European road trip – day 8 – Cologne, and Düsseldorf

Today was a pretty chill day: just Cologne and Düsseldorf. The nice thing about the autobahn is that the speed limit is unlimited! Literally you could drive the car at over 200 km/h and nobody would care. I accelerated up to 218 km/h or so, but at some point the steering wheel shakes a lot, and as the speed increases, the more I feel I would lose control of the car at any moment. It’s kind of fun, but not that safe at all.

Cologne (Köln)

Last time I went to Cologne, I celebrated the Carnival and didn’t really see or do anything else. This time, I spent a half day checking out the chocolate museum and have a few beers.

The museum chronicles the history of chocolate, from the cultivation of the cocoa bean, to the industrial machines that produce the chocolate. Visitors can even order their own custom chocolate bar! They pick the kind of chocolate (white, dark, etc.) and can choose a multitude of condiments too.

I honestly was more impressed with the industrial chocolate making machinery more than the chocolate itself. As a graduate of mechatronics engineering, I can certainly appreciate the engineering behind these machines. The movements of each component is precisely controlled to perfectly pick up and drop pieces of chocolate or to pour liquid chocolate into molds, and the subsequently release them.

Afterward, we met up with a friend of mine who decided to move to Germany from America. He was so interested in Germany that he earned his C1 level in the Goethe Insitut examinations (it’s one level below native speaker), and when talking to him, I could always tell his future was in Germany. He found a job working at Deloitte and his German is so good that he doesn’t even speak English at work! Even I can’t do that with my German.

Next up: the bar. You can’t go to Cologne and not try the local brew, Kölsch. Germans outside of Cologne assert that Kölsch shouldn’t be considered a real beer, and honestly, I find it to be just okay. It’s not great and not terrible. A unique part of the Cologne pub culture is that if the waiter sees you with an empty glass, he will automatically serve you another one, regardless of whether you want one or not. The sign that you’re done is to put a coaster over the glass.

We walked around town a bit and went to probably the biggest landmark in town: the Cologne Cathedral. This Cathedral is the second tallest church in Europe (the first is in Ulm, also in Germany), with a height of 157m. It’s hard to imagine the size, but most of the buildings in Cologne aren’t very tall so this building appears to tower over the skyline.

Düsseldorf

Next, we drove to Düsseldorf. All we did there was walk a bit around town, but the streets just kind of look like other cities nearby, like Cologne, except Cologne has a giant cathedral to look at. We did come across a small celebration in the street though. I’m not completely sure, but I think it’s for the massive Carnival celebration that was gonna happen in late February.

The fun started later that night though. We were looking to get some dinner and went to a local pub. It was Friday night and the place was packed – so you can be pretty sure this place is good. Normally, you’d just walk in and sit at any free table – there’s nobody to show you to your seat like in America. There was nothing free anywhere.

A group of Germans signaled to us that we could join them and they’d make space for us. I politely told them that it was okay and we could wait, but they started shifting over so we ended up joining them. We chatted with them over drinks and they turned out to be super fun people!

A older couple were having beers with their son in law and his friend until we joined (they were drunk already when we showed up). They were so happy to chat with us and kept telling us how awesome we were for visiting Düsseldorf. One guy kept telling us in his German accent how “North Rhine-Westphalia is the most open-minded place in all of Germany”, how he grew up in Bavaria near Allgäu, but can never go back there because Düsseldorf is just so amazing, and that we should live here permanently.

Germans when they’re drunk, really like speaking English. One of them kept getting stuck on words and he’d ask their friends what the word was in English. I’d translate the words for him each time and eventually one of their friends literally just told him, “don’t ask us, ask him! He knows all the words!” They were super impressed by my German and it’s a pretty great feeling to know that my German is good enough to have these conversations with locals.

My friend on the other hand, could more or less understand what was being said, even though he couldn’t speak the words. In fact, he had a bit of trouble with his pronunciation, to the point that not a single server in any pub we visited in Germany understood him when he tried to order a Radler. This bar was no exception either, and I couldn’t help myself but laugh at his misfortune 🙂

As we left, we jokingly said we’d meet again at the same place and same time to have beers together again. I gotta say that most Germans I’ve met have been pretty cool.

That’s all for now!

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