Sunday, 27 April 2008

Two castles and one dragon

As my folks have been here for a visit we decided to do some sightseeing. We took a little car trip out to the neighbouring Rhineland town of Königswinter. The town is overlooked by a very steep, 1053 foot high hill known as Drachenfels (meaning 'Dragon's Hill').

The hill earned its name from a legend - it is said that the last dragon lived in a cave on the mountain until it was slain by the hero Siegfried. Apparently, after taking a bath in the slain dragon's blood Siegfried became invincible.

DrachensfelbahnWe travelled up the hill courtesy of the Drachenfels railway - said to be Germany's oldest railway track. View from Drachensfel

The journey upwards was a little scary at times because the gradient is so steep (22% in some places). However, it is well worth the worry as the view from the top is spectacular. Below, the Rhine snakes out in all its beauty. The view is meant to have inspired the opening lines to Lord Byron's work, Childe Harold.

Drachensfel ruined castleThe hill is topped by the ruins of a 12th century castle (see in the middle of this photo).

It was built by Archbishop Arnold of Cologne around 1140, to protect his property. Sadly, it was destroyed in 1634, during the 30 Years War.

Drachenburg CastleStill, that's not the only castle you'll find here - for halfway up the hill is the 19th century Castle Drachenburg. This is all you could ask for from a German castle. It has the trademark turreted towers you'd expect and seems to be a mad confection of lots of different architectural styles. Drachenburg was built by Baron Stephan von Sarter (1833–1902), a successful stockbroker, between 1882-4. It is said that the Baron hardly spent any time in his castle, as he preferred to live it up in Paris. Tough call isn't it? Relax in one's castle, or enjoy high society à Paris...?

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Growing old without dignity

Over the last week I have been musing about my age. It is a sad fact that I am definitely in the wrong half of my thirties. With that in mind I realised that I should do a few more 'young things', before it is too late. Cologne is quite a good place to put that operation into practice, what with it being a party city. Also, no-one I know from England need find out if I get into embarrassing situations along the way.

So, last night I went to my first gig in years, with Simon. The gig was held in a very small venue a convenient ten minutes walk from our flat. The act was a singer song writer from England, with the fantastically creative name 'Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.' I only ever saw 'Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly' from the eyes up because the rest of him was obscured by other punters. His music was very good - he had some great songs and performed them with gusto. I enjoyed myself. Well, apart from the discomfort which comes from the raised expectations of the older person - you know, like wanting a nice sit down and a smoke-free atmosphere in which to enjoy my music - not a standing-only, acrid-smelling hall full of sweaty youths.

When Simon and I got home we told our babysitter about our evening out and why we had gone. She decided that it is her personal mission to get us to go to one of Cologne's many night clubs for our next challenge. She is only 21 and she has the energy levels to match. Somehow, I think that this is a 'young thing' task too far...

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Green bottles

Germany has a deposit system for many of its glass and plastic bottles and cans. The deposit is called 'Pfand'. If you take a qualifying bottle or can to the supermarket you can feed it into a machine (delightfully named the 'Pfandflasche Rücknahmeautomaten') that reads the barcode and gives you a voucher back, which you can put towards your shopping.

The system is very popular. In supermarkets you will normally see a queue of people waiting to post their bottles into the Pfandflasche Rücknahmeautomaten (just wanted to use that name again).

More pitifully, in the evenings you can often see homeless people walking around with shopping trolleys full of empties that they have collected, in order to get money off groceries. Also, on refuse collection day you can see others going through bins to find any bottles that they can hand in. This latter situation is quite unnerving if it is your bin, especially if you have a paranoia about identity theft (I saw someone doing this to the communal bins of our block of flats today).

The system is a fantastic way to encourage recycling and to keep litter off the streets. There was a similar system for lemonade bottles in place in England in the 1970s as I can remember taking bottles back to the corner shop to collect the deposit when I was very small. It's a shame that nothing like it is in operation in England today.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Fallen angel

angelIn this photo you can spy an angel, hanging around by the west front of Cologne Cathedral.

He had with him a little hat for donations. I guess he must have fallen from God's grace and on to hard times.