The older grey-haired busker is already at his spot, where he’ll play a David Byrne song about ten thousand times, and noodle nice blues and chat to anyone and drink a lot and witness several dogfights and about ten thousand roller bladers in his day. It’s about ten and the area in front of the cathedral is filling with paddle-led tour groups and the genuinely curious and lots of English speaking kids who may be on an Erasmus or a college swap or a who knows?
I’ve been trained well in going to art and know that in the next city, Dusseldorf, I have eight Kiefers that will take up the best part of a day; and Beuys…So I am not going near Cologne’s very good art galleries.
I sit and write on the river front with with my Cologne geography now enhanced by last night’s wanderweg. Somewhere in the middle, betwixt river front and punk bar, is Friesenstrasse where Cologne enjoys itself in the more bourgeois ways. I block out the brass bands for a while with a run through on the IPod, then give in to the mood and enjoy the pleasure (clearly expected) of the hundreds who line up, then drink out, on the disco boat that’s going to be their life and the Rhine’s for the next few hours. God, the music is miserable, matched only by an unfortunate sighting in Dordrecht on television of Jennifer Lopez’s new single: I would have divorced her if I’d heard that song….it features some old Eurotrash melody and includes the line “put your glasses in the air” and incites people in Ibiza, Paris, LA and Worthing to get onto the floor. Ok, not Worthing.
I scrub up; which means change, and wander to Friesenstrasse, which is the usual suspect collection of All Bar One, other place, and a bunch of chic-er places that are empty, so far. There’s an Irish bar, that’s full of oom-pah-pah and so I order my aperol spritz and sit back to watch the “other” promenade. I am missing the river’s protean People’s debaucheries almost immediately. It would be no different in Lyon or Manchester, it’s just that it’s not me: I try the KGB bar, somewhat masochistically, and witness the world’s worst burlesque for eighteen seconds. Ask the nice barman at my cafe is there is a bar with music, he sends me to the Irish bar’s karaoke. Serves me right. I taxi to the deep suburbs and Underground, where heavy metal blares outside and from two discrete internal rooms, which I never make.
Hans is an architect, works in Dubai – has done for five years. Aggressive at first, suspicious of strangers – especially older English ones, “with their presumptions about Germany.” Soon we’re joined by chefs, gamers, programmers, a Freudian practicing in Paris; bar staff chilling out after long nights elsewhere…what do we talk about? Cologne mostly, those not living here are from here, and are here – as I feel in Stipel – in a kind of nostalgia-ridden return. “It’s not as good as when…” is an almost constant refrain, and there’s a lot of chat about computer games I don’t know: I flannel badly, name drop Wired and tell a few stories about why I am walking. Don’t get a standing ovation but Hans apologises and hopes I have a great time in Germany. I get it, he says; says the English in Dubai still behave as if they rule the Empire. And won’t listen to anyone else. Forget the collapse in Dubai, there’s still work. The Freudian is a Seberg, and as she talks I think only in Paris could you get away with this, but there, working with the banlieu kids, she does. Not even Lacan. The keanu-hair gamers take a shine to me and in a kind of Bill and Ted way we navigate the night and then the sun is coming up and back home the kebabeee smells, if possible, even worse.
In the morning I meet the gun clubs…
It doesn’t sound like a Grand Tourist kind of day, but I’m tired of the galleries; they are they new cathedrals and the cathedrals are malls and digital flashlight and avoiding H&M is an almost impossible task. I have met some locals, tried to talk and found that Cologne can suffer nostalgia like a Tory politician. Did I mention the gun clubs?