June 15th, 2006

me: wrong side of the mirror

Day 1: Nach dem spiel ist vor dem spiel

Who says girls don't like football?

The first day in Germany felt a bit like the first day in Prague, where the similarities to familiar things actually had the effect of being more disorienting than the differences. The winding streets, confusing intersections and serious-faced harried locals reminded me of London. Many of the shops were exactly the same, like The Body Shop. The advertising was blandly European, except that everything was in German. People stared at me quite openly. Presumably, there aren't many brown-haired, brown-eyed people in the city normally, let alone East Asians.

My initial impression of Köln (Cologne) wasn't quite what I expected from the Lonely Planet guidebook, which gushed over its architecture. Boxy commercial buildings surround the cathedral, which is breathtaking. Though we ducked down some quiet residential streets that were attractively cobblestoned, well-kept and rustic, I felt slightly disappointed. Of course, I was under the influence of sleep deprivation and dehydration and we didn't find the Rhine on the first day either. In addition, the hostel room managed to undercut my already low expectations. It was a loud ugly firetrap, being right next to the train station. The pervading stench of cigarette smoke and beer-drenched carpet were unanticipated bonuses. But hey, it was a roof and a bed, and since we were traveling as a couple, it was comparatively cheap even at tripled prices because of the World Cup.

We arrived in early afternoon and had Sion Kölsch (0.2 L portions, "Zwei Bier, bitte.") and cheese and bread for lunch while watching Ecuador (3) v Costa Rica (0) at Brauhaus Sion, a tourist trap with a nice projection TV. We ventured outside. Marco ate a Krakauer (wurst on a roll), essentially an exceptionally nice hot dog with an ill-fitting bun, from a stand near the big screen behind the cathedral where we watched the pathetic first half of the England (2) v Trinidad & Tobago game. Since we were both knackered, we returned to the Brauhaus Sion for my supper (Kartoffelsuppe, potato soup) and the second half of the catfight England game.

I picked up a few words: "Tschuss" (bye), "Entschuldigung" (excuse me, sorry), "Zaalen" (bill). The Germans seem to tack "Bitte" (please) onto the end of almost every polite sentence, even ones that aren't requests. "Geldautomat" (cashpoint) makes me think of geldings, which makes me think the machine is going to geld you. Which doesn't seem all that inaccurate. Sling your nuts onto this little metal shelf, son, and we'll take care of them for you. Oh, by the way, here's 50 Euros.