There was a lot of rain - but it didn’t stop any of us having a fantastic time in Germany’s Rhineland this Christmas. Years past we have been very lucky and have spent time away in warmer destinations but with the year of smart we decided that we’d keep things real, spend time closer to home with family and hit some Christmas markets instead. The choice of which city was easy, having watched Anthony Bourdain’s episode on Cologne a few weeks before there was only one European city that was on my list! The reason in a word? Kölsch.
How to get there was easily answered too, what do you do when you enjoy taking the train but have a need to drive? Car Train! Somehow I’d never been on the EuroShuttle; always been more of a Eurostar or Ferry fan, but now was the ideal opportunity. The drive to Cologne was supposed to be a breeze, no further in distance than we are accustomed to with Cornwall. Unfortunately when we arrived at the terminal the Car Train was delayed and instantly so our leisurely Friday afternoon drive turned into a less than enjoyable slog spent in traffic on the outskirts of Brussels, but we shared the driving and even enjoyed some hideous continental snacks so it wasn’t all too bad.
First port of call upon arrival was Currywurst and Kölsch, I’ve never been a fan of relaxing in a hotel room and so no sooner had we landed were we hitting the town for the local delicacies. Both were everything I had hoped for and the horrors of the journey were all but forgotten.
The beer scene in Cologne is pretty special, many of the breweries only dispense their beer on premises which of course means spending time travelling around the city and visiting each brewery’s beer house. Inside the beer houses the beer delivery mechanism is a small 20cl glass called a Stange, the glass is designed so that every sip has a perfect foamy head and doesn’t hang around long enough to warm up. Those who have ever had a 1 litre stein of beer will know that the beginning is great, but by the time you’ve reached the bottom the beer is warm, flat and boring - Kölsch is like continually drinking the first few sips of a stein, always perfect. The problem of course is that it doesn’t take long to drink 20cl of beer, and so the waiters (known as köbes) simply replenish any empty glass with a fresh beer. The Germans really have got this all figured out.
Over the weekend Lomas and I visited as many beer houses as we could, my favourite was Mühlen-Kölsch which happened to be the same place as where Bourdain filmed his documentary, the beer was delicious, malty, cold crisp and a with a bitter but refreshing bite. We ordered a boiled pork knuckle for lunch which there isn’t really much to say about, it was beautiful, meat falling away from the bone served with mashed potatoes and crispy onions - gorgeous. As a group we enjoyed the Früh beer house best, located just around the corner from the cathedral it was an enormous labyrinth of a place but somehow cosy and inviting once seated.
Aside from the beer we also visited the Christmas markets, Cologne takes this seriously and there were about six sizeable markets dotted around the city, all had a different style and vibe. My personal favourite was the market with the ice skating rink surrounded by alpine-style log cabin bars. We spent a good amount of time here watching people fall over, enjoying a beer at the same time - absolutely fantastic fun! Victoria and Esme enjoyed shopping in the markets, despite the German Christmas market concept being replicated in the UK there is still a big difference between the real thing and the UK equivalent, the atmosphere is quite different and the products available in Germany are much more diverse and generally superior.
The journey home was a bit of a treat, for many, many years I’ve wanted to visit the Haribo factory store in Bonn, Germany and since we were only a short distance away now was the ideal time. The store is HUGE and has row upon row of every possible Haribo candy, you can even buy 5Kg tups of a single Gold Bear flavour! We spent quite a lot of money stocking up on sweets for the wedding and which I have promised not to touch between now and April.