Köln – March 2019!

Where do I even start with this one, right? Every travel story in a post-Covid era offers some hindsight and a fresh perspective but let’s be abundantly clear, it’s inconceivable that I sit here writing about Köln again!

Long time readers and followers will know that myself and Köln have a long history, a patterned history if you will although I’ll get to that shortly.

I’ll try and summarise this first section the best I can as its a frequently told story but the next chapter needs some context

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Cologne – March 2013
The travel bug hit. 2013 was the year where travel became less of a dream and more of a priority. I spent two weeks in the February out in Sydney, Australia and I was hooked.

I came home, not with bundles of money, but with another payday on the horizon I was itching for more travel. It was quite a last minute thought but Easter weekend at the end of March stuck out – perfect!

I looked at various options but booking last minute travel for Easter weekend was tricky, flight prices inevitably high before I pondered a train journey. A few places in Western Europe sprung to mind but something drew me to a city I knew nothing about and a country I wasn’t all that fascinated with if I’m being honest – Cologne, Germany.

I’d traveled a bit through my childhood but as a shy and quiet individual my travel experiences were somewhat Westernised if you will. I’d been to Florida four times on family holidays, Australia (obviously), Spain (supervised school trip), France (supervised day trips with the parents), Scotland, Wales, various spots around England and Ibiza (as good as English-speaking in the summertime).

So I don’t want to say I didn’t like Cologne. You step outside of its train station and it’s hard to be anything other than mesmerised by the incredible cathedral towering over the city. I liked a lot about Cologne but as daft as it sounds, I think it was the first time that I’d really been abroad

That’s not me downplaying how fortunate I was to have traveled as often as I did growing up but just an observation of the places I’d been to date or the people that had accompanied / supervised / taken leadership of the trips I’d taken.

I struggled to warm to Cologne and deep down I think it’s just because I was a bit of a shit traveler. Getting from A to B means you’ve traveled but I was really out of my comfort zone for the first time. I couldn’t speak more than a couple of words of German, I was traveling on my own, didn’t know anybody, have an introverted personality and didn’t find the Germans to be particularly hospitable, there was no life to my hostel, all the restaurants had funny food and I could go on and on. I couldn’t even work out how to open the door in to my hostel dorm – over an entire weekend!

All that said, I’d enjoyed Cologne enough of course. It appeased my desire to see the world, see different places but come the end of the weekend I was ready to go home. For all of the things I’d liked about Cologne, I’d felt isolated at times and all the pizza in the world (that’s a German delicacy, right?) couldn’t fix that feeling that Cologne just wasn’t my kind of place. It wasn’t somewhere I saw myself returning to.

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Köln – March 2016
So of course, three years later I did just that. This time however I was visiting Köln, not the English-known Cologne I’d once visited.

I still stand by the fact that I’d had a nice time on my previous visit but it’s almost as if I’d just floated through Köln the first time around. Had I really enjoyed it? Where was the joy in that trip? I’d seen some things, the cathedral for one that never fails to blow me away, but I don’t know that it was ever really a happy trip – I probably said it was at the time but I’d gone home content knowing that I was going home. I don’t know that I really left with too many positive memories.

So I think this trip had a touch of redemption about it. Maybe I hadn’t actually given Köln a fair crack, I was three years on and whilst still trying to rid myself of some habits (“Weetabix boy“), I was a much better traveler by this point. Infact I could even speak German to a relatively decent level on what was now my 5th trip to the country.

I was back in Köln for football. My beloved Spurs had been dealt a “once in a lifetime” draw with none other than Borussia Dortmund – Spurs were going to play in front of that famous yellow wall of European football.

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Staying in Dortmund itself had no appeal to me so I decided I’d base myself in Köln for the trip. A chance to return to the city, a city I could explore more of and a city I could see with fresh eyes.

Being able to speak German was transformational. I’d spoken more German within the first hour than I had on the entirety of my first trip. The unhospitable Germans I’d encountered three years earlier seemed friendlier and more engaging with someone actually making an effort to speak the language.

Additionally being a football trip meant I had friends along for the ride and that also helped improve the experience I had on this trip. It was a much more positive experience of Köln and somewhere I was pleased to return to.

That said, Köln isn’t particularly big so two trips to the city felt like plenty.

Köln – October 2016
“and Tottenham will play Bayer Leverkusen..”

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I had a vague idea of where Leverkusen was but where in Germany is it exactly? Of course, Leverkusen is a tiny city that borders Köln.

It made no logical sense – geographically or financially – to stay anywhere other than Köln. To do so would have been out of spite and nothing else, although I’ll admit I was still tempted. I can’t stress how disappointing it was for the next European away trip to be in sodding West Germany, now to be my third trip to the region and my sixth trip to Germany in the space of three years. I just wanted anywhere else if I’m being honest.

Nevertheless, I went and enjoyed myself. Köln served itself as a good base to explore other towns and places in the area. I even popped over to Belgium for a day out in Liege.

It wasn’t ideal but I made the best of it. Three trips to Köln, two for football. That is me done!

Köln Bremen – November 2017
No! Seriously, are you taking the piss?

“Tottenham have been drawn against Borussia Dortmund!”

That once in a lifetime trip? A third European tie in West Germany in barely 18 months? Come on.. There’s a whole sodding continent here! I won’t get in to the complexities of football because there is some method to the madness with context but I couldn’t believe my luck.

Having by this point spent a day in Dortmund I had even less desire to stay there this time, there was no way in hell I was going to Köln for a third time in such a short turnaround so it was spite this time. I ended up splitting my time between Bremen and Dusseldorf.

“Anywhere but Köln” – I’m sorry, I’d actually grown to love Köln by this point but no, one trip too many!

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The USA – 2018
“erm.. Jason?”

I know, I know but stick with me because this is an essential part of the story. As I mentioned in my last post on Warsaw, all of my 2018 annual leave was sucked up in to spending a month in the USA and one consequence of that was sacrificing a year without a football European trip. A small price to pay for such an incredible 30 days in the USA but a price nonetheless.

Having been to West Germany, West Germany, Madrid and West Germany on my previous four football adventures I can’t describe how agonising it was to see Tottenham’s European adventures unfold in 2018.

Turin, Milan, Eindhoven, Barcelona.. why do you tempt me so? I’d lie if I said I hadn’t wanted to skip work to go to Barcelona but unfortunately the professionalism kicked in.

“Nice suntan Jason.. I saw you on the TV last night by the way, you’re fired!”

It was a year of pain, one that I more than made up for but pain! I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see Spurs in the Nou Camp again, that’s the 4th time for one reason or another I’ve not been to watch Spurs in the San Siro too. Two iconic footballing stadiums and I’m stuck having to work because I had no time left to take off work – it was gut-wrenching watching Spurs fans deliriously celebrating a 1-1 draw in Barcelona.

The one comfort I told myself was that I’d make up for it. No matter what, I’m going to the first European away trip of 2019.

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Köln – March 2019

Köln – March 2019
and here we are.. I’d say you couldn’t script it but you could. I wrote about it in this very post at the end of 2018 – European uncertainty

Such is the cruel way of the football gods, Tottenham were somehow taking their third “once in a lifetime” trip to Dortmund in three years. Dortmund – again! Fucking hell..

Maybe I’m doing Dortmund a disservice but were it not for its football team, I’m not sure anyone would know of its existence, I’m not sure anyone would visit. The stadium is phenomenal, their fans are phenomenal but one trip was plenty. Two trips.. alright, fine but three in three years? I was dreaming of Porto and was rewarded with another trip to fucking Dortmund!

Such were the frequent visits I’d now been to Köln (three times!), Dortmund (twice!), Leverkusen, Mainz, Bremen, Dusseldorf, Bonn, Bruhl, Koblenz, Luxembourg, Gent, Liege..

Those were just on football-specific visits too. I’d been to Belgium a few times, I’d been to the Netherlands, I’d been to countless other cities in Germany on other visits. I was running out of places in the region to even visit.

but “no matter what..”

I knew my days were numbered. Life priorities were changing, it was only a matter of time before I would pack in the football and I write this today no longer a season-ticket holder of Spurs. I haven’t fully given it up but I’ve severely cut down.

Ironically I knew big change was coming in 2020 and this particular season would quite possibly offer me my last European away day (HA!). I didn’t really want to go back to Dortmund again but I also wasn’t confident enough that Spurs would progress. It was a 50-50 tie as far as I was concerned and it might be Dortmund or nothing. Do I gamble that Tottenham reach the next round (HA!) or do I just go to Germany.. again..

I couldn’t risk it. Spoiler – Spurs did go through but their next European tie was up in Manchester which would have been the only location more anti-climatic than going to Dortmund for the thousandth time. I like Manchester, I like it a lot actually but what a shitty European away trip that would have been in replacement of Dortmund.

Reluctantly committed, where do I go? I’ve now been to Dortmund twice, I’m even less inclined to stay there this time. What about Köln? It seemed like a genuine possibility this time around.

What eventually swung the decision was the timing. Bizarrely I’d been to Köln in March 2013, March 2016 and now March 2019 but the two previous trips had somehow escaped one of the big events in the calendar year – the Kölner Karneval – Cologne’s famous carnival.

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Karneval scenes in Köln

Tottenham happened to be playing in Dortmund on the Tuesday night, with ‘RosenMontag’ the day prior – arguably the highlight of the karneval. The fact the two events overlapped meant that Köln was a no-brainer and by some bizarre coincidence I’d been to the city every third March! I joked that this was now a tradition and that I could seemingly predict where I’d be again in three years time!

Alas, I regret to report I have no plans to visit Köln next month so this long-standing unintentional pattern has reached a natural conclusion. However I digress.. back to 2019!

Having been reluctant to visit for a second time, a third time and then initially for a fourth time, I quickly discovered my excitement for this particular trip. I don’t think you ever really plan to visit somewhere so many times but I had grown to love Köln by this point. Infact were the circumstances better, I wouldn’t be opposed to going back to Köln next month just because it’d be quite funny. I do actually quite like the city and there’s a part of me that would love nothing more than to stroll along the Rhein right now.

I flew out to Köln early on Monday morning and was soon landing in what was a very familiar airport and city. Less familiar was the waves of fancy-dressed folks sat on the train when I boarded at the airport – all heading for Köln Hauptbahnhof! I felt vastly underdressed for the occasion with my standard hoodie and jeans. Köln was firmly in karneval mood!

The majority of people got off at the main station and soon streamed out towards the cathedral – a great gathering place and meeting point for the days festivities. Inevitably it’s the busiest I’ve ever seen Köln, so many of the streets around the area were completely cordoned off too which made it a bit of a nightmare to get around.

I ended up finding myself a nice spot to sit and watch the imminent parade with various floats and performers here to entertain. It was nice to see this side of Köln and also see what all the fuss was about. Everyone was in great spirits!

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Karneval vibes – Köln, March 2019

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Kölner Karneval – March 2019

I soon dragged myself away, hoping to search for somewhere a little bit quieter to find myself some lunch before popping off to my hotel. Unsurprising a lot of places were busy but I soon found somewhere suitable for some good food.

The one thing about visiting somewhere so many times is that there wasn’t really anything I needed or particularly even wanted to do. I was in Köln for nothing more than the football, I was perfectly content with this being a relatively relaxed break. I checked in to my hotel and proceeded to take a nap!

I popped back out in search of somewhere to enjoy the evening. Germany and beer go hand-in-hand so many of the city’s day-trippers had undoubtedly spent all day drinking but I was happy to just go and have a few beers without indulging in some crazy night. I didn’t want to just write off my Tuesday.

After a nice but far-from-wild night, I called it and strolled back to my hotel. The next morning I was up bright and early. We weren’t playing in Dortmund until later in the evening so I still had a bit of time to make the most of my stay in Köln.

I decided I’d go and visit a part of town I’d not yet been to, a neighbourhood called Ehrenfeld which is known for its street art. Again this was another perk of having visited the city so many times and it allowed me an opportunity to get to parts of the city you likely don’t see on a quick visit.

I made the long walk over to Ehrenfeld and stopped off at this little cafe for some crepes. From there it was time to hunt down this supposed street art I’d seen little of thus far.

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Captain Ehrenfeld!

Close to Ehrenfeld’s S-bahn station was a decent scattering of murals and street art lined up along a number of walls. The train at the station and ‘captain Ehrenfeld’ being two of my favourites I spotted.

Train Station Art

The rest of the area seemed to have a bunch of independent shops, cafes and restaurants so it was a nice part of town to have discovered and worth maybe taking half a day to explore if you’re ever in Köln – particularly if like myself you’ve been before.

I ventured back to the centre of the city, thinking I’d grab some lunch before catching the train to Dortmund but Köln seemed well and truly closed for business. I don’t know if this Tuesday is considered a local holiday – intentional or otherwise but it was a struggle finding a restaurant open for lunch. The exploits of ‘RosenMontag’ meant that Köln was effectively a ghost town – a day written off for hangover recovery.

Reluctantly I accepted defeat and ended up popping over to the Hard Rock Cafe – seemingly unaffected by the shenanigans of the day before. In my best German I asked the barman where everyone was, why nowhere seemed to be open and I got a one word response – “Karneval” accompanied with a laugh.

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Ehrenfeld, Köln, Germany

Say no more. On Monday I had never seen the city as busy as this, on Tuesday I’d never seen Köln so quiet. It was quite eerie – the type of scene you see in horror and zombie movies but a much simpler explanation on this occasion – “Karneval!”

The rest of the day was reserved for the football. Spurs back in Dortmund again. A comfortable evening – Spurs cruised through to the next round and the daunting Manchester City awaited.

I’d ticked off what would surely be my last European football trip for some time, perhaps ever? (If you know, you know!).

This particular trip wasn’t quite over though. I’d booked four days off of work, too many to spend solely in Köln so I decided I’d split the trip and visit somewhere else for a couple of nights.

I flew out to Köln with the belief I’d be heading onwards to Frankfurt but this voice was nagging away at me and I had a change of heart whilst in Köln. The day before I cancelled my hotel in Frankfurt and booked accommodation somewhere else.

On Wednesday morning I popped to Köln’s Hauptbahnhof and booked myself train tickets for my next stop on this trip. Where?

Well, I’ll leave you to stew on that until next time!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Brühl and Bonn! March 2016

Last time out on the blog I mentioned my frequency of visiting what has quickly become one of my favourite countries – Germany! This particular post will be dedicated to the first of my three trips in 2016.

I’d not long come back from Georgia in February 2016, which you can read more about here (Georgia introduction, Georgia – Part oneGeorgia – Part two), and was quite relaxed about planning the next trip. I wasn’t in any particular rush and figured I could just save some pennies before rushing in to my next adventure. Georgia had been my first non-European trip for a while so, whilst not as expensive as I’d budgeted for, it was a good chance to get my finances back in order and think about where I wanted to go next.

Nevertheless there was an outside chance that Tottenham’s European fate might just be enough to tempt me away sooner. I got home from Georgia mid Feb and I knew at the end of Feb it would be confirmed where my beloved Tottenham would be visiting in March. My intentions were that I’d “skip a round”, gambling on Spurs progression in the competition, but that I’d make an exception for one opposition – Borussia Dortmund.

“If we get Dortmund I HAVE to go!” I told myself.

It was a dream tie. Attending a Borussia Dortmund game is one of those bucketlist items for any football fan. It’s a club held in high esteem anyway but their atmosphere is also one of the most famous in European football. I’d always intended to visit a Dortmund home game as a ‘neutral’ so to experience it as an away fan with my own club would be incredible.

The inevitable happened. Tottenham were going to Dortmund! This was the dream tie, it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. When would little ol’ Spurs ever get the chance to go to Dortmund again?

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Trip number 2 to Dortmund!

Ironically we would. Hindsight is a funny thing. Whilst the trip in March 2016 blew my mind, I genuinely thought it’d be the only time I’d get there. However Tottenham returned in November 2017 and as some of you will know, we’re going back in March 2019.

I’m experiencing my “once in a lifetime” opportunity for the third time in three years in a couple of months time. It’s nothing short of comical but let me reiterate, at the time, it was an absolute dream opportunity.

I turned to my boss and had to have that awkward conversation. “I know I’ve only just got back but..”

I need to go to Germany. To their credit, my employers have always been pretty relaxed and flexible at me booking time off at short-notice and about whatever time I request. More often than not I’ll book the flights and ask permission later. I know when our “no-go” periods are so it’s quite handy when it comes to the football trips to be able to book as soon as the schedule is confirmed.

With the green light to take yet another trip, I quickly delved in to the fun and games. A once in a lifetime opportunity for me was the same for 5,000 other fans, the majority of which were also looking to fly from London on the same dates and also looking for accommodation in Dortmund.

With flights rising and accommodation options proving to be quite limiting I had to ask how much I actually wanted to go to Dortmund. I was going to the game no matter what but was Dortmund really somewhere I wanted to visit from a travelers perspective? It had no appeal to me and surely there were other options in the region? It seemed that the trip split our fanbase with the majority deliberating between Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Köln.

The latter had the best flight prices, had more accommodation options, was the bigger city and had more to do. It was also close enough to Dortmund to be a feasible daytrip, so whilst I’d been to Köln before it quickly became the best option for me personally. The only downside was I’d seen most of what I wanted to in Köln on my trip three years earlier, with five days in Germany I needed to fill some of my time which resulted in me visiting Brühl and Bonn.

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Köln (Cologne) again!

Brühl
I’d never heard of this town but I was looking for somewhere to visit and somehow stumbled upon Brühl. It was only 10-15 minutes away by train and was apparently home to a UNESCO world heritage site. I was intrigued and made my way to Köln’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to catch a pleasingly cheap train to Brühl.

I had made, by my standards, quite an early start to the day so perhaps for that reason I was one of few to get off at Brühl which was a sign of things to come. The ‘famous’ Augustusburg palace is an UNESCO world heritage site and pretty much straight in front of you as you come out of the station. It was stunning and had beautiful surroundings too, the garden areas were immaculate and really well presented. Better yet, there was barely anyone here.

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Brühl!

No herds of people, no selfie sticks in sight, little noise. It was calm and relaxed, the occasional local passed me by whilst walking their dogs but for the most part I had the palace to myself. Perhaps later in the day or in peak seasons it gets busier but I’d perfectly timed my visit and couldn’t help but admire this breathtaking palace in front of me. You can take tours of the palace and see more of the grounds I expect but I was content viewing it from the exterior.

Having spent sufficient time wandering through the gardens I thought I’d see what else the town had to offer. It was a pretty place, colourful buildings along typical European cobbled streets but there wasn’t too much to it really.

The only other thing of note in the city is the Max Ernst museum, a German artist born in Brühl. I can’t say I was familiar with the name but I figured I’d go and check it out. Unfortunately they didn’t open until 11am and it was 10:30-something. I had a little wait but figured I’d hang about until opening. It’s a relatively small museum with a nice collection of artwork. It was small though so I wasn’t there for particularly long. It’s worth a visit if you’re already in Brühl but not worth going out of your way for.

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Max Ernst museum

I slowly made my way back to the train station, admired one last glimpse of the palace and pondered what to do next. Brühl’s train station only had two platforms. One heading North and one heading South, heading Northbound towards Köln seemed the most logical option but it was barely even midday so naturally I headed South.

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Bye Brühl!

Bonn
I bought a train ticket to Bonn. Bonn was the former capital city of West Germany and is naturally an important city in the country’s history. I’d contemplated coming here instead of Brühl so it was quite nice to squeeze in a few hours here on the same day.

As you come out of Köln’s main train station you’re quickly blown away by the cathedral – “WOW!”. Similarly within moments of coming out of Brühl’s train station you’re left stunned by the palace and Bonn quickly delivered its own first impression that has been stuck in my brain ever since.

This was a city full of history, there’s some stunning architecture in the city and what was the very first thing to catch my eye as I walk out of Bonn’s train station? A big yellow M! That’s right, McDonald’s – how very German! You can’t rewrite a first impression and this was it. This is one of the first things I associate with Bonn now, rather than some famous bloke called Beethoven for instance who was born in this city.

It was a disappointing first sight, this wasn’t what I’d come to Bonn to see! On the plus side, I figured Bonn could only improve from here and fortunately it didn’t take long to leave a better impression on me. I soon stumbled upon one of Bonn’s bigger squares (Munsterplatz I think). Like many squares across Europe, there were some pretty buildings with the highlight being a church (the Bonner Munster) plus little cafes with outside seating which were perfect for people watching.

I wandered through the square and quickly stumbled upon a statue dedicated to Beethoven. Just beyond that was a bright yellow building which caught my eye, I looked up and read the words ‘Postamt’ – it was a post office! I couldn’t help but think why don’t our post offices look that pretty back home? Having had a bit of a wander I took seat at one of the tables in the square and grabbed myself some lunch and a beer. It was a nice spot to relax for a little while, people watch and put my German to the test in an effort to eavesdrop on the conversations happening around me.

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Standard post office in Germany?

With a “schönen Tag noch” and a “Tschüss” from my waitress I was on my way and back to exploring a little of Bonn. I hadn’t planned on being in Bonn so hadn’t done any prior research, I just wandered aimlessly through the streets seeing what might catch my eye. I walked down one street and spotted a few fellow tourists taking photos of something, I looked up to find Bonn’s famous Beethoven Haus, the house he was born in. I think it’s possibly a museum now but I wasn’t really interested in investigating any further than the exterior.

I continued my walk down which led me to the Rhein river. It was peaceful with a handful of boats passing by, It was a relatively miserable and grey day though so probably not the best day for a cruise on the river, I had contemplated the idea of going back to Köln by boat but thought better of it. Instead I went back to wandering up and down Bonn’s streets.

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Exploring Bonn!

Beyond Beethoven, Bonn is also home to another household name: Haribo! This was relatively new news to me and something I only discovered after some friends had visited recently. There’s a fairly large Haribo store in Bonn with a huge collection of sweets (candy) that I wasn’t particularly familiar with, plus the usual Haribo favourites sold in the UK. I picked up a couple of bags to take home with me as a little souvenir of my trip.

My afternoon flew by pretty quickly which meant all there was left for me to do was find a nice dinner spot to round off my day. Following on from dinner I made the slow walk back to the station and got on the first available train back to Köln. I arranged to meet up with my friend who’d spent the day exploring Köln (his first visit) and we finished off the day with a few drinks at one of the bars in the city.

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable day and two places I’d recommend seeing if you’re in the area. I figure half a day probably is about right for a trip to Brühl, I could have probably spent a little longer (maybe a full day) in Bonn but overall I left with more memories than just the McDonald’s and was content I’d seen enough of it to leave a positive impression.

Anyway that wraps up this particular daytrip. The following day I was embarking on another so next up on the blog: Luxembourg City!

Stay tuned!

Jason

The annual Germany trip!

1988-2012!
For 24 years Germany wasn’t on my radar. Berlin’s history was something that fascinated me but beyond that it wasn’t a country that appealed to me, I had no reason to want to visit Germany. In reality it was just a country that I knew very little about and perhaps society plays its part in that, it’s a country I was more accustomed to hearing the negatives of opposed to the positives.

So when I was in school and had the choice of learning Spanish or German, it was a no brainer. For one I didn’t really plan to visit Germany, secondly I knew Spanish was one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world but perhaps most importantly the playground rumours were that Spanish was the easier language to learn – which was music to my ears as a relatively lazy student.

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Berlin, Germany!

2013!
I’d been infected! I had the travel bug and I needed a fix! I started looking in to flights for the Easter weekend but they were inevitably pricey so plan B was to take a train somewhere in to Europe. It was by no means my first choice but somehow I found myself going to Köln (Cologne – read me).

It was a city I knew nothing about, in a country I had little interest in, and additionally I couldn’t speak a word of the language. It’s a mystery to me how I ended up here.

I did have a nice weekend in Köln but truthfully it had been long enough. It was the first time I’d ever really felt like I was abroad and by the end of the trip I was quite happy to be returning home to the sound of English accents and a common language. It was a good introduction to the country but I hadn’t quite been sold yet.

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Köln

2014!
Me and a friend were talking about a European getaway and Berlin was somewhere that particularly appealed to us. I can’t say Köln had made me fall in love with Germany but nevertheless, having gone my whole life without visiting the country I was now returning for the second year in a row – madness!!

I was pretty optimistic about Germany though, it’d be a little more touristy than Köln and easier to get around without speaking any German. Plus it was a city I’d genuinely wanted to visit. If any city could make me fall in love with Germany, surely Berlin was the one.

I loved it! Berlin had won me over and I was sad to be leaving. It was a city I fully intended to return to, something I haven’t actually done yet but is very much on my list to do!

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Cycling the streets of Berlin!

2015!
“Three years in a row? Surely not Jason?”

Spurs were going to München (Munich) and if there was any reason to visit Germany, football was as good as any. My brief romance with Nicole had also sparked some motivation in me to learn the language.

Obviously things didn’t lead anywhere but whilst Nicole had been the reason to start, it reminded me that I love languages and this time I was learning on my own terms. I wasn’t learning to pass an exam or for a good grade, I was learning German because I wanted to and it’s a language I’ve really enjoyed learning.

For this particular trip I was still at a relatively novice stage but it was nice to be going to Germany for the first time with some understanding of the language, even if it was only minimal.

Better yet it was another of Germany’s big cities. Köln, Berlin and München are three of the biggest cities in the country but miles away from eachother and I was starting to see the similarities and differences between Germany’s different regions. Berlin hadn’t been a one-off, I loved Bavaria – I’d been converted in to a Germany-lover! “Ich liebe Deutschland!”

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Watching Spurs at Munich’s Allianz Arena

2016!
“No way! Not a fourth consecutive year?”

I think learning the language was the game-changer, by this point I was really beginning to appreciate the country. Not only was 2016 my fourth consecutive year visiting Germany but this year even had multiple visits!! I went to Germany in the March, September and October. Twice visiting the Köln / Nordrhein Westfalen sort of area for football and the September trip was a return to Bavaria.

Three visits to Germany! Four years ago I hadn’t been to Germany and now I’d been here six bloody times! That’s insane! My German was much improved, returning to the same places in Köln that I’d been to three years earlier and couldn’t speak a word of German in was mind-blowing to me.

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Back in Köln!

2017!
Another two trips to Germany saw 2017 become five years in a row! FIVE YEARS IN A ROW!

I fancied a long weekend away for the May bank holiday and laughably one of the best deals I could find was for a trip to Hamburg, one of Germany’s remaining big cities I’d yet to visit and was increasingly rising to the top of my bucketlist. I wasn’t really intending to go to Germany but it was too good an opportunity to pass up on.

Six months later Tottenham were playing in Germany again. Spurs 4th visit in three years themselves! I was a little reluctant at first because I’d grown rather sick of trips to Western Germany for football so compromised a little and decided I’d split my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf, before visiting Dortmund on the day of the game.

I didn’t really have enough time in Düsseldorf but was sad to head home to London and leave Bremen behind. I hadn’t gone with high expectations but it really surprised me and I quickly fell for Bremen’s charm. It was an 8th trip in 5 years but I really wanted another day or two to enjoy Germany. Who am I?

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Myself and Hamburg’s Rathaus!

2018!
“Where this year Jason?”

Nowhere! I ended the calendar year without a single visit to Germany! The month long trip to the USA (read me!) consumed a lot of my annual leave for the year and consequently I had fewer overseas trips last year (albeit longer ones).

The realisation that I wouldn’t be visiting Germany hit me towards the end of the year and there was definitely a temptation to just book a short weekend getaway, moreso with everyone on Instagram seemingly visiting the German Christmas markets. Nevertheless I was sensible and saved some pennies, having to settle for a Bratwurst at a Christmas market along the Thames instead. Not quite the same!

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Christmas markets close to opening in Bremen, 2017

2019!
Fear not though because normality is resumed this year and I WILL be returning to Germany at least once this year.

I promised to provide an update following December’s Champions League draw (European uncertainty) and despite my prayers to avoid a trip to Dortmund, those prayers fell on deaf ears and the merciless “football gods” are sending Tottenham back to West Germany!

I’m trying not to be too pessimistic about it, I’m staying in Köln AGAIN and this time the trip overlaps with the Kölner Karneval (Cologne carnival) which at least offers a fresh experience to my time in the city. Rather bizarrely though it will mean that I’ve been to Köln in March 2013, March 2016 and March 2019. Where this three year rule came from I’m not sure but on the plus side, at least I now know where I’ll be in March 2022!

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Köln, my second home?

Will this be the only Germany visit of 2019? Who knows? However I think I needn’t worry about those imminent blue passports, I must be due German citizenship soon, right?

Anyway, I’ll wrap things up here but this nicely leads me in to my next series of posts. Just before Christmas I finished up my series on Georgia (Feb 2016) which was soon followed by a trip to Germany in the March. Stay tuned to hear all about that!

Jason

Visited Cologne, fell in love with Köln!

Trip 1: Discovering Cologne (Mar 2013)

In an older post I wrote about Sydney which I visited in February 2013, it really enhanced my love of travel and more importantly it also gave my confidence a much needed boost. After two weeks in Sydney I arrived back in England and my thoughts immediately turned towards the next trip. I now had that travel bug.

Easter was coming up, it felt an ideal time to get away without having to take time off work. I’d also had a little booster as I’d received a decent little sum through a tax rebate to fund a weekend trip somewhere. I explored a number of options before eventually deciding to catch a train to some German city called “Cologne”.  Why Cologne? Honestly, I don’t really know. A combination of it being expensive to fly Easter weekend and Cologne not being too far away on the train somehow led me to one of Germany’s biggest cities.

The reality though is that it was such an illogical choice. I knew nothing about Cologne, it wasn’t a city that I’d ever thought of visiting, I couldn’t speak a word of German so how I ended up there is a bit of a mystery.

I hadn’t ever been to Germany before so  I went to Cologne with no idea of what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It’s quite a nice city and one I’d happily recommend to people looking for a European weekend break away. The standout landmark of the city is its cathedral (the Kölner Dom), you can see it from miles away and all over the city. Seeing it for the first time blew me away and it doesn’t get any less impressive several viewings later. It is an incredible piece of architecture, a World Heritage Site and a reason in itself to visit Cologne.

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Kölner Dom!

Once you’re done admiring the cathedral (this could take a while) you’ll find plenty else to keep you entertained. The Rhine river runs through the heart of the city so you can take cruises along the river, get tickets for the theatre or a show, discover the museums (the Lindt chocolate factory particular popular and has some great views on the roof!), walk through the large shopping district in the city or just wine and dine your way through the pubs and restaurants scattered along Cologne’s cobblestones.  Along the waterfront you’ll find some particularly enjoyable spots to enjoy the local delicacies and have a few Kölsch beers.

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Overlooking the Rhein river

It’s a good city break. It’s not the greatest city you’ll ever visit but I do think it’s worth a visit. I’d personally recommend spending 2-3 days in Cologne and not much more. I think any longer and you’d soon run out of things to see and do. My trip was 3 days long and I left with thoughts that I’d seen all that I wanted to. It’s a nice city, I’d had fun and it was a good first impression of Germany. I’d never rule out returning somewhere because you don’t know what might happen but I didn’t envisage I’d be going back to Cologne.

 

Trip 2: The return to Köln (Mar 2016)

Three years earlier I couldn’t see myself returning to Köln – nice city but “been there, done that” would be an apt description of my visit to Köln. I struggled explaining how I’d even decided upon Köln so you’re probably scratching your head as to how I ended up back here.

Luckily it’s a little more straight-forward on this occasion. I am a huge football fan and one of my big bucketlist items was to attend a Borussia Dortmund home game at some point. Famed for its incredible atmosphere and “yellow wall” it’s something that any football fan would want to experience. Unbelieveably the situation arose where my beloved Tottenham Hotspur had been scheduled to play in Dortmund. I had to go! The game was announced Friday lunchtime and by Friday evening I had booked flights to Germany! A “once in a lifetime” opportunity to watch Spurs in Dortmund – I’m going again next month.

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Borussia Dortmund v Tottenham Hotspur

Easy to laugh in hindsight but it genuinely felt like a “once in a lifetime” chance and a “must not miss” game. I wasn’t alone in that thinking though and by Friday afternoon the, normally cheap, flights to Dortmund and Dusseldorf had started shooting up. What was plan B?
Flights to Köln are still really really cheap and it’s not that far away. Book the flights asap, worry about the accommodation later.

Accommodation in Dortmund was fully booking up, neighbouring cities had no real appeal to me and Köln was appearing the most sensible and cheapest option. I could still travel to Dortmund on matchday, right? It does mean returning to a city you’ve already been to though. I was a little reluctant but committed to Köln. I could take the odd day trip, see some of the remaining bits and pieces Köln had to offer and at least I had friends with me this time which would be much more fun than my previous solo adventure here.
Oh, one other thing. I could also speak the language! Admittedly nowhere near fluently but I really can’t understate how much of a difference this made.

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German phrases translated directly to English. 

I arrived Wednesday morning and come lunchtime I had spoken more German than the entirety of my previous trip. Only something as simple as asking for a table, reading a menu and ordering some food / beers in another language but to me it was mind-blowing. I’d been in this same restaurant three years earlier and knew nothing. Here I was complimenting the food ( “sehr lecker” ) and asking where the toilets were because I’d ordered a beer or two too many. It made me feel proud and definitely felt like I was acclimatising a bit better than my previous trip to Köln.

Returning to Köln was an interesting experience. It felt so familiar but different at the same time. I’d walked these streets, been in these bars before but because of the improvement in my German it felt like I was seeing things with new eyes and my ears were definitely picking up on things I’d missed out on last time. The friendly chit-chat of the locals and German mannerisms that were easier to notice.
I didn’t spend all of my days in Köln, I took the odd day trip to nearby places such as Brühl and Bonn but overall I left Köln content.

There had been a twinge of disappointment at returning but by the end of it I was thankful I’d gone back with more of a local experience. Two trips over eight nights though felt plenty. Would I return to Köln? Maybe but certainly not to soon. Two trips in the space of three years was plenty for the near future.

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Trip 3: “Where is Leverkusen?” (Oct 2016)

Köln wasn’t my only option for Dortmund, I could certainly have picked other German cities that were slightly nearer but Köln at the time seemed like a logical choice. With hindsight maybe I would have gone somewhere else in March.
After a few trips in 2016 I’d saved my last few days of annual leave for one more away trip with Spurs. All I had to wait on was the destination. Where would Spurs be playing?

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Bayer Leverkusen v Tottenham Hotspur

Leverkusen, Germany. Germany again! Alright, I quite like Germany. Where exactly is Leverkusen though? Oh, it’s a tiny town outside of Köln. That’s bloody convenient. Nearest airport? Kôln/Bonn. Nearest city? Köln. So.. Köln.. again.. really? Third trip, second of 2016.

I was gutted. Similar to a spoilt little child I was eyeing up all the incredible European destinations Spurs could potentially be going to and I’d “only” got West Germany again. This wasn’t meant as a personal attack on Köln because it is a nice city but I think I would have taken ANYWHERE else. I’d seen enough of the city on the first visit, a second was definitely enough and just over 6 months later I was going back. What was I going to do for five days on my third trip to the city?

I’m an optimistic and positive person so my childishness had evaporated come the day of my flight out there. I love Germany, what was I so miserable about? Most people would love to travel as much as I do and I was having a little tantrum. Good friends, German beers, a day out at the football – what was not to like? It certainly beat being at work or stuck in the rain in England.

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Köln looking pretty. Not so bad, right?

It wasn’t ideal but just make the most of it. I took a couple of day trips again, this time including a day in Belgium. That gave my German so much confidence. I’d spent Sunday in Germany, speaking a good level of the language, before visiting Belgian city Liege on the Monday. Liege is a French-speaking city and it wasn’t until I went to grab lunch that it occurred to me I hadn’t entirely thought this through.

A friendly greeting of “Bonjour” accompanied with a French menu. Panic! My French is rubbish! Take me back to Germany! I can do this no problem whatsoever.
I’ll talk about Liege another time but it dawned on me how good my German is at this point. Sure, amongst fluent German speakers I might struggle but I was better than 90% of foreigners.

Back to Köln! Tuesday was simply a day of football and German beer – wonderful. The game was dreadful and another wonder-save from Hugo Lloris in Europe spared us from defeat but what a fun day and fun atmosphere.

Wednesday my mood had switched completely. I was in complete admiration of Köln, I seemed to have Köln rose-tinted glasses on. Everywhere I looked I could only see the things I loved about the city – it’s beautiful cathedral, walking alongside the Rhein river and just wandering up and down it’s cobbled streets. I felt happy here, I felt at home with such familiar surroundings. Maybe a third visit does that to you?
Part of me didn’t want to leave and part of me was questioning if I’d come back to Köln for a 4th time and of the opinion I probably would.

They say “third time’s a charm” and it couldn’t be more apt to describe my love affair with Köln. It’s such a strange city for me. It was never a city on my radar, I couldn’t quite tell you how I ended up there, had no real intention of returning on either of my first two trips and yet ended up falling in love with it on the third visit.

Am I in a rush to return to Köln? Not so soon but oddly I see myself back there at some point. It took a while but you won my heart Köln and all three trips certainly have some wonderful memories.

I don’t know when I’ll see you next but “Bis bald Köln, ich liebe dich”

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So much love spread in Köln.

So tell me, have you ever grown to love a place more after several visits? Have you been to Köln yourself? Leave me a comment and tell me what you thought.

All the best!

Jason