German west from Korean east

Germany: Koln

13.12.98 I can’t believe I am in Germany, Koln, that I’m here at my friend’s Sandra’s kitchen table. It seems strangely awesome – things here are as I imagined, the houses, the cute streets, the cars and the people. On the subway I was standing next to two couples, one couple were pashing next to me, very loving!! and another couple were pierced everywhere and dressed in really different clothes. It struck me as being radically different from Korea. It would have seemed different coming from NZ but having been in Korea – WOW – What a change!

From Seoul to Germany took 13 hours. We flew over China, Mongolia, Siberia and Eastern Europe. It was such a long way – Siberia or Russia was pretty amazing, it was a clear day so O could see all the way down. It appeared desolate – so flat and I could see no houses or agriculture or roads, hardly even trees – It was all white and covered with snow – from time to time it looked like someone had combed the snow. Like a heavenly Giant had a comb and just stroked here and there with it – like the rake marks in a Japanese sand garden.

I caught a train from the Frankfurt airport to Koln using my well practised sentence of German. Sandra met me at the train station in Koln. Despite the huge crowd on the platform, I managed to find her. From the train, we caught the subway to her flat and started catching up.

With a cup of tea we ate a yummy ginger biscuit and then she fixed me a cheese and tomato roll. Yumbo! – Dutch Gouda and tomatoes with a bit of basil on German bread!  That meal was one of the nicest meals I have had in a long time. And it was the simplest things that made it like heaven to me. Perhaps i should buy some herb seeds before I go back, basil and something, mmm fresh basil – the cheese was just divine as well. I went to be early as I had been up 23 hours, but I could only sleep til 3am! After a bit of dozing I’m up now having a yummy strong dark coffee and toast with jam. Mmm. I’ve changed my mind about brown bread – after Korean bread, there is nothing like it, this is bliss. I am so happy.

I realise how much I have picked up Korean ways, I am giving things with two hands, I bow my head when I enter shops and it felt strange to have my shoes on inside. Hmm I’m sure I’ll go back to my old habits…

(written with hindsight…) Wow what an impact western society had on me! It was as if,  for the first time, I had had my cultural perspective slightly dimmed and the when the light came back on it, I got a shock. I stared at people and things that looked so different to me again – yet weren’t that strange from what I would have seen at home in NZ. Well the city was very different of course – Nothing like Koln anywhere really, certainly not little new NZ.  

I remember this same shock when I arrived in Russia after all that time in Asia, then again in London. It’s like a jolt to you that your view of ‘normal’ was clouded, the realisation that there are so many cultural differences in the world, and they are all right. These perspectives informed by so many factors – but for me the most visible things were an inherently-Christian, yet outwardly-secular informed society and greater equality (..and respectful?) male female relationships.

While church was not a foreign place to me as a child, I was never made to go, sometimes I went to Sunday school, but stopped when it got boring and never bothered much again.  But even so, in our society we celebrate Easter and Christmas, Sundays were marked by many things being closed or unavailable. These were things you can’t rely on in so many cultures.  Of course, there are other special days with their own traditions.

The other really big thing is a different relationship between women and men in the west – more companionable, equal and much more demonstrably affectionate. Hand holding, kissing, open love.  The impact this has on life and how, as an observer you can see the ripple this has. 

The food, buildings and the cars were also big differences. I rave about the food as if every meal is the best, yet it was simple, probably nothing special. I had been starved of cheese and our western flavour and I had gotten used to pickled vege, rice, stews and heavily spiced foods.

The day is a little glum – it’s windy, cold and cloudy, but it is winter and I’m going to dress up warmly and check out Koln, I know I can’t see much of Germany but I can see this city – right?

I’m in Sandra’s University, the largest in Germany with 70,000 students! The students look just like they do at home, all different, a bit slobby and not dressed up and not pretentious. I guess Korean students are the different ones really when you come to think of it.  They are probably the only ones that dress up so much for uni – maybe in America. It’s like every day is a fashion show for so many of them. Is this the go-to-uni-and-get-married, screw-the-education phenomena?

Yesterday we went sightseeing around the city, we went through some really old streets and lots of Christmas markets and also a Roman museum. Funny place it was the foundations of a Roman building in the 2nd century, many of the artefacts had come out of there seemingly unscathed. Very interesting. The cathedral here is really beautiful – stunning. It’s the biggest Cathedral I have ever seen and the gothic detail is amazingly ornate.  We haven’t gone in yet, but I will. Koln was heavily bombed in the War by the Allies – but the cathedral was spared – a twist of fate – or were they really good at avoiding it? It was one of the only buildings in the central city that wasn’t bombed – in fact it was left untouched while everything around it was destroyed. And yet these days with all our modern GPS technology and mapping our soldiers make so many “mistakes”. Yeah right, I’ll swallow that one again.  There are postcards you can buy that show pictures of complete demolitions – except the cathedral.

Koln Cathedral after the 1945 allied bombing on Koln

We also saw gates, walls and towers left over from when the city was enclosed. I can’t stop looking at people’s noses.  Germans, well us Europeans I guess, have such big, pointy noses compared to the Asians, I’m really noticing it, I never did before. I know it’s because I’ve spent so much time in Korea. Just a stupid observation I have made. Last night we bought a whole lot of different kinds of beer and went over to Sandra’s boyfriend’s flat. He was lovely, he’s in a band and he played us some music.  He smokes pot but not cigarettes, but last night it was beer instead. I still have to go to a German pub.  I have to do that. Did I miss my opportunity because I piked out on Saturday night?

15.12.98 I have a big German cheese zit on my chin due to the copious amounts of cheese I have been consuming. Yesterday, I wandered around and went to a park near the University. It was great to get into a bit of nature again. There were hardly any people out, so it was really peaceful. The chocolate factory was closed, so we ended up ambled around the older districts of town. It’s just so beautiful, so old and ornate – the buildings are so detailed. I always wonder why we don’t put any detail into our buildings these days? All our buildings are crappy compared to these.

It’s great to see Sandra and hang out together. We stopped at a pizzeria on the way home and I had the most divine pizza ever. Ever! Maybe it was because I’d been starved of good pizza for 6 months or maybe it really was the best god damn pizza ever!  We also had it with some homemade bread and a beautiful salad, lots of cheese, tuna, ham artichokes and lots of really delish yuuuuummmmmmmy dressing. Coupled with wine it was just the best meal. Yum, I ate too much though and I had to lie down for a while holding my stomach as if it would speed up digestion.

The Christmas markets are also amazing, lots of really great handicrafts and delicious food. We went to the Christmas night market and drank gluvein (hot mulled wine) from mugs in the Cathedral Square.  Everywhere sold it, so we could browse with our mugs, restocking when we wanted more warmth and spice in our souls. What a wonderful thing to drink at Christmas.

Later we went to a German pub, a kind of stereotypical German hofbrauhaus.  It was the Fruh Brewery House. They have people called cobersse /kerbers/ who come around with tall, thin, nice fine glasses filled with cold fresh beer. They are, I’m told, not to be mistaken for waiters. There’s about 5 cm of head in the glass (a kiwi might be forgiven for feeling the tide was out on their beer).  Once we started, our cobersse never let our glasses get empty, so obligingly, we kept on drinking. The place closed at 12 so we left and caught the train home.

After a great sleep in, I pronounce myself completely over the jetlag.

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Posted on February 1, 2012, in Europe, Self awareness, Social observation, Travel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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