Cool Cologne / Köln

Take your pick – Germans use both to refer to this city which is the capital of this region. It’s also home to a magnificent cathedral which has recently had a new window installed… which is awful. A mess of randomly coloured pixels with no reason, design or anything. Just dots. Pretty, colourful, but utter garbage compared to the works of art installed in the other windows. Mind you, it’s drawing the tourists. Including far too many who stand around waving their arms and pointing to things within the pattern that simply aren’t there. Muppets.

I spent a lazy 45 minutes sat in a bar watching the Saturday football with a bunch of Germans and some random English guys on a pub crawl (Cologne is very popular for stag parties), wandered around a few more cathedrals and small streets and met up with my host for the night Ira. Yet another lovely person with a comfy couch!

As Ira had to work, I made my own arrangements and spent two very different nights in the city.

The first was overnight in a very posh spa called the Claudius Therme. Ulf had managed to score a couple of discount tickets for the rare overnight session, and I took one along with Heydi, another couchsurfer who lives in the area but hails from Finland. As you can probably tell from the web site, the spa is huge – it covers an enormous three-storey building inside and several pools, huts and a separate 2-storey building outside. Plus some parkland.

And you wander round most of it naked.

Eek.

The main building is a “covered up” zone, but for the overnight event it’s “clothing optional” after 10pm. Outside of the building is permanently “clothing optional”. The Germans are certainly a lot less reserved than us Brits and there were people of all shapes, sizes and ages letting it all hang out in the pools and saunas.

The saunas were an experience in themselves. The usual ones in gyms and so on are just braziers and wooden benches. Occasionally someone dumps some water on the coals and you get hotter. Here, it’s different Each sauna has a theme and is based on a style from a different country. At scheduled times, staff arrive, the doors are closed to prevent latecomers arriving and a “pouring” begins.

These are rituals using different scented waters which are poured onto the coals in vast quantities, really raising the temperature. The staff then waft wet towels around in a manner almost like a choreographed dance (some of them are set to music) to ensure the heat is spread evenly around the chamber. At points it reminded me of being back in Kuwait and Dubai as my body first of all went “breeze!” then quickly realised that the said breeze was damn hot.

During some of the pourings, there are breaks for people to pop outside. At one pouring, sponges soaked in beer are provided. You rub these all over then go back into the sauna for another pouring. This is apparently good for the skin. As is smearing honey on yourself. And rubbing salt on your body. All of these are offered during different pourings. My favourite was the “fire and ice” one where we got a nice wine glass with a dollop of sorbet which was topped up with champagne! The “twig” one was also good, where the staff beat your back with boiled branches. This makes small incisions in the skin (tiny ones) and certain beneficial chemicals from the leaves can then get under the surface and do good things. Or something.

We had a pretty decent dinner at 5.50 Euros for a “fit as much on a plate as you can manage” buffet and after a decent rest and a chat, Ulf had a surprise for us. He’d very kindly paid for one of the optional extras – a chocolate sauna! Well, more of a steam room. Someone seems to have discovered that chocolate is good for the skin, but not if you eat it… We were taken into a small chamber, big enough for six people. and provided with a rather hot bowl of melted chocolate which we were instructed to smear all over ourselves.

I don’t think my shoulders have ever tasted so good. One of the staff kept providing us with little cocktail sticks with fruit on them so we could make the most of the remaining chocolate, as well as drinks of hot tea which went surprisingly well together. So there we stood as the steam gathered. Ulf, Heydi and I. Naked but for a layer of Belgian choccy with three other Germans in a small, echoey chamber listening to relaxing music.

Yep, it was a pretty bizarre night.

Over time, the chocolate changed consistency from runny, to dry and slightly crumbly, to pastey and then to watery. I think we were in there for maybe half an hour before we washed everything off (it was a pain getting it out of my ears) and had a complimentary cocktail.

It was about then we had the branch-whipping sauna, after which we retired to bed on very comfy water mattresses. However, despite being about as relaxed as I’ve been in months, I simply couldn’t sleep! I watched two episodes of Hereoes on my PSP, went for another swim in the almost empty main building and admired the Cologne skyline from one of the balconies. Finally I drifted off at around 5am.

The next day I spent some time in the morning with Ulf and Heydi before traveling back into the city for a further walk. In the evening some of the crowd from Bonn as well as Ulf (that man again) met me and we went to a bar in the student area. A beer tower was ordered. Five metres tall. But I wasn’t allowed to drink it all myself. Grr.

From there we agreed to all go to a studenty nightclub though I’d have preferred a rock bar. Ah well. It was cheap enough to get in and drinks were also cut price all night. I did have to put a jumper on over my Newcastle shirt, though. I guess some things never change.

As the night progressed, people vanished in twos and threes until I was left with a guy from Ecuador and two American students. The girls “went to the toilet” then vanished. And my Ecuadorian companion just melted into the crowd never to be seen again.

And I had no idea how to get back to where I was staying.

Fortunately, friendly Germans and friendly English people came to my aid. I got talking to two girls in the club (the usual “my English isn’t very good” excuse followed by a long conversation with a drunk Englishman in a loud club – indicative of very good English in my opinion) who took me to another club at 4am.

There, we were crammed in like sardines but got another two cheap drinks before they departed. At that point, I luckily bumped into an English girl who was out with friends. She lived in Cologne and gave me very good directions to the Cathedral from where I could locate Ira’s place. Basically, go out of the club, turn left and follow the tram lines!

I crawled into Ira’s at around 6am. After the almost sleepless night at the spa I was amazed I’d stayed up so long. Two great nights. I like Germany!

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