Monday, August 31, 2009

a few other points

Woke up way too early today and couldn't get back to sleep, as evidenced by today's second post in as many hours. Anyway, I came across this thanks to the fine people at English Speaking Cologne. Not sure how many other Expats in the Cologne area might be reading this site, but I thought I'd pass along the info.

Also, another random observation. FC Köln lost again, 3-1. That puts their record at 0-1-3 (zero wins, one draw and 3 losses). Seriously, I really wanted to get into football this season. You're making it awfully difficult. Fortunately, I was glad to read football news like this today. I really hope I'll be able to see some of these games on TV somewhere this year. Anyone with info, feel free to let me know.

Democracy In-action

Yesterday was phase one of elections here. On Sunday night we read an estimated 33% of the population voted in the local elections. The paper now states closer to 50%. This was for mayor and (as far as I could tell) two other local offices. Next month is the big national election.

I'll be happy to see all the street ads going away. It is hard enough to learn to drive here when signs are different and stop lights are in different places. It is even more difficult when there's ten political ads posted all around each intersection. I will, however, be disappointed to not see all the new creative ways of blacking out teeth or adding funny mustaches on candidate's portraits.

So yeah, 50%. I first wanted to write about how pathetic 33% was. But 50%? I hate to say it but that's probably better than the average local elections in the States. Who was the big winner yesterday? The party of "Köln kann's besser" (SPD) seemed to have more appeal than the CDU's "Köln Kann's." 55% - 33%. Adjectives, people. That's all it takes.

What was election day like here? I accompanied our two eligible voters to the polling location yesterday afternoon. Polls closed at 6pm. We went around 4:30. The polling center was in a grade school, staffed mostly by older retirees. After having your ID approved, you're given three paper ballots. One for each of the open positions. Apparently they experimented with computerized polls a few elections back but there weren't any at this location this time.

The ballots are as simple as possible. All candidates are listed in nice big print with a circle next to each. To vote for your candidate, you mark an 'X' in the circle. Do that once on each ballot and you're finished. Easy. Simple. No confusing butterfly ballots or hanging chads or anything like that. Once you're done, you place all three ballots inside the same box. We spent more time walking to and from the school than actual time voting. And we spent a whole five minutes watching the late news to see the results. We'll see what happens with next month's elections. I guess after last November in Chicago, anything will seem pretty underwhelming in comparison.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The rumors of my (blog's) death have been greatly exaggerated

... or so to paraphrase Mark Twain.

Sorry I've been gone for a bit. Enjoying summer as much as possible while still attending school everyday. I haven't run out of topics. I have a mess of ideas to put down here when I've got the time. In the meantime, here's a quick one I've been wanting to start up.

I just finished up my second session of school at the Volkshochschule (VHS) today. It is located in Sulz. It's a nice neighborhood in the southwest part of town. Nearby is the University of Köln. I think I read over 40,000 students attend. It gives the neighborhood a younger feel. During breaks at the VHS I usually walked around a few blocks in pursuit of fresh air and an occasional coffee. For weeks I've been wanting to take a few photos to post here but I never got around to it. Since today was my last regular day in Sulz, I decided I had little choice.

You'll see English words everywhere here. Nearly everyone speaks at least a little bit of English and I guess somehow using it in ads makes products seems cooler. Here's a few examples of ill-advised uses of the language, henceforth referred to as "Germlish." Your opinion may vary.

Arson Hairfactory. Someone please check this guy's insurance policy.

Sorry for the lo-quality shot here. You may have to click on the image for a larger photo in order to get the "joke." If you don't get it, you didn't miss anything. I pass this each day on the way to class.

No gross misuse of English here. But I think "nerd" in English = "nerd" in German.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Das Erste Tor

Back in Chicago the Cubs are fighting for first place. When I need a jolt of optimism I'll check out this blog. For the reality check I'll make sure to read the Tribune's Ask Paul. But it is getting harder and harder to follow their efforts from here. And being deprived of the distraction of sports has probably been a good thing.

Nevertheless, this weekend marks the opening of the 2009 Bundesliga Football season. I've been looking forward to this one. When I arrived I quickly found out there is really just two sports seasons here: Football, and not-football. Sure, Formula One races get mentioned in the news and shown on television. But the majority of the sports reports always seemed to be about the off-season developments of the football teams.

And Cologne seems to have plenty of reason to be excited about this season. For at least the last ten seasons or more, FC Köln has bounced back and forth between the first and second divisions. This offseason they re-aquired Lukas Podolski. Podolski began his professional career with FC Köln. He was brought up to the main squad at the age of 18 and scored more goals than any other 18 year old in the history of the league. Eventually he was moved to Bayern Munich, the New York Yankees of the Bundesliga. After three middling seasons, he returned to FC Köln this offseason. And the fans of FC Köln have big expectations for a return to form by Podolski. Although it seems like he's played for a long time, he is just 24. Here is probably more than you need to know about him.

Armed with this little bit of background knowledge, I was excited to head out into the city yesterday in search of a good pub to watch the game. With so much hype about Podolski's return I thought the city would be frothing at the mouth for the first game. As my train got closer to the city, more and more people got on wearing red shirts and jerseys. We grabbed a quick lunch and started to make the rounds in the Altstadt. There are plenty of bars around here and they seem to be the rowdiest on Saturday nights. Instead, aside from the tour groups everywhere, the pubs were deserted. Where was everyone?

We never really found out. Instead, 15 minutes into the game, we settled into a quiet bar in Heumarkt. They had the game on and about 5 people were there to watch it. Nowhere did it feel anything like opening day in Chicago to me. And all those people wearing red earlier? I have no idea where they went. If any local reading this has any idea where to go to catch the game please let me know. Let us all know with a comment below. Next weekend is the home opener. Maybe that'll bring out the crowds a bit more. I don't intend to go out every week to watch the game but surely there must be some places with a bit more atmosphere and excitement.

So, how did the game itself go? For reasons I have yet to find out, Podolski didn't play. But FC Köln did manage to score a goal. Unfortunately into the wrong net. Yes, das erste Tor (the first goal) of the season for FC Köln was an own goal. Ouch. Let's just hope that this first game isn't an indication of how the rest of the season will go. But even if it is, as a Cubs fan I know that these sort of things seem to come with high expectations and goat-related scenarios. Final score: Borussia Dortmund 1-0 FC Köln.

Technically, the team's name is "1. FC Köln." In English that's "the 1st Football Club Köln." The team's nickname is appropriately enough "die Geißböcke." In English: the Billy Goats. Yeah, go figure.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Inevitable Kölner Dom Edition

It is kind of like that 800 pound gorilla in the room. Unavoidable. Its image is everywhere. You can see it here. And here. And here: 24 hours a day on the webcam to the right! Spend any amount of time here and you can't help but notice the Cologne Cathedral (aka Kölner Dom, or just Dom). So it is about time we get this one out of the way.

Here's some background information via the Wikipedia entry:

Cologne Cathedral (German: Kölner Dom, officially Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria) is a church in Cologne, Germany. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne (currently Cardinal Joachim Meisner), and is under the administration of the archdiocese of Cologne. It is renowned as a monument of Christianity, of German Catholicism in particular, of Gothic architecture and of the continuing faith and perseverance of the people of the city in which it stands. It is dedicated to Saint Peter and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The cathedral is a World Heritage Site, one of the best-known architectural monuments in Germany, and Cologne's most famous landmark, described by UNESCO as an "exceptional work of human creative genius".[1]

Construction of Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 and took, with interruptions, until 1880 to complete – a period of over 600 years. It is 144.5 metres long, 86.5 m wide and its two towers are 157 m tall.[2] The cathedral is one of the world's largest churches and the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. For four years, 1880-84, it was the tallest structure in the world, until the completion of the Washington Monument. It has the second-tallest church spires, only surpassed by the single spire of Ulm Cathedral, completed 10 years later in 1890. Because of its enormous twin spires, it also presents the largest façade of any church in the world. The choir of the cathedral, measured between the piers, also holds the distinction of having the largest height to width ratio of any Medieval church, 3.6:1, exceeding even Beauvais Cathedral which has a slightly higher vault.[3]

Cologne's medieval builders had planned a grand structure to house the reliquary of the Three Kings and fit its role as a place of worship of the Holy Roman Emperor. Despite having been left incomplete during the medieval period, Cologne Cathedral eventually became unified as "a masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value" and "a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe",[1].

For those of you scoring back home in the States, the measurements are 474 feet long, 283.8 feet wide, and the two towers are 515 feet tall. The city does not allow taller buildings anywhere near the Dom, ensuring its visibility throughout the region. As I've said before, as long as you can see the Dom or the Rhine River, it is fairly easy to get around the area.

I've never been a religious person but I have always been fascinated by relics. And the Dom's whole existence is based on the Shrine of the Three Kings. Whether these items are legitimate or not is (to me) irrelevant. The fact is they've inspired people to spend over 600 years building and maintaining such a structure. And millions of others have traveled from all over the world to view the building and its relics.

With all that in mind, here are some more photos taken one day after class a few weeks ago. The weather wasn't all that good in the morning so I had planned on visiting the Museum Ludwig. When I arrived at the Dom, however, it was beautiful outside. Sunshine like that had been rather rare so I decided to take advantage of it and make another long walk.

Grab your map here and let's go!

Dom edition auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen

This was taken toward the back of the Dom, near the Museum Ludwig. As always, you can click on the photo for a larger image.

The Dom reflected in the windows of the museum.

Museum Ludwig. If it was still raining, I might be writing about the museum instead of this walk.

DB train leaving the main station. Someone is definitely NOT going to like seeing this one.

The Dom as viewed through a sculpture on Heinrich Boll Platz.

Just as I'm about to cross the bridge I turned around to take a photo of the Museum Ludwig. Lo and behold, storm clouds. Maybe I should have visited the Museum instead.

Eastward across the Hohenzollernbrücke. (German word of the day: brücke = bridge.)

One last check of the weather.

You'll find padlocks all along the fence on the bridge. Each padlock has the name of a couple etched on it. I guess the railroad hates this but it is almost impossible to stop.

A couple more photos of the bridge and Dom before heading into the Rhine Park.

This might have been better filed under another entry. I found this while desperately seeking a public restroom in and around the Rhine Park. (Eventually successful although it took a long time!) This Coupe de Ville was parked outside a theater next to the park. It still has California plates on there as well as EU plates in the window. These seem big in the States. Here they are gargantuan.

The only photo I actually took in the middle of the park. I think I was still desperatley searching for a bathroom at this point.

This is the Kölner Seilbahn. It will take you across the Rhine River from the Zoo (westside!) to the Rhine Park on the eastside.

I think I see old naked people. Yep, the Seilbahn lifts you right up over the Claudius Therme. While approaching the Seilbahn enterance, I saw a sight that might be burned in the back of my memory for a long, long time.

I don't know these people but it sure looks like the parents are having a blast.

And finally, the approach to the eastside of the Rhine across the appropriately named Zoobrücke, and good ol' terra firma.