Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Frau Dietz Does Cologne. In the WEBMU style.

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:

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.


C N Heidelberg said...

Excellent write-up! :) I did NOT realize the waiter had bought the Koelsch and had to sell it all! That might help explain that he seemed to be counting the uncovered empties and almost-empties constantly.

It was great to finally meet you! Email me if you're ever down Heidelberg way!

Jen said...

You described it all so well, even down to the holy pigeon spraying his sperm. ;-) I felt I was living it all over again. So much fun. And it was fantastic to meet you, finally! I really despaired on Tues. night when we barely missed each other. :-)

Morgenmuffel said...

Sounds like so much fun, I might have to tag along next year :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like it was fun but you might want to rethink your title because " does " bears an unfortunate likeness to a certain movie. But then, with the carving at St Ursula, that might be exactly what you intended.

Riayn said...

I'm so glad that you decided to come down and join us on the Saturday. It was fantastic to finally meet you.

Frau Dietz said...

I tried replying to some of these comments about four times last night to no avail... shall try again:

@Heidelbergerin: It was fab to meet you too, and I shall most certainly do that :) You must please get in touch as well if you have plans to come over this way. I only learned about the Koelsch-buying/selling on Saturday night - you're right, it explained a lot!

@Jen: Haha, I really wanted to do the pigeon justice ;) It was so brilliant to FINALLY meet you too, and thank you for your awesome hosting abilities :)

@Morgenmuffel: Oh yes, I think you might too!!

@Anonymous: It was fun indeed and yes yes, thank you, fully aware of what I've done with the title :)

@Riayn: SO AM I!! It was brilliant to meet you :) How do we make Hamburg and Wiesbaden a bit closer?

Wendi said...

Fantastic to finally meet you in person....hope to be able to do it again next year. :)

Christina said...

Sounds like it was a blast. Wish I could have been there. I love Köln and it would have been cool to meet you. There's no way I could have resisted a Weckermänn though! ;-)

Frau Dietz said...

@Wendi: Have I put up the wrong blog link for you... or do you have two? It was lovely to meet you too, I really enjoyed our dinner together :)

@Christina: I'm sorry you didn't get to make it this time - it was so much fun and it would have been great to meet you. Next year maybe? :)

americanincologne said...

No the link is correct, I think my Google put an old one I never worked on. :)

Frau Dietz said...

Oh ok - phew!! :)

Andrew said...

Hiya. So great to meet you as we wandered around in the dark.

That is really interesting about the buying/selling of the beer from the waiter and the brewery. Is there a post on that on someone's blog?

We have the Weckmänner in Freiburg too, just without the pipes. Dunno if that makes it so different.

sarah1976 said...

Now see, I construed the 'does' in the title to be an intentional, ever-so-cheeky reference to the infamous film. I dug it.

Anyhoodle, it was nice to meet you, Frau Dietz, albeit briefly. I like WEBMU, but it's gotten so big that it's a little overwhelming and hard to talk to everyone. Do let us know if you're ever in Bavaria!

Frau Dietz said...

@Andrew: that was a good wander, wasn't it! I haven't seen anyone write about it (yet), it was someone at my end of the table at dinner that told me. And the clay pipe thing relates to the fact that Weckmaenner production used to support the clay pipe industry in Westerwald (according to my copy of Culinaria Germany) so I guess near you that bit of history isn't relevant. How do they taste?!

@Sarah: thank you, that's exactly what it was! Likewise - it was lovely to meet you but I wish there'd been more time to have a proper chat. I will definitely get in touch when we plan a Bavarian adventure... and you must of course please shout if and when you come over this way :)

shoegirl said...

Per usual - lovely time with you and lovely post! ;) So great to meet everyone and I hope I don't have to wait until next year to see all you again!

click clack gorilla said...

Why oh why oh why was that the week that I didn't check my email every frickin five minutes and missed out on the carpool to come along?!?!?! ARRRG! *Bangs head against table.* Next year, next year.

Frau Dietz said...

@Shoegirl: DITTO! :)

@Click Clack Gorilla: Next year, next year... we'll need an extra car seat ;)

tehnyit said...

Great post, it certainly captured what WEBMU is all about. I'm feel a bit empty that I didn't more time chat other than a brief hello. Perhaps in WEBMU2012.

G in Berlin said...

We bought a Weckerman and when we stopped at my in-laws on the way home, he described some of the more- earthy- traditional Weckerman meanings and symbology. But the man itself was tasty and not too sweet:-).
I was coming down with something on the weekend and am sorry we didn't meet, but the bit of the meet up I saw was great fun and I enjoyed the folks I got to say hi to.

Andrew said...

I don't know how the weckmänner taste here. They make them in the shape of bunnies and occasionally sheep in the spring. Just from looking I expect them to be the normal dry German bready thing. I like sugar or fruit goo in my pastries or softer things like pretzels.

Sabrina said...

Oooh, Weckmaenner! I forgot all about those since I haven't spent a St. Martin in Germany for a while. Those are so delicious! Especially with Nutella :)

Frau Dietz said...

Ugh my comment didn't appear AGAIN. Blogger is so temperamental!!

@tehnyit: thank you! And me too - we will have to aim for a whole conversation next year :)

@GinBerlin: I didn't even realise you were going!! I'm sorry not to have met you - and I hope you're feeling much better now :)

@Andrew: Well, if you ever convince yourself to try one, I look forward to hearing what it's like!

@Sabrina: EVERYTHING tastes delicious with Nutella on!! ;)

mainzdailyphoto.com said...

I've had pan-friends in the distant past, but never a potato....

Frau Dietz said...

Oh - haha - I had absolutely no idea what you were trying to say until I looked a bit more closely at my post... whoops!! Thanks for pointing that out ;)

The Honourable Husband said...

Love back 'atcha, Dietzy! Looking forward to the next time, which I hope will be soon.

And on the subject of everything tasting better with Nutella, the redoubtable Mark from German Gems taught us to apply Nutella DIRECTLY on your banana. Master Right was chuffed with that intelligence.

BavarianSojourn said...

Those Weckmänner are beyond cute, and the weekend sounds fantastic! Love the sound of the small glasses of beer, and black pudding! I am definitely going there! Emma :)

Frau Dietz said...

@HH: I believe I'd support the direct application of Nutella onto just about anything.

@Emma: You must! And you must put WEBMU on your list for next year, too :)