New Year’s in Cologne

As part of my visit to Cologne for winter break, we went to a New Year’s party at Patrick’s friend’s apartment, where we consumed large amounts of raclette and fondue. The raclette was pretty cool – in the German style, you put bits of bread or vegetables or whatever in a little pie-wedge pan, lay a piece of mild cheese on top, and broil it in a tabletop broiler. Apparently it’s the traditional “Silvester” food for Germans. I had some very good whiskey and an interesting drink of sparkling wine + mint + elderberry syrup (+ maybe something else?) in addition to the usual beer and wine. In the process, I consumed enough alcohol that when “Dinner for One” (the absolute classic, required viewing for all Germans for Silvester, apparently) was shown, I found it funny. I decided that the less I understood what they were actually saying (as it’s aired in English), the better it was.

We played an interesting game called Activity, which combined Pictionary, Taboo, and Charades all in one, which would have been very appealing for me if it hadn’t included a lot of words like “Faschingskrapfen” which apparently even Germans would have had trouble demonstrating or guessing. Also, how on earth are you supposed to draw the candy “Mozartkugel” in Pictionary style?? I still have no idea how you would get across Mozart as opposed to any other composer, much less get them to come to the idea of the Austrian chocolate balls.

After that people started getting tired waiting for midnight to roll around, and we played a bit of something between Telephone and Exquisite Corpses, where the first player writes a sentence, the next player draws what the sentence said and folds the sentence down, then the third player writes the sentence they think describes the drawing, folds down the drawing and passes it on – so each player only sees the line above their own attempt. We had a pretty good conversion from a sentence that said something like “the guests all enjoyed the tiramisu,” to “someone gives another person a ping pong racket.”

Patrick (left) with two other friends, checking their phone clock to begin the countdown.
Me in the street amongst the fireworks.

Eventually it was time to participate in the good German tradition of setting off masses of fireworks at midnight. Unlike last time I participated, we did not go to a park, but literally set them off in the middle of the street. Cars kept driving through and trying to avoid the volcano fireworks in the middle of the street – one group had apparently set up a fire in the middle of a lane so they could light theirs easily – and sparks kept bouncing off the sides of the apartment buildings around us.

On the way back from the party, we ended up hoofing it through the Student Quarter rather than wait for the train. Although it wasn’t nearly as apocalyptic as the scene during Karneval when I was there, it did pretty well. The ground was completely littered with broken glass and firework detritus. We passed probably at least five barf splatters in the space of a small block. The crowds seemed to contain a lot of really angry drunk teenagers intent on showing how manly they were by doing their best to swear at each other and threaten to fight – but once you listened to them for a bit you realized that they just sounded like 14 year olds. Eventually around 3am we got back to the apartment, which was a relief.

The rest of the week included visiting the Schokoladenmuseum, which documented where chocolate comes from and how it’s made. It was alright, but the cool part was where there was a chocolate assembly machine set up, which did everything from roasting it to mixing, pouring, cooling, and turning it out of the molds, then sorted it and wrapped each chocolate in gold. Watching it, I felt a bit like I was in Willy Wonka’s factory, albeit without the Oompa Loompas. Patrick also found a place where we could go ice skating for a few hours, which was nice, and we went out one evening for drinks with a couple of friends. Another evening we went out for very tasty Mexican food, which turned out to be more romantic than I had anticipated a Mexican place being.

Me ice skating in a blur of motion.

On Friday morning, after managing to get all packed and carry my stuff down something like 4 flights of stairs, we were told by the housekeeper that the front door wouldn’t open. It looked like the handle had come unscrewed or something, and we ended up going out the back door to the garden – which was fenced in. We climbed over the low fence into the neighbor’s section of garden only to find they didn’t have an outlet either. We ended up having to climb over the 6ft wall in the dark with my suitcase and bag and Patrick’s backpack of law books for class, to discover bushes to fight through and an even taller fence. At least that one had a hole in it that we could climb through. Surprisingly, in spite of all that, we still made it to the station in plenty of time for the train, and after being underway for about 24 hours I got home to Rochester.

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