Overtom's weblog

COLOGNE  (5 may 2007)

When, my sweetheart and I leave Cologne Hauptbahnhof, the sight of numerous tourists seated behind pints of beer devouring chips and fried sausages fills us with panic. Is this what tourists are supposed to do in Cologne?

The walk to the hotel takes about half an hour, mainly along the embankments of the Rhine. It strikes us that we share the road with lots of cyclists, who pass us left and right, some at quite horrifying speeds. I had heard Germans were an orderly kind of people, but the way in which cyclists make use of the pavements here does not exactly confirm this notion.

After half an hour's walk, we leave our bags at the hotel and start exploring the surroundings.

The first thing that we spot are the Maibaume (Maypoles) -- cut-off young birches decorated with colourful ribbons. 


A piece of cardboard with the name of a beloved one is often attached to the Maibaum. We gather from what some friendly Germans tell us that the boy who erects the pole wants to express his feelings for the beloved one in this way.

We also see ads whose text make a less subtle impression on us than the aforesaid Maypoles, at least in Dutch it means: Geiz is horny. We wonder who Geiz may be.

The surroundings of the hotel turn out to be far less offensive than the tourist area we passed when leaving the station. The main street here is Severinstrasse. The neighbourhood used to be a working-class area, now mixed in with people of several nationalities. After walking for a while we sit down near the kerb in front of a baker's shop, where we are served generous wedges of raspberry cake.

generous piece of raspberry cake

We discover that the Germans use the word handy for a mobile telephone. There are several shops in the Severinstrasse where these 'handies' are sold.

At one such shop Tom finds a second-hand chess computer. In spite of the fact that a similar computer already forms part of the Overtom Collection, he decides to buy the gadget. After all, twenty Euro is not very expensive, and he can save the cost of transport, which is normally part of any eBay deal, 

chess computer bought at Severinstrasse

When we walk on, we see that the ad about Geiz is not the only text that looks somewhat strange to Dutch eyes (the one in the picture below means 'massage, Peter Fuck' ) ...

Lea with strange text

The end of the Severinstrasse is marked by an old city gate, which the couple from Amsterdam hardly dares to pass under: the rack of pointed poles hanging from above looks as if it can drop down any moment.

gate with threatening portcullis

We pass the old library in the Severinstrasse, whose door is provided with a text which betrays a sense of humour.

humorous text

The neighbourhood used to be dominated by Stollwerck Chocolate Works. The last remnant of the factory is the Bürgerhaus Stollwerck , where now a bar is located which is mainly frequented by thirsty locals.

Bürgerhaus Stollwerck

The area also houses a Chocolate Museum, which the couple from Amsterdam intends to visit later.

In the evening they dine in Severinstrasse at restaurant Em Scheffge, where they take the asparagus meal (asparagus in German called Spargel).


The asparagus soup is smooth and creamy. The taste of the ham harmonizes well with the taste of the asparagus.

Spargel mit Schnitzel

The main course consists of boiled potatoes, asparagus and pork 'Schnitzel'. Personally, I think think asparagus combines better with ham than with Schnitzel. My sweetheart also prefers asparagus with ham to the Schnitzel variety.

But of course, we are Dutch who believe low prices make up for a lot of misery ...

Spargel menu at Em Scheffge

-- 2nd May --

The next morning we find the most elaborate breakfast-buffet we have ever been offered at any hotel: half a dozen sorts of bread and a similar number of meat products, eggs not only fried but also boiled and scrambled, many sorts of fruit and fruit juice ... well, really too much to sum up here.

only small part of the breakfast at Dorint Novotel

My sweetheart has another surprise to offer. She has adorned her ears with the earrings I made for her a few days ago. All this gives the day a lot of added value. Good that the taxman has nothing to say about it, or I would be charged a lot of Value Added Tax ...

Lea's ear adorned with earring

We discover a shoe shine machine on the floor of the hotel where our room is situated. My sweetheart belies the theory that only men are interested in machines. It does not take long before she is seen walking around with shiny shoes.

shoe-shine-machine at Dorint Novotel

After breakfast, Severinstrasse is visited again. Works are going on which will eventually connect the area to the city underground railway. Large parts of the street have been broken up. The neghbourhood is being dominated by huge blue pipes which probably serve to convey groundwater to the Rhine.

blue pipe rising from underground

My sweetheart and I decide to visit the area beyond the old city gate. We agree to split up for half an hour and to meet again at Strauss, a kind of mini department store at Chlodwigplatz .

Tom expects to find an Internet café in the neighbourhood of Bonnerstrasse. And indeed, he does find a shop which advertises the possibility of visits to the cyber net. After patiently waiting his turn, he hears the shopkeeper say that none of the computers can access the Internet. Speaking about misleading advertisements ...

Internet café with no Internet

When Tom hurries back to meet his sweetheart, she turns out to have bought a fine-looking (and particularly cool) dressing-gown for him. Sorry madam, no picture this time ....

Severinstrasse crosses the existing underground railway via a viaduct. The street is broken up here to form a connection with the new underground line. 

newspaper dispenser with litter inside

We see a newspaper dispenser which is obviously broken and confirms the theory that people tend to throw litter in any receptacle they can find in the street.

Chocolate museum (with tropical greenhouse)

In the afternoon we decide to visit the aforesaid chocolate museum. Art made by artists who want to demonstrate how original they are doesn't mean a lot to me. I prefer to be surprised by nature which -- as the story goes -- is the one that should really teach us about art. What, for instance, surprises us is the large size of the chocolate fruit.

cocoa fruits

For instance, did you know that such impressive apparatus is needed to press cocoabutter?

cocoabutter press

Or did you ever hear that it was Stollwerck who invented the chocolate press with vertically-positioned rollers?

Lea and the chocolate press with vertically-positioned rollers

That the manufacture of chocolate is not necessarily a sweet affair is made clear by the following text:

That chocolate bunnies are used to brighten up the Easter days is probably not new to you. But at the mseum we see a great number of moulds for making chocolate piggies:

   moulds to make sweet piggies

We see how rectangular chocolates are made with the help of large plastic moulds. As soon as the chocolate has been poured from hot taps, the moulds are made to vibrate so that the confectionery acquires a flat shape before it solidifies.

chocolate in rectangular shapes

Some sorts of chocolate require the use of brandy (Weinbrand). The museum houses a vessel for about a thousand litres of this alcoholic drink:

huge brandy vessel

The Aztecs already used chocolate, which they called chocolatl and which tasted much bitterer than our chocolate. The museum houses an implement used by the Aztecs to grind the chocolatl:

Aztec chocolatl mortar

Initially, the consumption of chocolate in Europe was reserved to the upper classes. The chocolate jug shown below dates from around 1730:

chocolate jug (±1730)

The cup and saucer shown below also suggest they were used by the better-off:

cup and saucer used for cocoa (±1730)

At the museum, the subject of chocolate is shown in many of its aspects. Sometimes it is just a question of size:

two 'sweeties'

Have you ever heard of an automatic chocolate dispenser (in the shape of an elephant)?

automatic chocolate dispenser

By half past five, Lea and her boyfriend decide to call it a day. Outside, they see the chocolate museum is not far from an Olympic museum, where Lea once again demonstrates her skills as a living work of art:

  works of art

When we return to the hotel, our room appears to have been cleaned. We can see that that the hotel goes out of its way to please the guests. In order to prevent complaints that guests cannot find the end of the toilet paper roll, this has been marked in an ingenious way:

marking of end of toilet paper

-- 3rd May --

The following morning the couple from Amsterdam starts on a new outing.

They experience that traffic signs sometimes have little more effect than creating confusion.

picture puzzle ...

The sign prohibits pedestrians to pass. But it is completely unclear where the authorities want to prevent them from going. Perhaps over the fence?

Once again they see the blue pipe going through the area:

ubiquitous blue pipe

Opposite the Jülichsplatz there used to be a perfume factory named Farina. The factory is gone, but now there is a perfume museum, which is much smaller than the chocolate museum. 

We see the enormous collection of scent phials which the perfume composers used to create new combinations:

perfume organ

Many scents are made by distillation. Distillation is the process whereby a liquid is heated and turned into vapour; part of the vapour is liquefied again by cooling. The museum shows several distllation vessels:

distillation vessels

Of course, what the museum likes best is when visitors get their money out of their pockets before they leave and go home with one or more bottles of perfume, for which there is ample room at the museum.

all for sale

At the Kaufhof, the Dutch couple separate for half an hour. Lea tries to find presents for the children, while Tom explores electronics supermarket Saturn. The shop does contain large quantities of consumer electronics. But not even one chess computer is being offered.

lots of electronics, but no chess chess computers

The couple continues across the nearby flower market, where they can see that the well-known houseplant Impatiens bears the same name in Germany as in Holland, where it is called Vlijtig Liesje (literally: Diligent Lizzy):

diligent Lizzies

After they have walked for several hours, the couple wouldn't mind sitting down. Almost simultaneously they remark how strange it is that in such an enormous square as Neumarkt there is not even one bench:

Zwei Seelen, ein Gedanke ...

But fortunately, they find a Moroccan teashop, where they experience how refreshing tea of fresh mint leaves can be.

mint tea and pretty tea-set

But however pleasant it may be, they cannot possibly stay there all day, can they? A few minutes later they pass a 'Dutch' chip shop.

Antje's chips

The sunny weather does not really call for long walks. So when they see an array of fountains at the Hohenzollern-ring, it hardly takes any persuasion for them to sit down.

fountains at Hohenzollern-ring

Our travel guide informs us that the Hohenzollern-ring (just like the other 'Rings') has replaced the old city wall.

We continue our walk in the direction of Severinstrasse. We decide to have dinner at Ecco at the Kartäuserwall. The potato soup is of excellent quality.

potato soup in pretty bowl

The asparagus dish also looks quite pretty:

asparagus at Ecco

Personally, I think the asparagus could have been cooked somewhat longer. Now I found them too hard (and my sweetheart agreed - although she normally likes her vegetables al dente). In my experience, asperagus also tends to do unpleasant things to certain body odours, especially when they have been cooked too short -- which will not be everybody's cup of tea ...

Speaking about tea, the latte macchiato was excellent, and (exceptionally!) served in a glass with a handle, which allowed me to drink the coffee without burning my fingers.

latte macchiato - in cup with handle!

-- 4th May --

Our last day at Cologne!

One more time we visit Severinstrasse, which we consider great fun ... even though we don't understand why a shopkeeper should provide a window showing things for the disabled with the text Beginnen Sie den Tag mit einem Lächeln ... denn lächeln ist gesund!


The window of the baker's may be meant less humoristic, but is certainly something to cheer people up:

other shop-window

Unfortunately, Severinstrasse has some parts that are less cheerful, as can be seen below:

  less cheerful looking part of Severinstrasse

We pass a dealer in gems who has put outside his shop a large boulder whose inside consists of quartz crystals. This seems to be called a geode, but the couple from Amsterdam had never seen one of this size.

Lea with geode

Some monkeys seem to respond to the presence of mirrors in quite funny ways. If this true, the couple demonstrates their descent from primates:

A bit of reflection...

At one moment, the couple find themselves in a street called Vondelstrasse and wonder if Cologne has really named a street after a Dutch poet who in his own country has almost been forgotten.

named after Joost van den Vondel?

In the shopping are, some masked girls are handing out samples of a new kind of perfume. The couple likes the smell, but although Tom passes the girls several times, he receives no new samples.

masked perfume girls

Finally, at department store Karstadt Tom sees several chess computers. But with a collection of 287 (click) it is small wonder that none of them are new to him ...

chess computers at Karstadt - but no new ones

They hit upon a small square named after German Schlager singer Karl Berbuer, who seems to have made a few carnaval hits. The square is dominated by a fountain, which consists of a number of brass carnavalesque characters. Most of them have jointed arms, as the couple find out empirically. A fortunate circumstance is that the fountain is not spraying, so that Tom and his girlfriend can experiment with the metal limbs without getting wet.


Once again they come across a bar with a Dutch name:

Bistro Café 'Meisje'

Other locations also remind the Dutch couple of their own country, like this house painted in Mondriaan style:

house in Mondriaan style

Speaking about our country, at half past eight our train is leaving. We just have the time for a good meal, which we take at Spanish restaurant Mary Sol. When we enquire about the pronunciation of the word cerveza, the waiter appears not to be Spanish, but to originate from Iran.

Iranian waiter at Spanish restaurant

A friendly man. But the way his country is ruled at the moment does not exactly seem to fill him with joy.

But after dinner we have to go straight to the Hauptbahnhof. Through its roof we can still see vague images of the Dom (Cologne's cathedral).

Dom seen through station roof

On the train we experience how a moron with sunglasses is trying to make himself deaf. Every word issuing from his earphones can be understood from yards away. But the couple don't feel inclined to protect this cretin against himself. For if deafness is what he really wants ....

Besides, in this way we gradually get used to the madhouse named Amsterdam .

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