Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Eau! That’s why it’s called cologne!

It's about time I revealed why this blog is called 'Fancy Cologne'. Well, I based the name on the fact that the term Eau de Cologne, or Kölnisch Wasser as it is called known in German, came from these parts…

The perfumed water was first produced in 1709 by Johann Maria Farina, an Italian perfume maker based in the city of Cologne. He supposedly designed it to smell like the freshness after an Italian downpour. Its freshness was very different to the sickly perfumes around at the time. It is said that Napoleon and many notable European royals were fans of Farina’s unusual perfume.

4711 brandLater that century, Cologne was to give rise to another perfumed water. This one was to become known throughout the world as ‘4711’. Here is its story:

In 1792 a monk presented Mr Willhelm Muelhens and his new bride with a very unusual wedding gift. It was a recipe for how to make ‘aqua mirabilis’: a miracle scented water which was thought to have healing properties. It could be taken as a tonic or applied to the skin. Muelhens quickly realised that the gift was potentially profitable and so he set up a company to produce the special water. The building where Muelhens set up production still stands – see photo below – in Glockengasse Street, Cologne. It is now a museum. The 4711 perfume shop at Glockengasse, Cologne

In 1875 the water from Glockengasse was given the 4711 trademark, which is based on the building’s address: in 1796, during the French occupation of Cologne, all buildings were given a consecutive number and the premises in Glockengasse happened to be numbered 4711.

The precise formula of 4711 remains a mystery, but it is known to contain citrus fruits, lavender and rosemary. It is sold in over 75 countries worldwide. I am afraid that it doesn't do anything for me - but then I like quite sweet heady perfumes. I get the impression that if 4711 were to be created now, it would be marketed for men, due to its citrus smell.

Eventually ‘Eau de Cologne’ became a generic term for any perfumed water containing a concentration of about 2-5% essential oils.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Threads for all the family

baby shoeYesterday husband and I had to do a bit of clothes shopping. Throughout the preceding weeks there had been plenty of desperate declarations of, ‘I have nothing to wear’ – from him. Me? Well, I’ve just been dreaming of the time when I no longer have to rotate the six or seven black and grey maternity outfits I’ve been wearing for so long…

So, for the first time since we’ve been here we checked out the fashionable emporia of Cologne. And I was pleasantly surprised I have to say. I had gone with suspicions that the German style might not be as up to date as Britain’s. I was proven wrong. Germany has many of the European-wide establishments (Mango, Zara, H&M) that we're used to in the UK. Plus, Cologne has some fabulous department stores.

We left very satisfied with the experience, carrying a jumper and two shirts for Mr H; baby shoes, sleepsuit and top for baby H; and even two loose fitting new season tops for me (green and pink respectively). Oh, and for those of you who know how I like accessories, I did my best justification for buying some yet. It went like this:

1. I saw a bunch of brightly coloured SPARKLY hair bands
2. I said: I am going to need hair bands for the birth (obviously one needs to keep one’s hair back)
3. Simon laughed
4. We bought the hair bands

Thursday, 22 February 2007

The little runaround

In the depths of the night it occurred to me that I never did report back on the buying a family car scenario. To ensure a good night’s sleep tonight, I’ll reveal all…

Well, we opted for a Renault Clio. I can tell you that it has five doors, is dark grey and has alloys. It has a part leather interior. It smells of new car. (Mmmm. Just inhale those toxins and get high.) I expect that this short description doesn’t do it justice and that Simon could tell you more.

Only trouble is, it might still smell new, but it certainly ain’t so shiny. There are little finger marks in the dirt, around the boot opening. The alloys no longer sparkle. The little car needs a bath. And I just happen to enjoy cleaning cars.

But my reverie is broken…Achtung Frau Harris! Where do you think you’re going with your bucket of warm waxy suds, nice clean sponge and chamois leather? (Oh yes, I have all the kit.)

For cars can only be washed at special car washes or in designated zones. Certainly not outside your house or in your underground parking lot. The law is designed to protect the environment from polluting run-off. Should you breach these laws then you could be prosecuted.

So where’s a girl to find her fun? If, say for argument's sake, I willfully broke this law, do you think the authorities would let me off on the grounds of ‘nesting behaviour’?

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The mystery is solved

Worked out the answer to yesterday's mystery yet? Any clue if I reminded you that today is Shrove Tuesday? Still no?

Well it all adds up to Carnival in Cologne - a massive 6 day long celebration, which happens every Shrovetide. Okay, the celebrations may not be as visually spectacular as the Mardi Gras in Rio, but they sure win in terms of length and kookiness.

Six weeks before Easter the Carnival kicks off with Women's Day. Seemingly a day when women are 'allowed' to get away with as much kissing of strangers as they can muster. And sometimes - so I've heard - it can move on to tongues. Eww. If a lady successfully kisses a man she is at liberty to cut his tie or his shoelace as proof. At the end of the day groups of women convene to see who has the most ties/laces and is the winner at being the most debauched. It seems that the lady who dropped this tie (Exhibit A) would have been disappointed with her tally. That is, if she could remember anything at all from the day...

For carnival is known for the copious amounts of alcohol imbibed. I took a walk with friends on the first day of carnival and we were gobsmacked by the numbers of people drinking on the streets (Exhibit B). Bottles were smashed all over the ground, making walking quite hazardous. By the early afternoon there were already people being stretchered away by the emergency services. Well, perhaps there was no shame in that, considering people had been waiting outside pubs at 6 in the morning, ready for early opening.

What's quite surprising is that the festival then carries on for many more days. There are parades, balls, parties, feasting...right up to Ash Wednesday. (Google Translate handily calls this 'Ashtray Wednesday' which is quite appropriate, given how much Germans enjoy smoking.)

Now, on to Exhibit C: Residents in fancy dress. To be a true carnival queen of Cologne you need to dress up. You don't need to stick to conventional themes like pirates, doctors, or fairies either. As long as you don't look ordinary then your effort will be well regarded. I saw someone who had tied a soft toy piglet on to his head, as a makeshift hat. Another person demonstrated creative use of modeling balloons. Someone had dressed up as a toilet. And so on... I do hope they don't wear the same costume every day though, as they could all end up smelling like a pub in the morning.

I have to say, it all requires a bit more commitment than making sure your larder includes enough flour, eggs and lemon juice to whip up a plate of pancakes! But, you know what? I quite fancy pancakes once in a while. Bring on the squeezy lemon!

Monday, 19 February 2007

A curious case in Cologne

Exhibit A: Half a tie seen on pavement

Exhibit A: Half a tie seen on pavement

Exhibit B: Large masses of people imbibing alcohol

Exhibit B: Large masses of people imbibing alcohol

Exhibit C: Residents in fancy dress

Exhibit C: Residents in fancy dress

What could it all mean?
Fear not, for the mystery will be solved in tomorrow's thrilling installment!

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Off her trolley

Me and bump checking off items on list - notice that we are in the 'chocolate' aisle
Shopping for groceries in Germany seems to be quite an undertaking. And not just because all the brands and labels are foreign. Here are some of my observations on German food shopping thus far…
  • As far as I can make out, Germany has no equivalent to the big UK supermarkets. The shops are of the size that the UK had in the 70s and 80s – and the interiors are just as uninspiring. Their size means it is usually impossible to find everything you need in one store. Plus, many are in built up areas so there is a lack of parking spaces. In which case it means you can only buy as much as you can carry home.
  • I haven’t been able to find good quality frozen chicken or fish burgers here. That means my formulaic ‘speciality’ of frozen thing + frozen chips + random frozen vegetables cannot be achieved here. Probably to the relief of the other person in the household.
  • There are no delicious looking ready meals. This fact has meant that our microwave has become almost redundant. No ‘chicken-ding’ meals in our house. Probably a good thing considering how unhealthy they are and how much waste packaging they generate. Still, I cannot help craving a nice Indian-meal-in-a-box once in a while…
  • A tin of baked beans costs just under one pound. This means that our humble beans on toast of a Sunday night has gone from being a cheapie meal to being an anticipated luxury. For, whatever the price, I will not forego Heinz Baked Beans!
  • Germans don’t ‘get’ reduced fat milk. A German friend explained that Germans think any reduced fat milk is a waste of time as it doesn’t taste of anything. Which is precisely why I like it...
  • You have to weigh and label your fruit and veg on specially provided scales, rather than the assistant doing it at the till. This creates pandemonium at the scales as people queue up to weigh each and every bag of produce.
  • There are acres of pork-based products, but you’ll be lucky if you can find real smoky bacon. If you can, it will be hidden in a far off corner, giving out vibes of shame and will be labeled as ‘American’ or ‘English’ bacon. It will usually have a photo of a typical fry up, to show how it is to be used.
  • German till staff are celebrated for their moody attitude. No ‘Have a nice day’ falsity here. But, being British, I almost find that a comfort. However, I don’t like the way the till staff almost throw your goods at you once scanned. That’s just rude.
  • You want online ordering and home delivery? What’s that??? Do you think this is the 21st Century or something?
Sounds like I am whining? Well, there are good aspects to the German system as I have hinted. First, there’s less packaging. Then there is a wider range of shops on the high street, as the supermarkets haven’t been able to take over. Finally, the lack of choice has forced me to grab my apron, fetch out my rolling pin and actually have a go at making things from scratch – including pastry! My old Home Economics teacher would be proud, God rest her soul.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Couple walking in snow

I filmed these just outside the Crowne Plaza, Cologne. The hotel has two moving light 'sculptures' of a woman and a man walking. I have seen these many times and think they are very hypnotic.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007


This week I attended my first ever yoga class. In German. For pregnant ladies. How hard could it be? Especially as I prepared in advance:
  • The yoga tutor had given me a list of key vocab to learn in advance (words like 'relax', 'tense' and 'stretch')
  • I went with a friend who has done more German lessons than me
  • And, most clever of all, I looked at some pictures of people doing yoga
But I am sad to report that I didn't carry myself through the lesson with finesse. In fact, I expect I looked quite comical. Flat on my back, on a yoga mat, it was hard to hide the fact that I kept having to lift my head to peek around the room to see if I was doing everything correctly. Plus, my glasses kept slipping down my nose, or getting in the way of a complex move. Then, there were the balancing on one leg exercises. Well, I am not the most accomplished person when it comes to balance. Add a big baby bump to this baseline of ineptitude and, well, you can imagine can't you?

The times when everyone appeared to be completely still were the worst. I had no clue as to what inner muscles they were tensing and relaxing so I mostly made up my own variations...However, at one point I must have looked more gormless than usual as the yoga tutor asked my friend to explain to me that everyone was doing 'Kegels'. There's not an equivalent German word so I am just relieved that I knew about Kegels, to save the teacher having to draw a diagram. (Google 'Kegels' if you are none the wiser!)

There was also some embarassment during the breathing exercises. It's all the fault of my nose. I was a bit congested so, when we concentrated on inhaling and exhaling, there was me honking and squeaking away. Rather spoiling the ambience.

In spite of all these issues I intend to go next week. I like any exercise class where there is a compulsory laying down session at the start and the end and you don't break into a sweat in the middle. Plus, yoga is meant to be very beneficial in pregnancy as it helps one to relax ready for the birth. My due date is only 9 weeks away so I really need to get relaxing.

Monday, 5 February 2007

The weekend

Man in drain - taken by SimonSimon's brother Michael stayed over and we had a lovely time showing him some sights of Cologne. Including, in no particular order of importance, except that chocolate is mentioned first:

  • The Museum of Chocolate - a must see!
  • Examples of clever and well executed graffiti
  • Germans and Poles draped in their respective national flags, heading to and from the World Handball Championships (Germany won and so have been crowned Champions for 2007)
  • The cathedral
  • Some street gratings and drains (the only explanation you need is that my husband likes to look at things from a different point of view, as you can see from the photos on this entry, which he has kindly donated)
  • A shop selling the famous 4711 Cologne toilet water
  • Some churches

Where Kinder Surprise toys go to die: seen at the chocolate museum

Friday, 2 February 2007

The bells, the bells...

I have never lived in a city until now. Previously, I'd have expected that city living would involve a lot of traffic noise, but I am very surprised that what I mostly hear is bell ringing from the local church.

The bells begin at 7.30 am and they carry on at regular intervals until 10pm. I enjoy the daytime bells. If I don't look out of the window at all the high rise offices I can easily imagine myself in an Alpine village, perhaps running to meet Heidi and Peter the goat herd... But tell you something: I wouldn't want to be a shift worker around here!

What is surprising is that the bell ringing seems to conflict with a key German social rule: do not make any excess noise which might offend your neighbours. For a start there is the daily period of 'ruhezeit' or 'quiet time' between 1pm and 3pm which must be observed. And woe betide anyone who makes a disturbance between 9pm and 7am...Or any of Sunday for that matter. Germany is pretty much shut on Sundays. You'd be a fool to go to the shops on a Sunday as they won't be open. But nor can you stay in and do DIY because that is classed as too noisy. So that's two favourite British Sunday pastimes out then. (Note: This is a fabulous get out for those who never really felt comfortable around power tools.)

Ruhezeit is taken extremely seriously. The hours of expected quiet are written into our rental contract - so we are legally bound to keep the peace at those times. Then there was an incident recently when an anonymous tenant from our block created a lovely sign for the communal area complaining of the excessive amount of drilling that had been going on and could everyone keep drilling to week days only?

And yet, once again, there is conflict as Cologne is a place where you can drink all night - and people take their drinking very seriously.

Perhaps it's the case that people here have mastered the art of coming home late and tipsy, all without giggling excessively, singing karaoke anthems, or fumbling with the door key...