Monday, 29 May 2017

A day in Cologne

On the second full day of our trip to Düsseldorf, we caught a train to nearby Cologne. This was to be my sixth visit to the city, and my second one this year. The journey time between the two cities is around 35 minutes, and on both the outward and return journeys we travelled on one of the double-decker RE (Regional Express) trains. We also managed to get seats on the upper deck on both occasions.

I do enjoy travelling by train, and the extra height meant we had excellent views of the surrounding countryside. As our train turned towards the right, in the direction of the River Rhine, we could see the imposing bulk of Cologne’s magnificent cathedral towering above the city. Our journey into Cologne Hauptbahnhof, took us across the Rhine by means of the Hohenzollern Bridge; a structure I have walked back and forth across more times then I care to remember, en route to the exhibition halls which make up Köln Messe. We could see the Trade Fair complex as the train made its way towards the bridge.

We were in Cologne for a look round, and also to have a tour around a typical Kölsch brewery. Our tour of Brauerei Sünner was not scheduled until later in the afternoon, so this gave us plenty of time for a look around the city, and also to sample some Kölsch.

Kölsch is the local style of beer and it is to Cologne (Köln),  what Altbier is to Düsseldorf. Like Altbier, Kölsch is top-fermented and is a clear beer with a bright, straw-yellow hue. This gives it a similar appearance to other beers brewed mainly from Pilsner malt, such as Pilsners and other lager-style beers. It is warm fermented at around 13 to 21°C , before being conditioned by lagering at cold temperatures.

Kölsch is served in small, plain cylindrical glasses, which typically hold just 20 cl of beer; although some outlets will use 25 cl versions. To ensure customers have a fresh glass of beer for as long as they wish to continue drinking, the waiters, who appear to always be male, carry round a circular tray known as a Kranz, which has inserts designed to accommodate up to a dozen glasses, or Stangen. Kölsch waiters are known as "Köbes" (a word derived from “Jakobus”), and wear distinctive blue aprons.

The reason for the small  glasses is Kölsch is a beer designed to be drunk fresh. Leaving a newly poured glass standing for any length of time allows the beer’s condition to dissipate, and is not conducive to enjoying it at its best. I put this theory to the test yesterday, as I brought a couple of 500 ml cans of Kölsch back with me. Drinking the beer by the half-litre glass, definitely wasn’t the same as necking back two-fifths of this amount, but the beer was still enjoyable.

Our train deposited us at Köln Hauptbahnhof shortly before 11am. We made our way out of the northern entrance into the large piazza immediately below the cathedral. Most of us expressed a desire to visit this magnificent edifice, so we decided to split up and do this at our own pace. We agreed to meet up again around midday, at Gaffel am Dom, a large beer-hall, which describes itself as a Brauhaus. This establishment is just around the corner from the station, and is a place I know well from previous business trips to Cologne.

Matt and I had a brief look inside the cathedral (Dom), although several more adventurous members of our party climbed the 533 steps to enjoy the view from the top of the south tower. I had done this back in 1976, during my first visit to Cologne, and seeing as I was 40 years younger back then, I decided there was no need for me to repeat the climb! For those who haven’t been to Cologne though, a visit to the city’s cathedral is a “must”. Further information can be obtained by clicking on the link here.

After a look around some of the shops, and a welcome cup of coffee, we met back up with our companions; most of whom were already ensconced in Gaffel am Dom. We joined them at one of the “posing tables”, and proceeded to quaff a few glasses of Gaffel Kölsch. Gaffel is a soft, easy-drinking beer which slips down easily. Matt much preferred it to the rather bitter-tasting Altbier we had been drinking in Düsseldorf.

We weren’t due at Brauerei Sünner until 4.15pm, so still had several hours to kill. We decided to make for Brauerei zur Malzmühle at Heumarkt; an old established brew-pub at the far end of the Alter Markt. This was a pub I had never managed to get to on previous visits to Cologne, so I was pleased with the opportunity to go there this time round.

There was another reason though, to head for this particular pub and that was because it was on the direct underground/tramline which would take us to Sünner. Cologne was looking at its late spring best as we made our way through the Alter Markt, passing the diners sitting out at tables in front of the many restaurants and bars, and when we reached Malzmühle, it didn’t disappoint either.

Housed in a rather functional-looking building, replacing the original structure which was destroyed in World War II, Malzmühle was every bit the traditional German beer house on the inside. With high ceilings and plenty of wood panelling, we made for the two tables at the far end of the room. One of the thoughtful waiters came over and fixed a “bridge” in between the two, thereby joining them and enabling us to all sit together.

Malzmühle Kölsch was quite a bitter variant on the style, and like the beer we’d just enjoyed at Gaffel, slipped down rather to easily. The majority of the party ate there, but Matt and I resisted, having bought a roll each from the Yorma’s outlet, at the station. (Yorma’s are a chain which sells good quality, baguettes, hot snacks and decent coffee. A Yorma’s outlet can be found at most major railway stations in Germany, and are somewhere to grab a decent and low-cost snack). We were also aware that our tour leader had booked us into the restaurant at Brauerei Sünner, so didn't want to be consuming  two large meals in a row.

Being slightly away from the main tourist areas, Brauerei zur Malzmühle was very much a local’s pub, but we were nevertheless made very welcome. (I think the staff were glad of our presence during what seemed a slack period). A couple of photo’s of former US President, Bill Clinton, hanging in the room next to us, were pointed out to us. They date from his time in office. Somehow I can’t imagine Donald Trump calling in for a drink, especially as he’s teetotal.

I asked the waiter about the on-site brewery; which he confirmed was behind the pub. I didn’t press him to show us, as I imagine it was off limits to customers anyway. Besides, we were due to visit a much larger brewery later that afternoon.

We drank up, paid our tab and then walked across the road to the tram stop. A quick journey across the Rhine, via the bridge which is also shared with vehicle traffic, saw us on the opposite bank. We walked over to the riverside, and spent 40 minutes or so admiring the view of Cologne and watching the boats sailing up and down the river. Matt and I also ate our lunch.

After, we walked back to the tram stop to make our way to Brauerei Sünner. Our visit there is worthy of a post of its own, so I will draw this narrative to an end.


Anonymous said...

The mark of a good blog post is the inclusion of a Yormas outlet.

I was going to tell you that my son and I yomped up Cologne Cathedral in record time two years ago, but I don't like to post (Ulm Dom is MUCH harder).

Paul Bailey said...

It was Matt's friend who introduced us to the delights of Yorma's, and a visit there is now an obligatory part of any trip to Germany - even if it is just to pick up a cup of coffee! Disappointingly the company doesn't have an outlet in Düsseldorf, but I knew the location of the one in Cologne; having walked past it twice daily during March's business trip to the city.

The spire of Ulm Dom is also higher than the twin spires of Cologne, and I think I'm right in saying it's the highest such structure in the world.