By Friday afternoon, my mind was made up: on Saturday I'd go to Cologne to attend WEBMU, the annual meetup for English-speaking expat bloggers in Germany. And boy, am I pleased I did.
Midmorning, I hitched a lift with Shoegirl (and Mr Shoegirl): we sailed up the Autobahn for 90 minutes and arrived in Cologne shortly before lunch. Before joining the rest of the group, who'd been touring the city and climbing all over the Dom (cathedral), we had a brief amble around to stretch our legs. I remembered the city well from my previous visit in 2008, and mused on how different it felt to me on my first visit, just three years ago - when we camped on the river and I'd never encountered a revolving toilet - but it feels like a lifetime. I tell you what, I do love it here. Anyhow, Mr and Mrs Shoegirl picked up a couple of funny-looking pretzels covered in almonds whilst I admired the Weckmänner, who look a little like gingerbreadmen but are in fact made from sweet dough and furnished with a little clay pipe. They're peculiar to North Rhine-Westphalia (the federal state in which Cologne sits) and surface around this time of year in celebration of the Feast of St Martin.
|A casual heap of Weckmänner. The chap on the left clearly had a big night out.|
I resisted purchasing one to try, which I naturally regret, and we wandered around to meet our fellow WEBMU attendees at a Lebanese restaurant near the river (Beirut, which I wholeheartedly recommend). The Shoegirls and I made an entrance into the restaurant so quiet and undramatic that nobody realised we were part of the blogging ensemble, thus it wasn't until we'd polished off our flatbreads and fabulous grilled meats that introductions to the rest of the group began. With spouses and children thrown in for good measure, we made up about 30, and I would like to encourage you to have a look at the entertaining rambles of the fellow expat bloggers that I met that day because absolutely everybody I chatted to - or at the very least shook hands with - was lovely, and their blogs really do make for good reading. In alphabetical order, those present were:
American in Wiesbaden* (Shoegirl)
I desperately hope I haven't missed anybody off (please shout if I have!!): there were so many faces to put names to, and it was impossible to have a good chinwag with everybody there in just one short day. Those bloggers marked with an asterisk you can find out lots more about by having a look at the interviews that they've done with me on Friendly Friday. The rest shall hopefully follow!
After lunch, a handful of us (the rest disappearing for disco naps after a hefty Friday night) strolled over to St Ursula's Church to have a gander at "The Bone Room", an ornate side-room at the back corner of the church decorated with the bones of Ursula's (alleged) 11,000 virginal handmaiden friends. There are gaudily painted busts with skulls in; gaudily painted busts with teeth in; smooth, yellowy bones arranged in decorative patterns surrounding large Latin script (also in bones). There are even skulls wearing (something very much resembling) Mexican wrestling masks. It was quite a sight, but my pictures are rubbish: you can see much better pictures than mine, and read more about the fascinatingly creepy chamber, over at Resident on Earth. We concluded our visit to St Ursula's with an enthusiastic wander around the rest of the church, which turned out to be, though quite beautiful with its cool, pale stone and striking stained glass windows, also filled with Mexican-wrestling skulls and a rather odd carving of a large pigeon and a shower of flying sperm.
|A slightly fuzzy picture of some busts and bones.|
|Mexican wrestling skull.|
|Skull in a box.|
Following a very welcome hot chocolate and cake break, an even smaller group of us ventured forth across the Hohenzollen bridge, famed for the thousands (probably) of "Love Padlocks" fastened to the fence between the pedestrian walkway and the trains.
|Couples fasten padlocks to the fence as a symbol of their everlasting love. Which is nice.|
On the other side of the Rhine, we climbed 28 floors in a lime green lift to reach the Panorama Platform of the KölnTriangle. It was a highpoint of the day for Frau Dietz (both literally and metaphorically): the view from up there, as the sun set over Cologne at the end of a beautifully clear day, was quite spectacular. From up there you can see the iconic twin spires of the Dom in one direction and in the other, the flat, green plains that surround the city and the peaks of the Siebengebirge ("7 mountains") beyond.
|Through the glass on the KölnTriangle viewing platform: the Hohenzollen bridge leading over toward the Dom.|
And then, as if by magic, it was time for dinner. We travelled by U-Bahn (half tube, half tram) back to Friesenplatz to dine out Cologne-style at the Päffgen Brewery. It was a brilliant evening in a traditional beer hall, all 30 or so of us crammed along two long tables, sandwiched between enthusiastic locals on all sides. To eat, I for some reason chose a German classic (Krustenbraten, or roast pork, on this occasion marinated in beer, more ham-like and thinly sliced than what I'm accustomed to) over a Cologne classic, but one of the Regensbloggers allowed me a mouthful of his Himmel und Äd ("heaven and earth")(thank you, Regensblogger), a local dish of sautéed black pudding with puréed apples and mashed potatoes. It was, indeed, heavenly, but the blood sausage rich enough that I probably wouldn't have managed a whole plate on my own.
|My generous plate of Krustenbraten and Bratkartoffeln (pan-friend potatoes)... surrounded by Kölsch.|
And to drink? No, we weren't all on halves of beer; we were enjoying whole (200ml) glasses of Kölsch. The local beer is served in these measly-looking glasses in order that it remains cold and fresh whilst you drink it. And I tell you what, it doesn't half make a difference: I've not really drunk beer for years now, but a glass (or two) of Kölsch put me right back on it. It's delicious. Our energetic waiter, keen to have every seat in his part of the (enormous) restaurant filled - he buys his beer directly from the brewery so has to work hard to sell it all again - strode back and forth, pale and sweaty in his traditional dark blue apron, swinging his Kranz - a circular glass-holder that fits 11 Kölsch in at a time - in one hand, whisking away our empty glasses and replacing them with full ones with the other. And so one can keep drinking cold, crisp and wholly refreshing beer all night long, without a flat-looking half-drunk pint in sight. And that's the way it continues, until you signal defeat by placing your beermat on top of the glass. I'm not sure I saw much of that happening on Saturday night.
After dinner, there was time for the Shoegirls and I to briefly take part in the WEBMU traditional TQEQE (That Queer Expatriate's Queer Expedition) at the Maxbar in Cologne's Bermuda Triangle. Cocktails flowed and expat bloggers sprawled on couches beneath a mirrored ceiling, but before long, and much later than planned, it was time to head home. The three of us trundled around for a bit trying to locate the car before careering smoothly back down the dark, empty Autobahn, arriving home, exhausted and thoroughly pleased with ourselves, at about half past two in the morning.
Big thanks to Resident on Earth, Futile Diatribes and Cheap as Chips for their brilliant hosting skills; and to all the other attendees who made such terrific company during the one day we made it to WEBMU 2011. I just can't believe I've got to wait a whole 'nother year for WEBMU 2012.