Cologne (Köln), part 1

Whenever I approach security at airports I get nervous. It’s not that I (knowingly) have anything to hide that will set off the alarm, or trigger a positive on the body-scanner, it’s just that it tends to happen anyway – as if I have an alien implant near my nether regions that had been inserted during some memory-erased abduction. Even at Stansted, where security is not quite at the paranoid levels of Gatwick or previously-mentioned German airports, I was stopped, recalled. Here we go again, I thought. Admittedly, though, I’d made the classic error of not removing my belt before the metal detector. So, belt removed along with shoes I gingerly entered the bodyscanner, then after the scan completed I noticing the woman supervisor give a muted sigh. I never get used to the pat-downs, and perhaps never will, frankly, when they’re done by a man – who I’m sure does not particularly like having to do them. I remonstrated, pointlessly of course. He pointed out on a graphic where the machine had detected this hidden alien implant, or whatever it was that’s undetectable by hand or visual inspection (though at least it didn’t get to that stage). I did actually consider the other possibility – that the bodyscanners are not as accurate as the manufacturer or airport authority claim them to be. But given how often they have gone off (it happened at Cologne) perhaps I should stick with the alien implant theory. After all, if they really were so inaccurate and unreliable there’d be more complaints, resulting in the damn things being recalled. Right?

After an only slightly delayed flight I reached the airport train station, where I was possibly robbed of an airport-priced bottle of orange drink from my rucksack holder by someone speaking to me very fast in a language I didn’t recognise. He sounded in a desperate state so would have anyway been welcome to the drink.

I should have known this but, in my tired and slightly stressed state, I didn’t feel certain. I nevertheless got on the train, asking the first passenger I passed. “This the train for Cologne central, isn’t it?” He didn’t understand the question but, fairly sure I was on the right train, I said “It’s OK. Don’t worry.” But it turns out the locals tend not to use the Anglicised name but know it as Köln, which perhaps explains why it’s difficult to find on a large-scale map, compared to neighbouring Düsseldorf. Anyway there was the automated announcement that it was the next stop, but then the guy approached me after the driver had made an announcement that the train announcement was wrong, to give me the English version. Confused? I was for a moment. People hate to have failed to be of help, as I regret putting someone in that position to fail, and so here was a chance to resolve that mutual unease. But then the driver repeated in English, so neither of us had needed to say anything in the first place. I just had a case of first-journey dubiety.

I exited Köln Hbf into a very warm early June night.

The old (central) town is not known for being cheap, but I got a reasonably priced hotel it seemed. Requested a late check-in, got a set of instructions that even the proprietor admitted seemed complicated. Standing outside the hotel, I was confronted with three unmarked buttons and two intercoms. I stared at them thinking it must be obvious which one to press, and that in my tired state I just wasn’t seeing it. A familiar scenario though. But amazingly the door buzzed open. My presence was detected.
He gave me the option: the large room with outside facilities, or small with en-suite. I chose the small room. On entering I wondered if I should have asked for specifics. Perhaps there are people of restricted growth who might have felt comforted in such extraordinarily small dimensions.

Still, I’d made it. The town that held so much promise!

An extract from Sin Cities: an alternative exploration of Europe.  SC US