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Brighton, England

Scandinavian sojourn: Cologne and home

I was halfway through writing this post before getting distracted by, well, events. As I sit down to finally conclude this travelogue of my trip across Scandinavia, I’m thankful that I was able to spend at least a little time exploring foreign lands this year.

Day 14

An art deco staircase.
From the bright, refined interior of the Astoria Hotel…

I’ve barely spent any time in the Astoria, which is disappointing as its art deco styling is difficult to ignore. With my suitcase in one hand, I try and take as many photos of its interior as I can, while keeping an eye on the time. This hotel is certainly high on my list of places to stay next time I’m in Copenhagen.

At the train station, I grab one last breakfast from Espresso House before boarding another DSB train, this time one headed for Hamburg. The Danish portion of the route works its way through tunnels and over bridges as it crosses the islands of Zealand and Funen and under the Great Belt before finding the more continuous parts of this country. Across the border at Rendsburg, the train sets upon a circuitous loop around this small German town, while a curious large steel structure appears in the distance. This, I later discover, is the Rendsburg High Bridge. Seconds later, I’m travelling across it, 68 meters above the Kiel Canal.

Back at my old friend Hamburg’s Hauptbahnhof, there’s time some food and quick refreshment before I’m on another train, destination Cologne.

I arrive just after 9:30 pm, and head for Hotel im Wasserturm. This building has the potential to be a highlight of this trip. I’ve read mixed reviews, but spending a few nights in a converted water tower seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Brick arches inside a building.
…to the dark, industrial vaults of Hotel im Wasserturm.

First impressions are not good. The entrance is via a set of glass doors, but these are all broken. But, the night manager seems friendly, and upon learning that I’m from England, is keen to tell me about the history of the building. “It was built by an English engineer called John Moore – not Roger Moore – in 1868”. With a diameter of 34 and a height of 35.5 metres, the water tower is the largest of its kind in Europe. Its interior structure is impressive and imposing, but arguably ill-suited for conversion to a hotel.

Arriving at my room on the second floor, I put my key in the lock, but the door won’t open. No matter how hard I try to gain entry (though also wary that I may be trying to enter the wrong room), it just won’t budge. I call for assistance from the night manager. It turns out the door is thick, heavy, and needs to be lifted before it can be pushed forward.

The room is split into a lounge area and bedroom, with the bathroom hidden behind what appears to be a cupboard door. Marks on the walls, dirty tiles in the bathroom; the original conversion has been let down by years of neglect. This hotel has seen better days.

Before bed, I head to the restaurant on the top floor, eager to enjoy a pint of Kölsch. Nearby, a loud American makes his political opinions known to those sat on his table and everyone else in the room; he’s a moderate Republican, by all accounts. I resist the urge to intervene.

Day 15

The front of a coffee shop. A person sits near the entrance, and a neon sign says ‘Van Dyke’.
Van Dyck Rosterei in Ehrenfeld.

Tomorrow I return home, but I have an entire day to spend in a German city, and that makes me very happy. Cologne is the first city I stayed at during a tour of Europe in 2009, but I’ve only ever passed through since.

I decide to visit Ehrenfeld, an emerging district in the throes of gentrification. I’ve read about Van Dyck Rosterei, so head in that direction for some lunch. This location was formally a hair salon, and frankly, not much has changed since coffee replaced coiffures. This is probably the strangest cafe I’ve visited, but the coffee’s good, the sandwiches and cakes even better.

The rest of the afternoon is spent inside the Ludwig Museum, where I find myself looking yet again looking at a series of dates painted by On Kawara. I take this as a sign that I’ve exhausted my capacity for culture. A quick walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge before dinner at a mediocre Chinese restaurant concludes this trip.

Day 16

Route map
Copenhagen to Brighton via Cologne.

I’m heading back home, from Cologne to Brighton via Brussels-Midi and London St. Pancras stations. The last few remaining miles allow me to reflect on the travels completed.

I had many hopes for this trip. It would be a creative expedition; I wanted to experiment writing a travelogue (inspired by the Michael Palin documentaries I watched over Christmas) and also wanted to improve my photography skills while experimenting with using the iPhone 11 Pro exclusively – an experiment from which I have formed many opinions! But ultimately, I just needed to get away and be somewhere different, far away from Brexit and a country consumed by its short-sighted hubris.

And yet I ventured into this rushed and ill-prepared. Unable to decide, I picked too many destinations; three days is not nearly enough time to understand and appreciate a place. I also failed my golden rule of travel, which is to pack light. Who would have thought packing a suitcase the night before – and after several pints – would prove to be a bad idea! And frankly, I’ve spent way too much time on trains; even I have my limits. Yet, as the old saying goes, a change is as good as a rest, and I return remarkably rested.

Many padlocks.
Love locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge.