I’m sweating profusely in Dortmund; I’ve wandered into a sun-kissed inferno and the only panacea is a ridiculous volume of water, *washed down* with Grand Marnier and Jack Daniel’s. The vexing humidity aside, the city is most pleasing. Architecturally, I’d describe it as the metropolitan equivalent of a comfy deckchair.
The A&O Dortmund Hauptbahnhof is a two-minute stroll from our bus stop at Hauptbahnhof. It’s your generic A&O, a bit sterile and impersonal but with all the expected mod cons, including a bar and a smoking area. And that’s what’s most important, really. Classy €4.99 bourbon is subsequently sourced from Aldi and then guzzled in the park, the heat beating down so intensely that the locals luxuriate shirtless in fountains, a kind of La Dolce Vita (1960) tribute sans Anita Ekberg (but with beer). The relaxed milieu is illustrated by a static city-centre tram experiencing a peculiar metamorphosis – construction workers slowly modify it … into a pub. It will be something.
We impulsively opt to do the Borussia Dortmund stadium tour. This is enjoyable initially, but as the tour is in German, we gradually lose interest in proceedings, escaping to the pub half-way through. I don’t wish to listen to a ten-minute monologue about the intricacies of a changing room – in any language.
My shoes – deteriorating for some time – then finally fall apart; I purchase a new pair for €15. I don’t expect them to last a week for they seem to be cobbled together with Pritt Stick. Shortly afterwards in Netto supermarket, a woman rudely skips in front of me in the queue. I call her a ‘rat’. She scowls. We then head into a transvestite bar out of curiosity. It seems quite tame for only the bar guy is oddly attired, and not extremely so – he’s wearing high heels … and a scarf (it’s still blisteringly hot). Slightly disappointing.
We arrive here on a train with too few windows. It’s a furnace, a pool of sweat by my feet. What I do notice is that no matter how much I drink, I don’t seem to have the need to pee. It must be the incessant sweating. Anyway, Cologne cathedral. To once again recycle cliche, it takes the breath away. And it really does. Cologne’s de facto primary landmark, the beast towers above sunbathers scattered along the River Rhine, an overwhelming structure dominating the square below and surrounding suburbs. I don’t go inside, though. Exteriors have always interested me more than the insides of buildings. It mostly stems from the fact I hate paying for entry. Perhaps the ‘Kölner Dom’ was free. I’m not sure, but I’m content with the delightful scenes of tiny figures scurrying about under its spires.
The No. 16 U-Bahn from Hauptbahnhof to Appellhofplatz and then a No. 3 to Piusstrasse and we’re right at the door of Weltempfänger Backpacker Hostel & Café, an intimate lodging nestled amongst some of the city’s bohemian bars and cafes. Swing music emanates from an apartment across the road from the hostel. A man with his top off dances around his living room, occasionally screaming profanities. Ominously, an air rifle hangs on the wall. It’s all very disconcerting. An evening of Schnapps, sushi, and shisha kicks off, which culminates in falling from my stool in a cocktail bar in town and being picked off the floor by a bloke who looks like Eric Cantona.
Cologne walking tour.
Walking tours usually bore me, mainly because I often read up about a city’s history prior to arriving. This was pretty dull, but rather amusing for one reason: a bloke I went to Primary School with was on it. We exchanged pleasantries and stories; we had last conversed in 1996 so plenty of topics were discussed. And why was I amused? Because I pissed in a bottle of Fanta in 1992 and he drank it unawares. To this day he doesn’t know he downed my urine. True story. I feel bad about it now, but in retrospect I was only a child. Boys will be boys.
A special thanks to the U-Bahn(s).
The U-Bahn, that underground – sometimes briefly *above ground* – train network efficiently, even elegantly, zigzagging through city sewers, is a treasure. I can spend an entire day on there, a wannabe Ninja Turtle in a sweater and jeans, pedantically figuring out the fastest route from a museum to a top-rated pub, the anticipation of what awaits increasing by every minute I lurk about in the darkness. More than this, though, I hate walking. Dear U-Bahn, you save me hours of boredom and unwanted extraneous activity. Dortmund and Cologne had me at U-Bahn, and if I could design my own city, it would start with a batch of trains and tracks, and a digging team.
Bonn was a one-hour train ride away. Formerly the West German capital, it’s a charming city, a sort of laid-back semi-paradise peppered with cheap booze, rickety trams, a large population of pigeons, a Lidl, an Aldi, tall voluptuous women, and a gargantuan statue of Beethoven, for the city was Ludwig van’s birthplace. After a stroll around the city centre and a stumble upon Beethoven’s house, we spend the majority of the day sat in a Turkish bar discussing the decline of the Ottoman Empire.
If I had nothing else to do I’d retire and live out my days there on a hotel balcony, smoking shisha and sipping on piña coladas whilst Beethoven’s 9th symphony blares out of an adjacent boombox. One day.
Goodbye, North Rhine-Westphalia.