From Brussels to Germany, for Class

For my Art History class at Vesalius College, we learn about things, and then we go see them. Magnificent paintings and famous arches are not limited to our books and our imaginations, rather, only to our student budgets.

This past weekend we went to Cologne and Aachen in Germany to learn about Charlemagne and the Roman Empire. Much of the trip was spent in museums — lots of museums — and on organized tours, which you know I adore.

So unfortunately, I don’t feel like I got to know Cologne. I walked by, said hello and sped off to Aachen. While we spent even less time in Aachen, I did get in a good hour of wandering in and saw a good amount of the small city.

But Cologne is huge, so I don’t even know what I missed!

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We did explore the shopping district one afternoon, which is filled with glamorous labels and modern buildings. There were some niches of old-world charm and enormous terraces for beer-induced gaiety.

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And of course, we saw the Kölner Dom, Cologne’s staggering cathedral. We climbed up all 509 stairs to reach the top, and we took in the lovely view and cold air. At night, the Dom was simply radiant.

A view of the Cologne Cathedral at night

Also at night, all 35+ art students were treated to a traditional German meal, consisting of beef goulash, a giant dumpling and fresh apple sauce on the side. The dumpling’s consistency, like a massive piece of buttery gnocchi, was fascinating, and unfortunately put a lot of the Americans off. But there was no denying that the bold beef and apple combo worked. There was also no denying the warm and flaky apple strudel for dessert.

In terms of Cologne’s supposedly wicked nightlife… Well, we were too exhausted post-tours to really explore it! We tried hitting some bars right after dinner, but who drinks at 9:30 p.m. except middle-aged folk?

Eventually we ended up at a Thai karaoke bar, because one student just really, really wanted to sing. The place was packed with bachelorette parties and 20 to 30-somethings, but as a group of 10 Americans, we were heavily scrutinized. After about 45 minutes, and with half of the students having not ordered any drinks, security proceeded to yell at us. That sucked.

I’ve never experienced anything like that in Brussels. I’ve also never had my ID checked at the door of four bars in one evening, let alone at all!

So Cologne, you are a little strange. But I’d be willing to give you another chance if the time was right. Meanwhile, I’ll check out your more popular, younger sister Berlin — in mid-October, flight is booked and all!

Author: Janelle Bitker

Janelle Bitker is a journalist based in Oakland, California.

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