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While I have previously mentioned that Köln is massive, I must clarify that for all its massiveness it is also dense, sort of like a big bar of gold, or Donald Trump’s head. Quite a lot of tourist attractions have been neatly packed into the one convenient Fußgängerzone – such as the cathedral, the shopping quarters and an assortment of museums – and this is rather fortunate, because public transport services are absolutely abysmal.

For the last two days I braved the city on foot, which was tolerable at the time but left me exhausted and had incapacitated my right leg by this morning. I felt as though my ankle had been glued to the ground while the rest of me was bungee-jumping off a cliff. I woke early this morning with the deep determination to limp posthaste to the Hauptbahnhof and seek an elusive map of public transport zones. The precise reason for my waking early was a failing in my apartment’s air conditioning unit which necessitated repairs by a cohort of workmen who looked distinctly like a geriatric edition of the Super Mario Bros. The air conditioning flaw itself was barely noticeable, but the true hardship was that the repairs simply had to be performed at 8 o’clock in the morning, requiring me to be out of bed at 7 and out the door within the hour. While the average German day would start at about 6:30 anyway, this sort of timeframe is nightmarish to a holidaying student in summertime, who would rather cling to his bed like a sloth to a tree. Nonetheless I did what I had to do, and, as I later discovered, Mario did indeed repair the air conditioning to a high standard.

To return to the purpose of my quest this morning – trying to find information on transport in Köln is like trying to find the lyrics in “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The whole system seems to have been deliberately laid out (or not laid out at all, actually) to be as off-putting to tourists as possible. I wanted to know if, like in London, there were different train fares and tickets for different travel zones within the city. I had previously tried to get information at one of the so-called “Travel Information Centres” in the train station, approaching a friendly looking gentleman wearing an “Information” T-shirt behind a desk labelled “Information” that sat beneath a sign showing “Information”, only to be told that he did not in fact have any information at all and could just give me a numbered ticket to wait in line for 20 minutes until I was called forward to get the information I sought from the real information people somewhere else in the centre. I was, believe it or not, unimpressed.

So today I found a different “Travel Information Centre” and queued for the requisite 20 minutes to get a 10-minute chat with a stern, humourless lady behind a sizeable computer and a sizeable pair of spectacles, who let me pontificate at length about all of my difficulties in English before simply saying, “You have forgotten to say which language. Is it English? No English. I am German. Please speak German.” (I am paraphrasing, but only very slightly.) The upshot of all of this effort was that I did eventually find out what I needed to know – there is a single weekly ticket that can be got to give tram, train and bus access to all of zone 1B which covers the entire city of Köln. It is that easy. (Almost as easy, I would think, as it would be to print it on the back of a map or a transport pamphlet like London, but instead it is restricted to word-of-mouth like some Dark-Ages legend, so to anyone planning a visit to Köln – I am sorry, but just be prepared for this sort of absurdity. It gets better.)

All of the above meant that my day of sightseeing actually began at around 11 o’clock, the same time as all other days. I snacked outside on (very expensive but very delicious) ice cream and hot chocolate at Café Reichard, a decades-old excellently-reputed confectionery establishment directly in front of the cathedral. From there I made good use of my new hard-earned weekly ticket to take the U-Bahn (noisy underground train) to the Mediapark outside the Fußgängerzone, wherein lies Köln’s only proper cinema, the Cinedom. Complete with 14 screens, popular Italian eatery and films from Germany and abroad, it is a must-see for all. Being the unmitigated coward that I am I declined to see a German film I had never seen before and instead went to a dubbed “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, which I had already experienced in English. It was a highly entertaining and relaxing way of (hopefully) improving my German without being totally clueless as to what was going on (if one likes the film, then one is even on the watch for one’s favourite quotes to see just how well they translate) and again I would recommend it to any student of the language. The only downsides were as follows: asking for “kleine Popcorn und Coke” lands you with an American interpretation of “small” that would better suit an ogre; there are no much-needed holsters in the arms of the cinema seats for drinks and snacks; and a 2+ hours-long film costs more than a 1.5 hours-long film because it is “extra long” by German standards, even though 120 minutes is standard movie length in England and Ireland. It isn’t like the paying customer has bribed the director of the film in question in a deliberate attempt to upset the German cinemas with a bulkier runtime.

It was in general a very satisfying day, generally more relaxed and peaceful than the other days I’ve spent here, but a day that certainly highlights the need for good knowledge of public transport and comfortable footwear. Tomorrow I go in search of some soft, well-soled runners, and despite my best intentions I am actually optimistic about it.

Auf Wiedersehen,
2. August 2017