forget to cancel them 3 months before they end, it starts again automatically for another 2 years.
9. If you could describe your hometown in just one sentence, what would you say?
Cologne is a diverse and interesting city that’s perfect for living in and not just for visiting.
10. If tourists were to know one thing about the German culture, what should that be?
German culture is a strange juxtaposition that balances an organised and rule-driven life with one of total craziness and fun. Come visit Cologne at Carneval and watch a middle aged man dressed as a spaceman, with a large beer in his hand waiting patiently for the light to change so he can cross a deserted street at 2 in the morning… and you will see what I mean.
Thanks John! We’ve loved getting to know you and Cologne better! If you want to check out more of John’s blogs, head on over to From Real People now, or follow him along on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest!
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