Cologne for immigrants and visitors
Six things to bear in mind while in town
Corporate Communications intern Xenia Borodkow was raised in the Allgäu in Germany’s south-west and is currently studying tourism management in Vienna. During her time at Cologne Tourist Board, Xenia became aware of a few special features of Cologne that she’d like to share with us:
A city break means anticipation and trepidation wrapped into one. Travellers tend to try to cram in as many impressions as possible – at least that was always my plan when I visited Cologne. But at some point I realised I wanted to get to know the city better, so I decided to make Cologne my temporary home for four months. During my first weeks here, in particular, certain things grabbed my attention that I think Cologne visitors should bear in mind while they’re here.
Cologne’s Veedel and its Veedel philosophy
Cologne’s 86 Veedel, or boroughs, each have their own distinctive character. The Belgian Quarter is charmingly hip, while Severinsviertel considers itself the most traditional Veedel of all. Over the last two thousand years, people from many different nations have settled in Cologne, producing a diverse and colourful population that coexists both peacefully and amicably. I suspect this is the reason behind Cologne’s casual mentality, which is all about live and let live. In fact, one of Cologne’s traditional turns of phrase captures this very well: “Jeder Jeck es anders” (or roughly, “It takes all sorts”). It’s thanks to this openness and cultural diversity that each of Cologne’s Veedel has acquired a culture of its own. Cologne residents love their Veedel and prefer to take care of their day-to-day affairs right there, creating a small personal universe in the midst of a major city.
The Cologne way of life
The Cologne way of life was something that chimed with me when I travelled here for the very first time. I immediately tuned into the city because even though it was my first trip, I felt like I’d come home. I felt welcome. Cologne residents are communicative, tolerant and above all open. This time round, there wasn’t a day that went by without an experience to back up my claim. A brief chat in the subway about an amusing PA announcement by the train driver, an extra-broad smile and a coffee on the house from the kiosk owner, or maybe just someone on the street who says “Hi, how are you?“ as we passed. All of this happens and more – and it’s not the exception, it’s the rule. It may feel odd, but if you open up to it, you will see the kölsch way of life draw you in too, even as a tourist or immigrant.
Cologne’s büdchen, or kiosks, are an integral part of the city, much like the Cathedral and the Rhine. With opening hours extending late into the night, the kiosk owners make day-to-day life easier for Cologne’s residents and visitors alike, selling essentials like fresh milk on Sundays and bottled water outside normal supermarket hours. But if you thought you could just pop by the Büdchen, purchase whatever you need and leave again, you’d be wrong. As I already mentioned, Cologne residents’ love of chat is very much in evidence here too, and it’s not unusual to get drawn into a conversation. Many residents actually maintain a form of friendship with “their” Büdchen owner and like to drop in for a coffee and some conversation ever now and again. During my extended stay here I was no exception!
Even though I’m probably less well travelled than most people, one of the first unwritten and international rules I absorbed as a novice traveller was the escalator rule: stand on the right, walk on the left. Interestingly enough, in Cologne the rule is happily ignored; in fact residents seem to break it deliberately. For one, that’s probably because many of its escalators are simply too narrow for two people to pass. For another, your typical Cologne resident is quite unflappable by nature, even if congestion on the escalator means they might have to wait for the next subway.
My personal advice? If you’re in a hurry, use the stairs.
What’s more, during my first days I literally stumbled over yet another difference. If there’s only one escalator in a given subway station and it’s a newer model, it can reverse the direction of travel depending on demand. This confused me no end until I learned that the escalators have a special mechanism that allows them to run in either direction. When not in use, a signal (blue arrow) at both ends indicates that it can go either way, depending on who comes first. The sensor that picks up movement first sets the escalator in motion in one direction or the other.
Schäl Sick – a.k.a. the “wrong” side of the Rhine
Quite a few Cologne residents who live on the left (west) bank like to scoff at Cologne’s right (east) bank as the “wrong” one. There are many theories that attempt to explain this. One is that the Romans settled on the left bank more than two thousand years ago. At the time, the Rhine was a natural barrier protecting them from the wild, heathen Germanic tribes, so the Romans preferred to stay well away from the “other” side. Although this theory still gets trotted out today, it’s become largely meaningless – for Cologne’s eastern boroughs have a great deal to offer. To start with, the view from the platform of KölnTriangle is probably the very best in the city. The Lanxess arena, the Tanzbrunnen event location, the Odysseum museum and the Rhine Boulevard with its generous open-air stone steps right on the riverbank in Deutz are just some reasons why a trip to the other side is definitely a good idea.
Cologne’s gastronomic scene
Travellers visiting major cities are spoilt for choice when it comes to food and Cologne is no exception, what with countless countries’ worth of cuisines in this city. But why not opt for a typical kölsch meal for a change? Cologne’s traditional restaurants mainly offer down-to-earth, savoury dishes – and a little research before you sit down is not a bad idea, since the names don’t always betray what’s on the plate. For instance, if you order Halve Hahn (which sounds like “half a chicken”), you’ll get a split rye bread roll with a thick slice of semi-mature gouda cheese garnished with mustard. If you want to try a real kölsch dish, go for Himmel un Äd (“heaven and earth”) or Suurbrode. Heaven and earth is actually mashed potato and apple plus fried black pudding. Suurbrode, by contrast, is dialect for Sauerbraten, meaning Rhineland-style beef which has been marinated in vinegar for days before being stewed and served with potato dumplings and apple sauce.
Cologne’s traditional cuisine centres on kölsch, which is not just a beer but also an adjective that captures the city’s typical feel and language. Kölsch is a very light and quaffable beer that is served in traditional Stangen, slim cylindrical glasses that are only used in Cologne. The small 0.2 l measure is consumed in a heartbeat – but on the upside, your beer remains fresh and cool at all times.
One thing to watch out for in the Brauhaus, or traditional brew house: if you wish to (or have to) stop consuming this delightful beverage, cover your glass with a beer mat – thus instructing the Köbes (waiter) that you’re done.
If you bear all this in mind, your stay in Cologne is destined for success!