In this fast rhythm towards my next assignment, I could -luckily- add a day to start the discovery of Cologne.
I checked out that morning from the Jam hotel in Brussels. A friend who helped in the Brussels part of a project was kind enough to pick me up and bring me to the Brussels Midi station. The Thalys train brought me from Brussels to Cologne at record speed. With one hour and 45 minutes, the world is really getting smaller! Even with seven minutes delay at departure. Another leg in the Trans Europe and Asia Project completed! I had no real plan on how to spend the day here, but I remembered from the only other time I was here that the railway station was very close to the Dom. So at least one must-see was for sure on the plan.
Wifi, Border Police In Schengen, and Wurst
Thalys provides internet on the train but forgot to extend its services with a German carrier. As soon as we crossed the Belgian-German border, I had to rely on 3G again. The crossing of the border was the moment that a police task force walked on the train, asking for the papers of all people. Oh no, sorry, only from those looking a bit darker skinned than me. In New York this would be called racial profiling, here it’s business as usual apparently, given the apathetic look the officer gave me when I asked him about this.
When I walked down the stairs of the platform, the first food shop I saw was Currywurst Express. German prejudices: confirmed. An automated luggage system helped me to get rid of my way too heavy backpack and I was on my way to the city.
On my way towards the Rhine, my phone alerted me of an open wifi network. The city of Cologne has installed WiFi in this part of town. As a digital nomad and in a permanent search for connectivity, this came as a welcome surprise. The Wifi signal was active in parts of the older town. Where there was coverage, the connection allowed me to consult mail, work online on documents, and keep my files in sync.
As I’m partially developing content while traveling, having good connectivity is key in my existence. One of the things I’m figuring out on this trip is how far I can rely on my roaming with my US provider combined with the local (free) internet, before having to take a local sim card. Since I’m on Skype (and WhatsApp), the fact I have a US number doesn’t mean people have to dial internationally to get in touch. And finding a city hotspot is always a big help. I’m getting caffeine poisoning from getting my wifi in coffee shops slowly. The first professional risk of being a digital nomad: too much coffee.
I was seeking a unique postcard for someone I wanted to send cool attention from Cologne. The tourist shops (and the information center, another tourist shop in disguise) only had the ultimate cliche postcards. A small rain drove me to the Museum Ludwig, where I ended up in the gift store in the hall of the museum. I spent way more time there than needed to evade the rain. The cool books, the posters, and the postcards. Yes, the postcards. If I wasn’t at the point where budget is a real issue, I’d be going crazy in this store. But now, I am limited to this one card.
The Romano-Germanic Museum brings together artifacts from the early days when the Romans ruled this part of the world, having the Rhine as one of the frontiers with their enemies. I’ll have to come back and do the 2-day program to discover the Roman history here in Cologne, as time was too short to pay the German friends of Asterix and Obelix a visit. (Missed the reference? There’s a humoristic French cartoon series “Asterix” about a Gaul who fights the Romans some 2000 years ago. – and since their books are translated in about all languages in the world, go and get you one of the stories of Asterix and Obelix!)
The Hohenzollern Bridge is becoming world-famous for the love locks: This bridge, bringing trains and pedestrians over the Rhine, carries the weight of hundreds of thousands of locks attached. They each are to represent the love of two people, who forget to remove the lock when they break up.
On my way back to the Cathedral (the DOM), I was stopped by an older man, who asked me not to walk on a square. Kinda weird, as crossing the square was the fastest way back, and since no gates or so were installed. Turns out that the square is the roof of the concert hall and that when people walk (or skate) on it, this can be heard in the concert hall. So when they play or rehearse, they have a couple of people on the roof to direct traffic around.
I’ve walked in the center and watched the Dom from all angles. She pretty much makes Cologne what it looks like today. And it tells you where the dozens of tour guides from the Viking ships are heading for.
After this quick visit to Cologne, Berlin will be the next stop on this trajectory. The night train “Night City Express” operated by the German Railroad (Deutsche Bahn) should get me there by the morning. Not willing to go and party till 11 pm, I decided to finish some work in the Starbucks in the main station of Cologne, waiting for my train.
Cologne, I had been here before for a meeting a while back. This was the first time I took (a little bit of) time to discover the central part of it. And I agree that there is no way I can have any deep opinion after just 1 day. But I liked spending time here, the center, partially car-free, is a great place to be inspired by what goes on. Not my next city to live in, but when I pass through and can create some time, I’ll further discover!
Koen Blanquart is a strategy consultant, journalist, and author.
Wanderlust is one of his driving factors, and he shares his travels here on Boarding Today. Koen is also the skipper of SV Bagabonda, a sailing vessel making a slow circumvention of the globe..
Koen recently published a book on how to manage a remote team: The Suitcase Office.