Well, perhaps not a party train, but I am writing this whilst on the train from Berlin to Amsterdam. I am actually on my way to the Dutch city of ’s-Hertogenbosch for my 40th birthday party! Together with my bestie Suzanne I’ll be throwing a little get-together to celebrate our big milestone.
But before it’s party time, let me tell you a little bit about this past week. Because hubby and I have been having a great week of travelling by train from the UK to Germany with stops in Cologne and Berlin. It’s been a week of history, art and the latest electronic music gadgets. From a visit to Cold War bunkers to the final resting place of the Three Wise Men, it all happened on this trip!
First stop: Cologne (or the most northern Italian city)
We left London last week Friday morning and arrived only 4 hours later in the German city of Cologne. Having travelled mostly by plane over the last years, it was quite a relief to be able to take it easier now as I find train rides far more relaxing than flying. (Too bad travelling on Eurostar trains always makes me feel rather nauseous.)
During my 3-day stay in Cologne I discovered lots of words and concepts once originated from here. Just like the famous art, design and photography bookshops Walther König. This was the very first König bookshop in the world and I think we even saw mister König himself here!
Our reason for travelling to Cologne was because hubby was part of the International Photoszene Festival that was opening that weekend. This year the photo festival’s theme is ‘Artist Meets Achive’. For this they invited six artists to explore the archives of six participating museums. Hubby collaborated with Dutch photographer Erik Kessels and created the soundtrack to Erik’s installation Archive Land consisting of life-size house of cards. For this Erik had taken images from the MAKK museum photo archive. A very special event actually as it hadn’t been visited in decades.
Travel tip: join a free walking tour in Cologne!
While hubby went off to work upon our arrival, I decided to go on a free walking in Cologne. I’m so glad I did because this was such a great way to discover the city and to learn about its incredibly rich history. It truly was one of the highlights of our entire trip!
Look at the weapon of Cologne on the wall behind the group. In the top you can see three crowns, this is a reference to the Three Kings whose bones are believed to be kept in Cologne cathedral!
I could write a whole book retelling the information our wonderful guide Enrico shared with us during this nearly 3-hour walking tour. But don’t worry, I’ll try to keep it to just a few lines here. A more detailed report will follow on my travel blog Done That Been There. (Once I’ve finally managed to finish the work on it and switch off maintenance mode…)
Colonia: the old Roman city
During the city walk I discovered so many names and concepts we use in our daily life originated in Cologne. Let’s first look at the name for example. Its original name when it was founded by the Romans was Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. (Note the first word in the name!) From a primarily military base, it indeed evolved into one of Rome’s main colony. Cologne eventually became such an important Roman city it was even referred to as Italian’s most northern city.
The original ‘eau de Cologne’ of course originates from Cologne!
And have you ever wondered where the name eau de Cologne came from? Yes indeed, this word we still tend to use when talking about perfumes derives from this German city. Actually, the world’s first ever eau de Cologne was developed in Cologne by perfumier Johann Maria Farina in 1709. Our tour guide explained how this ‘water from Cologne’ used to have multiple purposes. People apparently used it as an elixir or even for cleaning their house. 3 for the price of one!
Cologne Cathedral, probably the only cathedral with a house number
Have you ever seen a church or cathedral with a house number? Well, I think I spotted this for the first time ever in Cologne. Our tour guide Enrico told us the entertaining story of Napoleon’s usage of the cathedral. Apparently he wasn’t too keen on religion and instead of using the cathedral as a place of worship, he used it as the most extravagant horse stable. And practical as the French were, Napoleon’s chief in commander in Cologne also gave it a house number. But obviously not number 1. No, any post to Cologne Cathedral must be sent to house number 4.
Napoleon’s actions are rather outrageous considering Cologne Cathedral’s significance. This cathedral was purpose-built to house the holy bones of the Three Kings (you know, the Three Wise Men who showered Jesus in gifts after his birth). Depending on which version to believe, these bones were either stolen from Milan or given as a present. And you can see the elaborately golden chest these bones lie in when you walk to the back of the cathedral. The presence of these bones in Cologne make this one of the twenty official holy cities in Europe!
This golden chest in the back of Cologne cathedral supposedly holds the bones of the Three Wise Men from the Bible.
Considering it was built to hold the Shrine for the Three Wise Men, the cathedral had to be grand. Not surprisingly, this over 144m-tall structure was once the tallest building in the world!
Cold War bunkers in Berlin
After a few days filled with art and culture in Cologne, we took the train to Berlin. There we enjoyed two quite relaxing days meeting friends and exploring the city. Having seen lots of the main tourist destinations already, I enjoyed just walking around quieter parts of the centre and taking in the beautiful architecture. By chance I found the Berliner Unterwelten website and discovered you can go on a guided tour along a couple of Cold War bunkers. Of course this was something we had to explore!
You were not allowed to take photos during the tour so this comes from their website. This space did look like this in real life though.
Both the bunkers we visited on the tour were built as part of metro stations. Originally with the purpose of housing retail units and offices in the station. However, when these stations were being built they ran out of money and couldn’t finish these projects. Instead, huge spaces remained empty and obscure.
See the door on the left in the top photo? That’s the airlock door which would be closed over the metal grills you see on the floor. In the bottom photo you see our tour guides closing the door at the end of the platform which leads to the bunker. You would have never guessed it was there standing on the platform!
During the tour we visited two Cold War fallout shelters bunkers. The first one was in Gesundbrunnen and the other one in station Pankstrasse. It was very bizarre to walk to the end of the platform where our guide would open a very inconspicuous looking door leading to a fallout shelter. It felt almost like walking into platform 9 ¾!
I definitely recommend going on one of these guided tours. It’s so bizarre to learn about these military preparations for this much-feared Cold War that fortunately never happened. I’m not sure how much chance people had stood to survive a nuclear attack hiding in these fallout shelters. And let’s just hope that it will never come to the day we might need them!
Turning and pushing knobs at Superbooth
The main reason for our visit to Berlin was the annual electronic music fair Superbooth. This was our second visit and just like last year it was one big noisy yet incredibly fun and social event. Not only did we get to see the latest gear and some exciting concerts, but we also got to hang out with friends from all around the world and also make some new ones of course.
I’m feeling very inspired to head back to the studio once we’re home again! I just need to try to be more strict with my schedule and divide my time between my new writing projects and making music. It was also pretty cool being recognised at the event a few times and people have asked me when my first live gig will be so I’m eager to make this happen hopefully this year!
But for now my main focus is eating birthday cake and celebrating both Mother’s Day and my 40th birthday.
Wishing you a wonderful day and speak again next Sunday! Zarina xx
Wondering what the machines in these photos above are? Find out in my previous blog post: