After completing our intensive German language course (with our crazy eccentric, pill-popping teacher, Jochen) we felt unrealistically comfortable with our German proficiency so set-off to Köln to meet up with Ellen's bestus girlfriend Jenny, and visit her aunt Anke. As we hadn't booked the necessary 53 German working-days in advance, the train prices were outrageously expensive. Thankfully our newly developed language skills meant we were able to explain to the ticket sales officer that we were quite broke (wir sind sehr arm) so she advised us on the "special" travel tickets. These were pretty much tickets designed for poor Aussie travellers who needed to get around the country, but who unlike regular German citizens who demand time-efficiency, can tolerate multiple changes and lay-overs. So we were able to get to Köln for the fraction of the price, but unlike a regular inter-city trip there which is direct and only takes 2.5hrs, we had 8 changes and a 9.5hr journey, as we were restricted to local trains only.
Although taking forever, the route meant we were able to visit a bunch of cities we generally wouldn't have thought to see, like Wolfsburg (birth city of VW), Hanover, Wuppertal (home of the gravity-defying monorail that hangs upside-down from the rail) & a bunch of really small towns in Brandenburg province that haven't developed much since the DDR days. By the time we reached köln, we felt quite knowledgeable of the local train routes and timetables throughout northern Germany. We were pretty exhausted, so very happy to see Jenny's smiling face awaiting us at the platform.
Even though it was 10pm and Jenny was supposed to be studying for uni exams and finishing her thesis, the girls spent the next 5 hours catching each other up in the affairs of their lives in the past 3 years: boyfriends/uni/jobs/shopping/waxing products/cleo bachelor of the year/how annoying I am to travel with/the number of failed times ellen's tried to kill me, etc. Jenny kept me entertained by letting me test every brand of Kolsch beer (local brewed beer in köln) she and her housemates had in their fridge. Once the girls were up-to-speed with each others lives we went to bed. The next morning Jenny prepared us a delicious German-style breaky of brötchen, croissants, jams, cheeses and rocket. Afterwards we left her to write some more of her thesis and headed into the city.
We had arranged to meet Ellen's aunty for lunch at Wolfgang's favourite restaurant in köln: the Fruh am Dom brewery. This place quickly became my favourite restaurant in köln. Due to Ellen's vegetarianism over the past 2.5 years, I have also been forced to eat predominantly vegetarian. Before we even sat down at a table, I noticed every single male there was eating what looked like a quarter of a pig on a plate with fried potatoes and a small side salad. Upon sitting down I pre-emptively explained to Ellen any notion of shared-vegetarian platter-ordering would not be tolerated today. I was having that quarter of a pig.
Ellen was a little nervous, as when visiting relatives in Germany, she normally had wolfie there to translate. Although we knew we could confidently remark on the city's weather and transport connections, we weren't completely confident on sustaining an entire meal conversation, which would no doubtedly delve into other more personal topics about of lives and our travels throughout Germany and the rest of the world. I'm not sure whether Anke was just being polite or if we really did somehow maintain 3 hours of coherent German dialogue, but the luncheon was a surprising occurrence to everyone involved. I don't think Anke was expecting us to be able to converse about even general things like art, our studies and current affairs, lest to mention topics such as the fountain sculpture which was derived from a German fable of little fairy-elves that helped build the city of köln. I think Jochen's ridiculous teaching methods such as letting the daily newspaper determine the curriculum and going off on random tangents about German mythology, was actually paying-off. Anke was actually fluent in English (probably something Ellen should've remembered) as she was always able to understand the sections of dialogue which were littered with English words we didn't know the German translation for, but by constantly responding in German meant we really got to try formulating extensive dialogue exchanges in German (something we hadn't done outside of the language course, as most Germans just reverted to English once they heard our less-than-pleasant German grammar and pronunciation).
After lunch we walked around the square and into Köln cathedral. I've seen an abundance of Gothic and Baroque architecture during my various travels abroad, but I must say the cathedral was super impressive. It was not only incredibly intricate in the undulating exterior structure, but its presence was totally overpowering. I felt for the first time I was looking at a building that had endured, resisted, suffered. That had generally felt and lived...(I dunno, maybe it was the excessive amount of pork clogging my arteries and blood flow to my head). Anke was really keen to see my reaction to the regent addition of Gerhard Richter's commissioned stain-glass window. I freakin loved it. He created something that was both a complete contrast to all the other imagery inside the church, yet still complemented the visual aesthetic and sensitivity of the atmosphere.
Once we exited the cathedral, we walked Anke to the train station, said our goodbyes and headed back to Jenny's. Upon reaching her street, we noticed a massive traffic jam and numerous police cars. Officers were speaking with 2 men, who looked both amused and annoyed. We went into her apartment and asked Jenny what was going on. Apparently the two men had been firing at each other with very realistic bb guns. Someone had thought they were gangsters having a shoot-out so called the police. Although the guns weren't real, it was still considered as an illegal "weapon" for residential areas, so the officers were meant to arrest the men. Apparently the officers could see the relative harmlessness of the situation, and the men were obviously not aware that firing them would potentially result in them being locked up, so the officers had been waiting for telephoned approval from their Captain to just issue them a small fine as opposed to following protocol and arresting them for possession of weapons. It had been going on for 2.5hrs so Jenny hadn't got a great deal of study done. She proposed we head to her family home in Düsseldorf so that we could get away from the cofuffal of what was happening outside and be treated to a couple of days of home-cooked meals.
Düsseldorf was a super cool city. Jenny's family home was located near a massive forest, so I was able to go running in the woods that evening, whilst the girls baked a cake. By the time I got back, Jenny's parents had returned from their day of golfing, so they had to endure I very sweaty "Hello" from me. I had only met Hans and Heike briefly in Sydney when they visited Jenny. Ellen told me to expect to be fed a lot of alcohol as they were major wine connoisseurs. Sure enough, she was right. Although I was covered in sweat & mud and smelled like horses (there was a horse riding trail through the forest that I got lost on), Hans insisted I have a beer immediately and get a tour of the house. The place was amazing. Hans and Heike had an incredible art collection including Warhol's, Christo's, Beuyes and were high school friends with Andreas Gursky, so had really unique photographs of road trips they went on as kids.
I was advised on the best galleries and temp exhibitions to see, so the next day Ellen and I set out to the city. The museum Kunst Palast had a showcase of works from the sculpture major graduates of the Düsseldorf Kunst Akademie from 1945-present. Ellen obviously left me to my own devices in the gallery, walking ahead and finding a nice couch to sit on. After 3hrs I was happily art-pleasured and ready to leave, when I realised there 3 storey building had a second permanent exhibition of painting and sculpture masters from C18th - present... I told Ellen she should either find a nice tree outside to nap under or go back to Jenny's and watch Titanic, as I would probably be there until the gallery closed.
By the time we finally left it was late afternoon and Jenny had finished her daily studies. She met us in the city and took us for a walk along the Rhine and to a local brewery so we could try the arch-rival beer of Kölsch, Altbier. Unlike the kölsch, altbier wasn't served in a thin dainty flute-like glass so you didn't feel as girly. It also tasted a great deal better (sorry wolfie, I know you would argue this point, but it's true). Kölsch is very clear and light. You cab drink it like water (possibly why it gets you drunk so quickly). Altbier on the other hand is heavier and darker, more like an ale. Unfortunately, unlike the Bavarians, who set a minimum half-litre sized glass for beer, both kölsch and altbier is served in a bizarre 200ml glass??? Nevertheless, its super tasty.
The next day the girls went to a jewellery store opening. Naturally I passed on this "enthralling" expedition and made my way to a couple of other galleries. In the afternoon we all met up in the city and went for another round of beers with her cousin and some of his mates. This social meeting had an alterior motive of trying to scout some boys to join us clubbing that night, as Jenny had us some if her girlfriends on the guestlist to a new club opening at the top of a 7 storey shopping mall. Unfortunately the boys were all going to a party so I was forced to put on my heels and a skimpy skirt and join the ladies on a girls night out.
We went to a Japanese grocery store on the way home and picked up supplies for homemade sushi. Jenny had made it before so her rolls turned out a treat. Ours were less successful. Especially mine. (Stupid fat sculpting hands). We ate with the usual plethora of beer, wine and mattatax Hans and Heike had accustomed us to, so we were nicely primed for the night ahead. Ellen hadn't stopped raving about the 1L cocktails her and Jenny used to skull and the best tequila bar in the world. We started off with cocktails, meeting up with Jenny's friends, before heading to the tequila bar for at least 10 mixed rounds of gold tequila with cinnamon and silver shots with lemon wedges. Now quite drunk we made our to the club to finish the night off.
The next day we rose late, ate a hearty brunch and said our farewells before Jenny dropped us at the station. We knew we'd not be in the best state to remain awake and manage the necessary 9 train changes to get back to Berlin, so we booked a bus that took us direct. A sleepy 7 hours later we were back at our apartment in Leopoldplatz.