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A reunion in Cologne, Germany

Written on: Monday June 1st, 2009

Two and a half months ago I was in Kenya.  While on safari there I met two wonderfully fun Germans, Isabella and Hinz.  It was now my great fortune to meet up with Isa once again in her hometown of Cologne.

A city not originally on my travel itinerary, I was unsure what to expect from Köln.  But shortly after being met at the train station by Isa, I began to experience some of the incredible beauty that this city had to offer.   Immediately outside the main train station was the Cathedral, an enormous and beautiful church that dated back to the 13th century.  Well, that's when the construction began (1248); it wasn't until 1880 that the structure was finally completed, making it, at the time, the tallest structure in the world.  We strolled the area a bit, stopping to relax and eat strawberries in the park while catching up on the past ten weeks.   

Soon we were at her flat, preparing for a party at one of her friends' places.  As we left the flat, it was my great surprise to learn that she had procured a bicycle for me to use the entire time I stayed there.  Too cool!  Now I actually feel like a local.  We cruised through the rebuilt city and eventually made it to the party.  German beer was consumed, German language was spoken and a good time was had by all.  It was only upon trying to leave in the wee hours that we realized bicycles didn't work when mixed with copious amounts of beer and Jagermeister.  Instead, we cabbed it home.

A long walk around town the next morning cured our aching heads.   During that walk we managed to knock off a few caches, as I recently learned that Isa had picked up geocaching more seriously since I first introduced her to it in the lion-infested mountains of Kenya.  On the ride ride back to the Cathedral we bagged a few more.  We stopped off in Old Town, admiring the cobblestone streets and authentic German beer gardens. Isa showed me statues and churches and bridges and parks.  It was an enjoyable day, finished off with a traditional German dinner in a local beer garden...gotta love the schnitzel!

Caching and exploring was once again on the agenda for Sunday.  We even managed to throw the frisbee around in a park where I was treated to Isa's superb skills with the disc!  The evening was highlighted by yet another party for one of her friends, Gika.  As we drove to the location of her childhood home, a bit tamer crowd was expected at this gathering.  It proved to be quite enjoyable, and I was fortunate enough to meet her brother, Klaus, and his wife, Julia.  Additionally, I was introduced to the best schnapps in the world: Ehrenfelder.  It was made in only one bar in the city; consequently, many Köln locals were not even aware of its existance.  I felt priveledged.

The following day we had plans to go hiking in the nearby mountains of the Drachenfels.  Isa, Klaus and I made the trip, but the Ehrenfelder got the better of Julia the night before.  So the three of us set off and eventually made it to Dragon's Rock.  We hiked up the hill along footpaths, hoping to bag a couple caches on the way.   But without a GPS, that proved too difficult a challenge; instead, we were content only to find spectacular views of the Rhine River and Köln far in the distance.

As both Isa and I were having a blast during my visit, I decided to stay for the week.  Her hospitality was extraordinary and her flat was perfectly located adjacent to a city park, where I was able to run the following day.  Isa returned from work that evening with a purchase that would also be used in the park that evening: a new grill.  Yes, it was sweet!   We set out the blanket, popped the wine and cooked brats, chicken and corn on her new grill.  An actual brat fry in Germany....eat your heart out, Plymouth!

Wednesday Isa had to work again while I toured town solo.  It was a city that seemed familiar, really making me feel at home.  Not Minneapolis home, but Wisconsin home.  And it was good to have a friend with whom to share my time here and to share her world with me.  When Isabella arrived home that evening we decided to go for dinner and a drink, ending up at an Irish pub for a spell (they are everywhere).  En route to home after a pint, she abruptly stopped her bike and started in a new direction...apparently she wanted to show me something.  That is when I learned about kicker, the German word for foosball!  Too freaking cool!  We played kicker in this tiny, local bar, and actually ended up wiping the table with the locals.  Undefeated for the night, we celebrated a bit longer than expected.  No worries though, as Isa had off from work the next day and we could sleep in a bit longer than normal.

After awaking with permasmiles on our faces, we set off for a day of higher order exploration, for today was museum day.  The first stop was definitely the most difficult: we explored the Nazi museum, which was housed in a former Nazi interrogation facility from WWII.  Walking through the facility, there were rooms still preserved from that era where pleas of desparation were written on the walls by those imprisoned.  Final wishes to loved ones or statements of uncertainty were enscribed in the walls by so many inmates from so many countries, most of whom were under twenty years of age.  It was a sick feeling walking through the building and both of us were ready to leave as soon as possible.  The second stop, the cologne museum, was a little more light-hearted.   After all, it was the city's namesake.  The museum was just a small retail building with a short histroy of perfume in Köln.  But one thing that intruiged me was the perpetually running fountain of cologne, offered free to anybody who stopped by.  But as Isa informed me, only old women wore that scent!  Funny.  Next on the museum docket was a yummy one....the chocolate museum!  A working chocolate facility, we were able to see actual products being made for commercial sale, as well as loads of current and historical artifacts from the chocolate industry.  Among these were molds from the 1940's, packaging from all eras and a perpetually-running, five foot tall chocolate fondue fountain, which, by the way, one could sample over cookies as much as one chose to.  Mmmmmm!  Creative tours and games helped convey the historical, geographical, economical and medical facts about chocolate.  It really was an interesting stop.  Our final destinaton was more traditional: a brief visit to the Cologne Historical Museum, where a well-constructed collection of art and history was presented to the viewer.  Seeing the city before and during the war was by far the most interesting part for me.  The city had been significantly destroyed in the fighting, so viewing the many photographs and drawings from the pre-war era was rather interesting.

But the day didn't end there!  Instead, I was introduced to a new game, of sorts.  It was called keegan, and Will, you would absolutely love the opportunity to play this!  It was sort of like bowling, only the balls were much smaller and had no holes.  Additionally, the lane was smaller in width and slightly concave.  There were nine heavy pins that one tried to knock down, the number desired changing depending upon the game being played.   And there were literally dozens of different games available.  After taking a few practice throws, a local fellow came down to check it out.  We invited him to play with us, and had an unbelievably fun evening!  He taught us a couple new games and we ate it up.  From 'high score' to 'build the spaceship' to 'chase the rabbit', we played several games, each one seemingly requiring another beer and shot of schnapps.  Before long we adjourned the kicker table to close off the night.  It really was a fun last day!

What a wonderfully exceptional and highly unexpected week.  Isa was the ideal host, even coming home from work early of Friday to see me off to the train station.  Not only that, but she brought gifts: a sweet Köln cycling jersey that I had spied earlier in the week but was unable to purchase at the time, and a couple bottles of the now infamous Ehrenfelder schnapps.  It was difficult to leave; I was certainly going to miss her and her city, for they both deeply touched my soul.