Saturday, 6 April 2013

Jonathan im Deutschland - Fifth Day

We woke up late today, our bodies clinging to the last vestiges of sleep. These early starts were conflicting with the weight of human belief, which is that holidays are for lying about in bed. We finally left at ten and were soon on the autobahn, heading to Cologne. There's a little cathedral in Cologne. Well, maybe not little. In fact, it's so huge that I may well need to spend the rest of this paragraph explaining its size.

The cathedral is a work of extraordinary architecture. You can climb to the top of this tower to look out across the city, and I say you because asking me to climb that high via a helical staircase while other people come down the same staircase is a waste of breath.

The thing is, I have absolutely no fear of going up. Getting me down, however, might require a parachute. Even a few chaps with a wee trampoline.

The point is going up is easy. Coming back down without becoming a messy stain is a little more tricky.

In any case, it's a huge tower, and since Ali is kind and sensitive to my hatred of seeing nothing but air between me and concrete she did not even suggest we venture up.

For that I am indebted to her.

She's also driven me round and let me live in her living room (which I maintain is the purpose of a living room) but this is more important.

We went in after circling the building to find Mass in full swing and the only people being allowed into the church proper were the faithful. I was tempted to fake it, but there were other things to do, and I'd had my fill of being angrily shouted at in German last night. So instead we wandered. We wandered to the little train that takes people through the town to the Schokoladenmuseum.

In English: the Chocolate Museum.

Pause for a moment. Rest your weary eyeballs from their continual race across the electronic page and drink in those words. Chocolate. Museum. With a display by Lindt. It was utterly beautiful. The smell that assaults you the moment you mount the steps up to the building is glorious, and you swim against the tide of the chocolate smell until you enter the building and stand, soaking in it. Entry for adults is €8, but with that smell ensnaring your senses you'd gnaw off your own arm if they asked for it.

We roamed through the halls, drinking in the scent and the history - the story - of the humble cocoa bean. Did you know that the name of the cocoa tree is theobroma cacoa, or food of the gods? I didn't. Now I do, and so do you.

The exhibition also didn't shy away from the fact that cocoa workers are gratuitously and hideously exploited. Approximately 75% of all cocoa harvesters will never taste their finished product. They subsist on little wages and have to include their children in the harvest. The situation is getting better, with co-ops and Fairtrade organisations, but still - there's some way to go.

After that depressing episode, we went to the chocolate room, which seemed to have been transplanted from Willy Wonka's factory. I am convinced that with a top hat and a cane I could have breezed through the locked doors and found the chocolate river. And then sailed it.

Right here we have a lovely lady standing by a facsimile of a cocoa tree from which flowed a little chocolate river. Behind is the gorgeous Rheine. I didn't get enough pictures, but all I can do is implore you to visit if you ever find yourself in Cologne. It is money well spent.

Plus, the shop at the end will ensure your kids don't get any inheritance. Chocolate everything, everywhere, in every variety you could imagine and some you'd need to drop a tab before you could even imagine them. Such utter, total, glorious cocoa beauty.

Go. Go now. If you find the chocolate river, for God's sake tell me.

Speaking of God - but we'll get to that in just a second. First: lunch. Steak was on my mind, and we found a passable steakhouse in the cathedral's main plaza. It was excellent, although the Polish waitress who spoke only German made ordering hilariously difficult.  We did it, we ate, we paid. I was so happy to be back in a restaurant that had a normal system that I overtipped enormously. The tipping may have been helped by the J├Ąger I tilted down my throat. I couldn't say why, but I've been lusting after just a little of it all week.

We headed back out, with the aim of getting back into the cathedral in the hope that Mass had ended and we could fully explore the gigantic structure. Instead, we walked into a pillow fight.

Well, not quite. As we walked back towards the building, we saw little white feathers floating above us. Had angels descended? Unlikely. Had someone hit a seagull with a baseball bat? Also unlikely, but being students in Aberdeen a small part of us wished it to be so. The small part that had been robbed of a bacon sandwich at half past eight wished and hoped it, but no.

As we got closer to the source of the feathers, we heard joyous shouting. And then we rounded the corner. The longer version I recorded will come later, but for the moment here's a little clip of what we saw:

Utter, wonderful, chaos.

And a fitting end to my week here in Germany. Tomorrow I go back to France, but I will miss this place, the language, and the incredible scenery. I need to travel more.

But then I suppose we all do.

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