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Thursday, March 20

Karneval in Köln (Cologne)

Couple weekends ago we visited Köln (Cologne) for Karneval; something we wanted to do once. Why not experience the biggest parties thrown by a city and dress up in costume?

Karneval starts on November 11th each year and is celebrated through Ash Wednesday, before lent. The tradition started long time ago and includes costumes, parades, and parties the week before Ash Wednesday.

The husband has a colleague from Essen and he offered to take us to Köln because he and his girlfriend were going to Essen. After a 3.5 hour car ride, we arrived in the afternoon. Our hotel was Radisson Blu, few tram stops from the center of city. (When we booked our hotel in beginning of February, our options were very limited.)

0.2 beer glasses dispenser
The first evening we ventured to Päffgen for dinner and Kölsch beer. Kölsch is what the locals call their beer. (Each region has their particular beer and here is no exception.) The beer is light in taste. By the time we arrived, the entire restaurant was packed with people singing, dancing, and couple small rooms dedicated for dining. We managed to grab couple seats in the dining area. For dinner we ordered sauerbraten, and an appetizer portion of blood sausage with dark bread. The sauerbraten came with potato dumplings and apple sauce. The husband liked the dumplings and the apple sauce but unfortunately was not thrilled about the sauerbraten because it was slightly sweet and covered in a sweet berry sauce. The blood sausage was fine. We drank couple rounds of beer and then wandered the city for the public display of debauchery.

Later that night we took advantage of the spa in the hotel. The spa is in the basement adjoined by the fitness center. The spa was well equipped; there was a Finnish sauna, steam room, pool with extremely cold water, relaxing room, and showers. Additionally there’s a changing room. The idea is to spend 10- 15 minutes in the steam/sauna rooms, take a dip in the cold water and rotate again. The unusual rule (for us because we aren’t used to this custom) at German saunas is once inside the rooms all clothes must be removed. We spent 45 minutes in the spa area and were thoroughly relaxed. Although I am not a fan of franchise hotels, Radisson Blu was wonderful with friendly service and large rooms.

We made our way to Die Rösterei for breakfast. The restaurant is away from the main tourist attractions and was full of locals, a good sign. We ordered a broccoli and cheese quiche and he ordered the weekend special. His plate came with homemade bread, scrambled eggs, jam, butter and bacon. Bacon was the only reason he ordered this because bacon in a German restaurant is like having freshly baked preservative-free bread in America. He enjoyed all of the food except for the extra crusty homemade bread. The portion size of my quiche was extra large but it was light, fluffy and had the right amount of broccoli. I would order it again. Our cappuccinos were served with a small piece of fudge, a nice touch.

Walking back to the train station we saw hoards of people dressed up because of a parade; we watched the last end of a parade in procession. We changed into our costumes at the hotel and went back to Päffgen for beer. Sunday evening was no different than Saturday. We stood in one of the large rooms, and made friends with few locals. They bought us few rounds of beer and we bought them couple rounds. The restaurant plays Kölsch music on loud speakers (on repeat). Even though we didn’t understand most of the songs, the music is entertaining and everyone sings along. Drinking and dancing with friendly strangers was the most fun we’ve had in Germany. Period.

Monday is known as Rosenmontag (rose Monday) and the most well known to attract locals, tourists, old and young. The entire city is closed for holiday. According to Wiki, Rosenmontag is most celebrated in German speaking countries. We went back to Die Rösterei to find it closed but next door Café Bauturm was open and offered a simple menu. Everything is a la carte with breads, eggs, ham, and deli meats. There were some other items but the menu is limited.

We were warned by the locals the previous night to avoid the Hauptbanhhof (main city station) and Dom (Church) areas because they’d be full of tourists and overcrowded. Instead we found a spot near the breakfast place. Where we were standing, the parade was delayed in starting. There were local organization floats, high school bands, and company floats. Some floats we had no idea about and others were obvious. We had heard lots of candy is thrown off the floats to catch, unfortunately we weren’t told that the candy is flung. And when you aren’t watching, it whacks you on the head like a pellet of chocolate. (Though I rather have chocolate pellets hit me than anything else.) In anticipation for the candy I brought a bag, wise but not wise enough. We ended up giving most of the candy away to a young teen next to us who in return shared one of his large plastic bags with me for the candy we kept. The parade was worth the Karneval trip.

People kids screamed Kamelle (candy/chocolate) when the floats passed while the women screamed Struessjer (flowers). Also, people on the floats yell Kölle and we respond with Alaaf! We heard Kölle Alaaf repeatedly over the weekend. We thought the parade would be 3 hours long and learned later it's 5+ hours. After the 4th hour, we headed to dinner at Malzmühle at the Heumarkt tram stop. We wondered through the dining room and found the only available two seats at a large table with a group. They offered Karneval menu with soups and few main dishes. The husband ordered curry wurst with French fries (with local beer, grilled sausages and fries are the best!) and I ordered the green pea and ham hock soup. Both were heavy but flavorful. Obviously due to the Karneval crowd I suspect the restaurant makes most dishes in advance and for a soup that’s a good thing.

the loot chocolate
After our beers we headed to the main station for our train. Some stand outs from the weekend, the people in Köln are extremely friendly and know how to have a good time, even with tourists. The city’s architecture is modern and attractive. Prior to learning about Karneval we didn’t have Köln as one of the cities to visit but after our weekend I say everyone should go! We visited the Dom (third tallest church in the world) but due to Sunday service and overcrowding of tourists, it was a quick visit. Without the tourists, I believe you can easily spend an hour or two in the church. And the city’s public transportation is extensive and easy to navigate.

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