18.02.2009 - 24.02.2009 4 °C
Ok, so I entitled this blog entry "Karneval" rather than Cologne for a few reasons. Firstly, I saw more densely crowded streets and the inside of pubs and clubs more than I actually saw Cologne, and secondly, because Karneval spans most of the area along the Rhine and I did indeed visit quite a few of the cities and towns. So, "Karneval" seems far more appropriate.
I've been staying with Volker's parents for the past five days or so, and it's all incredibly luxurious. Seriously - I couldn't have asked for any better from a five star hotel. A beautiful room in the loft with my own bathroom and a view over Baumbeck, my washing done and folded, scrumptious meals prepared three times a day, and most importantly, a fridge full of cold beer. You can find them on Wotif - not. His parents have been awesome as well - really lovely and talkative, and they speak English well enough for me to at least try and pay my rent in kind through coffee and conversation, which is my forte. They even gave me 50 Euro as a gift! I tried to refuse, but - well, you know, refuse twice, and after that it's rude, in my book. Also, they have an actual World War 2 era bunker basement, underground and surrounded by massive stone foundations - all the nearby residents would flock to this house if the air raid sirens went off. Ahh, history. It's everywhere, and I love it.
I tell you, actually being in the places where all this stuff happened, rather than just reading about it, really does make a difference and you can empathise with the people, victims and events, and it's quite powerful.
But on to Karneval. You've all been waiting for it, I can see it in your faces! Yes, that's right, I can see through your webcams. You may have seen Karneval on the news in Australia over the last few days, and traditionally it is a festival to "scare away" the spirits of Winter and welcome Spring. These days the festival manifests itself as a huge celebration spanning many of the towns and cities in the Rhineland area. Everyone's costumed, every single pub and club is open, and the crowds roam the streets, singing, dancing, and getting rather merry, if you know what I mean. Which of course you do.
The most important thing to grasp is Karneval equals cheese. That is, everything is so deliciously trashy and cheesy. To mix metaphors - you just have to cover yourself with the cheese and run with it. Which we did! We had a merry band of six Superheroes - Mr. Incredible (Volker), Flash Gordon (Dennis), Spiderman (Jan), Superman Junior (erm?), Wolverine (Simon) and Batman (yours truly!). Ok - so you have a mental image of that in your head, right? Now imagine all of us dancing on stage, in front of a few thousand people, to "Like a Prayer" by Madonna, beer in hand. Oh, it happened - and that's Karneval in a nutshell.
I'll tell you though - I think I'll write to the Union for Superheroes about our working conditions. You'd think they would make our uniforms at least immune to snow and other people's beer and cigarettes, let alone bullets!
So it's all mostly little pubs and clubs, but on the last day we went to a cathedral-like dance club in Dusseldorf called Nacht Residence (Night Residence). It was probably one of the classiest nightclubs I've ever been to - you know if the chief drink sponsor is Moet that your wallet is in for a hemorrhaging.
My liver is thankful that Karneval has finished up - although there was a bit of sightseeing on "rest days". A bit of walking around Baumbeck (where Volker's parents live) and just today we went up to Solingen, which is a quaint little village surrounding a mountain adorned with a thousand year old castle - Schloss Burg. But don't just take my word for it - check out the photo galleries!
I've realised I may need to start to put in a bit more effort into my travel plans, so over the next few days I'll start booking some transport and accommodation for the next few weeks. It occurs that I can't always fly by the seat of my spandex - even if I am Batman. A few more days in Germany, I think - then on to London!