Friday, September 14, 2012

Cologne Adventure

A great deal has happened in a couple of days.

On Wednesday I helped to teach a lesson on parts of the body to “nine-year-olds” comprised of my fellow teaching assistants acting like children. After another evening of information about the Fulbright Program, health insurance, and alumni organizations, I went to bed early and got up dark and early for our trip back to Cologne.

The Cologne main train station (Hauptbahnhof) has these amazing short-term luggage storage containers: you put in €3, shove your suitcase into the little box that opens up, and wait. The door closes, your luggage is whisked away, and you can retrieve it with a little card the machine spits out after taking your money. I think everything goes to underground storage. Wherever my huge suitcase was stored, I appreciated seven hours to explore Cologne without dragging along sixty-something pounds of my life behind me.

A survey some years ago named the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) the most beloved place in Germany. It’s certainly huge, beautiful, and very Gothic.

It was raining that day, but I like the idea of the cathedral stretching through the clouds.

The outside is stained black with city smog, even though Cologne’s air is very clean – enough centuries of anything but pure air turns the stone black. The city has undertaken a cleaning project since the mid-1960s, when they finished repairing the damage from World War II. As with all European cathedrals, the detail is gorgeous.

The inside is very tall and plainer than I expected. I accidentally joined the 9am Mass (Gottesdienst) while exploring and got a blessing from a rather confused priest. The priests in German-speaking countries all seem so bemused that I don’t take communion but want to participate somehow. Maybe most non-Catholics just don’t go up. I knew I was in Germany when a woman visiting the cathedral started throwing out the burned-down candles and straightening the hymnals. Naturally, everything must be in order.

Outside the cathedral I found a number of living statues as well as a ton of people. In addition to school groups, I saw two men “floating” (it’s a clever chair contraption) and one adult man walking briskly after a pigeon. The pigeon just walked faster.

Later these people will become "living statue" buskers.

Cologne’s main shopping street boasts a number of high-end stores, including one called Louis Vuitton. Having never been in such a store, I thought I could browse the thousand-dollar merchandise and popped right in. I should have known I was in trouble when the man employed to open the door opened the door for me, but it wasn’t until he asked me to stay on the little walkway in the middle of the store (where I couldn’t see any of the merchandise) that I realized this wasn’t a browsing sort of place. Sure enough, one of the women working there came over to take care of me and asked what I was searching for that day. I told her a present for my mother, at which point she showed me a number of very expensive purses and I tried not to look like I wanted to bolt every moment. After a few minutes I “picked” a purse and asked her to write it down so my mother could look at it online, then left and never went back. I think that was a class faux pas rather than a cultural one, but I felt ridiculous nevertheless.

The shopping street also boast more low-brow clothing stores:

Because twenty-one is pretty much ancient.
Today was my first day in school - I fielded questions (in English) in three classes and thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. It was a little awkward because no one expected me today, but we smoothed everything over and eventually the students even talked. It took some coaxing. Between the school day (which ends at 1:30ish) and the school fair (Schulfest) in the afternoon, I ended up speaking a lot of German and it made me very tired. Amazing how difficult it is to talk when talking doesn't come naturally. I look forward to the day I'm not translating in my head the whole conversation.

To end on a smile: a centurion and Gandalf having a smoke.

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