Unfiltered dispatches by our vagabond intern, Andrew Santis, who is studying and working abroad.
Cologne, Day 1
In the scorching 100° weather, I made my way from Frankfurt to Cologne. My biggest challenge of the day was dealing with the three bags I’ve been lugging around since the end of May. There’s a bag full of clothes I don’t need anymore, but finding a cheap delivery service is almost impossible. Nevertheless, I settled in my new home by 3pm and went out to explore the neighborhood for the rest of the day.
Like in Frankfurt, people were out in the park walking, bike riding, or taking in the sun. The most peculiar activity I saw happening was the numerous amounts of picnics and barbecues going on.The smell of meat cooking on a charcoal grill brought back memories of home, and the thought that millions of Americans were doing the same thing for the Fourth of July. The people here were ignorant to the fact they were engaging in such a significant, American, tradition.
To cool down from the afternoon heat, I went to the east side of the Rhine, sat on the bank, and put my feet in, similar to what a bunch of people were doing. Some went into the Rhine for a quick dip, while others were just lying on a towel and relaxing. I feel that many Germans have taken a carefree attitude towards life. I’m the complete opposite. I wonder if it’ll rub off on me by the time I leave Germany and affect my work style when I return to New York.
Cologne, Day 2
Today is only the second time I’ve experienced culture shock on this entire trip. The first was in Amsterdam when I visited the Red Light District. Today, it was finding myself in the middle of Cologne’s Gay Pride Parade. For those who don’t know, Cologne is Germany’s gay capital. I knew about the parade because of the research I did of each German city before I left. I didn’t know how culturally significant this parade was for Cologne, so I wasn’t prepared to be overwhelmed by the intensity of this over the top extravaganza. I’ve never been to New York’s Pride Parade, but if I had to guess I would say Cologne’s could give New York’s a run for its money. Even after the parade was over, the parade attendees flocked to the Old Town to keep the party going. Despite the fact I felt uncomfortable being in such an awkward situation, I had to put my own pride aside (no pun intended) and observe this cultural phenomena happening right in front of me.
Cologne, Day 3
The six-hour time difference between Central Europe and the East Coast of the U.S. didn’t stop me from staying up until 3am to watch the U.S. Women’s soccer team win the Women’s World Cup.
That said, it did affect my schedule today. I expected to wake up late, and I did. Noon, to be exact. I didn’t have anything to eat at home because all the supermarkets close on Sundays, so I had to get out of bed and head to the supermarket. This time, I remembered to bring two bags with me so I could bring my stuff home (here in Germany, you have to bring your own bags to the supermarket or pay a minimum 10¢ for one plastic bag). It’s a green initiative. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go sightseeing today because of the late wake-up time, but I didn’t care because I technically finished all the top sightseeing destinations already (with the exception of a few museums and parks).
My workday started at 4pm with a status call with my boss Brian. I had another call at 5pm, and another at 7:30pm. The call from last Friday which I had to postpone until today also happened. The call started at 10:15pm and lasted an hour and a half. This was the latest call I have had to date working from Germany. The previous six hours of work started taking a toll on me, and it was hard remaining 100 percent concentrated in the call. The end result of the call was a deliverable I had to complete by end of day Wednesday, which, according to one of the callers, Dave, put me at a disadvantage because it was practically Tuesday by the end of the call. This was something I didn’t even think about. It was interesting that Dave pointed this out because I think the call made us forget we were in different time zones and working from different countries. It made me wonder how bigger, global companies operate when employees in one country work have to work on a project with employees in another county. This definitely puts a twist on working remotely.
Cologne, Days 4 & 5
I’ve spent the last two days inside my Cologne apartment hard at work on my buyer persona project. Instead of boring you with the details about my thought process, I wanted to talk about crossing the street in Germany.
I’m a born and bred New Yorker. If there is one distinct characteristic of all New Yorkers it’s that they don’t care about the red palm or the green walking person on cross lights. New Yorkers cross the street when a car isn’t near enough to run them over. This is a cultural norm in New York. Here in Germany, it’s a crime.
Before I left New York, I learned that jaywalking is a very serious offense in Germany. How serious? I don’t want to find out. For now, no one has said anything to me when I cross the light when it’s red. Secretly, I make sure there are no police cars or traffic officers around so I don’t get in trouble. Both here and in Frankfurt, Germans wait patiently (in my opinion, too patiently) for the light to turn green before actually starting to cross the street. The weird thing is that there is a 10-second pause between traffic stopping and the light to actually change, and people don’t cross. Why wait if there’s not one vehicle moving? It amazes me how different one simple task, that of crossing the street, contrasts drastically between to cities on opposite sides of the world.
Cologne, Day 6
I disconnected from CB work today to clear my head from the past few days of non-stop work, so I thought it was best to distract myself with some sightseeing.
I started my day yesterday at Cologne University’s “campus”. I put campus in quotation marks because the university doesn’t have a campus like Fordham, but more of an NYU campus with academic buildings around the area. Classes were still going on because I saw students with books in hand going in and out of buildings, waiting for the tram, or having a lunch break on a bench. There was a bookstore on the corner, a park, and a lot of restaurants nearby—a typical campus town. I think what fascinated me the most about this university was the parking area in front of the main academic building. The parking area wasn’t for cars—it was for bicycles. Bicycles, as far as the eye could see, were locked and tied up to anything sturdy on the plaza. Imagine university students riding a bicycle to and from school every day in New York.
Following the walk through the campus, I followed a path that led directly to a park named after the two cities in Japan that were bombed in World War II. There is a fountain and pool dedicated to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while the rest of the park is just walking trails. Once at the end of the park there was another small park that led to the Stadtgarden, a park that had a forest-like feel to it. When I figured out how to get out of Stadtgarden, I made way to Mediapark. Mediapark is where all the media company buildings are located (Cologne is known as a media city). After taking a short break on a bench, I set out to visit the remaining churches in the city (Cologne is also known as the church city due to the many churches throughout the city). I managed to find three, including one named after Saint Andrew.
The one thing I forgot to do on Sunday when I visited the Kolner Dom was to climb to the belfry. My host told me that I should make the climb before I left Cologne, and so today was the day. I got to the cathedral about an hour and a half before closing time. There is a fee to go up, but the student discount came in handy once again and made the cost cheaper than the adult ticket. There is no elevator to get to the top; there are only stairs, and the steps are narrow, even more so when they start spiraling upwards. One important thing to note is that people are going up and down on the same staircase, so space is limited. Also, the afternoon sun was making it very hot.
Basically, this was going to be my penance for the year. Before I started the climb, I told myself I would pace myself and try not to stop until I got to the top. The climb was probably five to six minutes long. I was forced to stop momentarily maybe thrice along the way because the people ahead of me looked like they couldn’t keep going (occasionally, I passed a few people if the left-hand side of the stairwell was free of traffic). When I got to the end of the staircase, I was greeted by another set of stairs that led even higher up the cathedral. I knew the climb was worth it when I finally got to the top and looked out to the city skyline. Right before 5:30pm, I started the journey back down but made a stop where the church bells were. The timing could not have been more perfect. At 5:30pm sharp, I heard one of the bells ring to mark the half hour. Even though the bell that rung was small, it was still pretty loud.
After my (second) visit to the Kolner Dom, I headed home. I took a route I had taken a few days earlier, but I took a detour I figured would only leave me a few blocks further from my apartment. The detour actually led me to a different part of Cologne that was thriving with people, restaurants, and stores. When you’re curious like me, these pleasant discoveries happen. Looking back on today, I accomplished my goal of disconnecting from work and was also able to take-in a little more of Cologne. So far, the work and tourist balance is working out swell.
Cologne, Day 7
It’s Friday! It’s also my last day in Cologne.
I stayed up late last night trying to figure out how to get on a boat that would take me along the Rhine River Valley. Only one boat left from Cologne every day, at 10am. Just like I had predicted before I went to sleep I did not wake up early enough to catch that boat. I decided to go the dock anyways to ask how I could get to the Valley, but was prepared with a Plan B in case there was no way to get there by boat. My alternate plan was to use my German Rail Pass and take the train to Bonn, just south of Cologne. At the docks the attendant at the ticket booth reaffirmed my prediction of being unable to take a boat, so I made my way to the train station.
I knew exactly what platform the train to Bonn would depart from because I checked the DB Bahn website before I left. Once on the platform, while I was waiting for the train to arrive, I looked up on the electronic board and saw what I could only describe as a sign from God: past Bonn, the train was going to stop at all the towns/stations along the Rhine Valley boat ride. I immediately changed my plans and decided to go all the way to the town of Mainz and make my way up the Rhine on train until I got back to Cologne. The train ride to Mainz was two hours long, but I lost track of time because I got to see the Rhine Valley from the seat of the train. Once in Mainz, I walked straight to the Rhine.
I took a scenic stroll and then went inland to discover a little bit of the city. I only had an hour and twenty minutes to do everything before the train departing for Koblenz. I almost missed the train because I decided to check-out the Old Town for too long. Koblenz was much quieter. The Valley looked even more beautiful than in Mainz. I missed the train on purpose because I wanted to stay in Koblenz longer. With sunlight still out at 9pm, I figured it was still early enough to stop at Bonn (the birthplace of Beethoven) before returning to Cologne. I didn’t want to risk missing the train again, so I got to the station early. To my unpleasant surprise, the train was delayed by 45 minutes.
When I first got on the train this afternoon, I realized my German Rail Pass was missing my passport number and a validation stamp. On both the train to Mainz and the train to Koblenz, none of the train conductors asked to check my ticket. I was going to go three for three, but I slipped up. You see, when the train finally arrived at Koblenz, I got on, sat down, and noticed that Munich was listed as one of the stops on the train. I panicked a bit because I wasn’t sure if the train was going to go to Munich first before stopping in Cologne. I got off and asked the train conductor what the next stop was. By doing this, I revealed myself as a passenger that just got on and would surely get my ticket checked. And that’s exactly what happened. When that same conductor asked me for my ticket, I gave it to her, and then she asked to see my passport. I told her I did not have it on me, but that I did have my state ID card. I showed it to her, but her facial expression told me that this was not enough to prove who I was.
She took the ticket away from me and explained the situation to her much more intimidating-looking (male) colleague. They both came over, and the male conductor asked me where my passport was. I explained to him that it was at home and that I didn’t think of bringing it with me because I had gotten on the train for a short trip. His response, “oh well”. That freaked me out. What did “oh well” mean? “Oh well, we’re going to have to take your ticket away” or “Oh well, don’t worry about it”? The female conductor took mercy on me, and warned me to have my passport every time I got on the train and to get the ticket stamped at the station. It was an almost catastrophic end to my day, but it all worked out in the end. And with that, my adventures in Cologne came to an end.
See more photos of my journey on my Instagram account: https://instagram.com/andysanty94/