January 7th, 2015

happy girl

Trip to Cologne

It is rather bittersweet to be back in Singapore indefinitely. I tried everything I could to stay away from this place - from the stifling humidity, the annoying accent, the living with my parents - but my extravagance has caught up with me and now I have no choice but to find a way to get paid employment. Fantastic. At the same time, I was missing home quite badly when I left for London last November for the QLTS, and then to Amsterdam to spend time with Wouter. He'd attest to my capriciousness during those weeks, how I cried about wanting to be home (which, on hindsight, I attribute solely to the stress of taking an annoying professional exam and applying to my dream school for a PhD at the same time) and my PMS-infested coldness towards him, my sulking and whining when it was a bit too cold and 1% of things weren't going my way... Undoubtedly, though, Britney Spears was totally right when she sang that 'you never know what you got til it's gone'. I cried about having to leave on my last two days in Amsterdam; cried at the airport; and cried last night (or was it this morning? Jetlag has a weird way of displacing time) when I missed his annoying arm around me too early in the morning, waking me up.

I like the comforts of home, more or less. But I absolutely hate the absence of my boyfriend whom I continue to love despite my severe short-comings, my caustic personality, and my inability to hold on to something good. Life would be perfect if I could have both in one place...but life is what it is, and we will have to make do with what we've got. Perhaps what makes it hard this time around is that we don't have plans on when we will see each other next, due mostly to my job situation. Ideally I would find something flexible but this concept doesn't really exist in Singapore, so I don't know how I would make it work. I suppose we will continue to see.


Since I am in a good mood, I will write about German Christmas markets and our 2.5 days in Cologne. We took a train to Cologne in mid-December, stayed in a nice comfortable hotel, and pigged out on expensive Christmas market food at the main market behind the Cologne cathedral. The cathedral, like most Gothic cathedrals, was a massive, imposing presence, hence a convenient marker for the city centre – and a convenient place to host a big Christmas market.

It was a thrilling experience for me as it was my first time at a real Christmas market (Hyde Park’s crappy Winter Wonderland doesn’t count). I was awed by the impressive festive decorations, the wide variety of souvenirs available such as cute handicraft and pretty accessories, and the food that I could eat. Needless to say, seeing the same things at other markets on the second day dispelled the fantasy pretty quickly, but still, it was a really fun experience and I’m very happy that we went.

The food and souvenirs were pretty expensive though. A small plate of salmon slowly cooked some coals or whatever was 8 euros; a standard plate of potato pasta with sour cabbage and cream was 6.50 euros; and a small cup of mulled wine was 2.50 euros. I don’t know how much the sausages cost because I didn’t eat them and so I didn’t pay attention but I imagine they were pricey too. I bought a small smoker in the shape of a bird with a beanie on skis for my mom and that cost 25 euros. Lesson learnt here: Christmas markets = obvious cash cows.

There was nothing much to see and do in Cologne apart from the Christmas markets, which were practically everywhere and pretty generic. I did look up Cologne on TripAdvisor, and we went to the Socialism museum, the chocolate museum and the #1 restaurant on TripAdvisor, Mr Cake’s Cupcake Café. The socialism museum is housed in an ex-Gestapo prison and it documents and preserves the lives and conditions of the people imprisoned there during the Nazi period. We went down to the basement where the cells were and had the chance to see the inscriptions left behind by inmates on the walls, as well as the depressing conditions of the prison. Needless to say, the cells are tiny; I couldn’t imagine how 37 people could possibly fit into a cell big enough for one.

The upper levels of the building contained Nazi artefacts like badges of the officials, photographs of the officers, and propaganda material, and told the story of the rise of Nazism in Cologne. I personally found it pretty interesting in an informative way: it is mind-boggling that this period of German history even exists because there is no logical space in my mind where it is possible that people would buy into the ideology that the party espoused; and yet, it happened. What was interesting was learning, as much as I could considering my short attention span in listening to audio guides (the descriptions were all in German), how it happened, which was made more real when coming face-to-face with real exhibits.

Wouter, however, was disgusted by it and didn’t want to spend any more time there than necessary. Perhaps our contrasting reactions can be explained by how this period of history is rather removed from me personally, but not for him. I wonder if I would react the same way he did if it had been about the Japanese empire during the Second World War, which (presumably) hits closer to home than WWII in Europe. I don’t know.

There was also an exhibition on Auschwitz on the first floor with information about what happened there, basically. After reading the information and looking at the illustrations of the events, I am even more convinced that I will never visit Auschwitz because it is too damn sad, and it is a sadness that I do not want to experience. Suffice it to say that the depravity of human beings can be endless, and that is absolutely horrifying.

After that visit, we went to the Christmas market behind/next to/in front of the cathedral, and to a nice cosy cocktail bar at night. We had a serious conversation there which left us both a bit disturbed but I don’t think it’s anything we can’t work out.

On the second day, we woke up late and left the hotel sometime past noon. The original plan was to go to another Christmas market. The original plan failed when we waited too long for the transfer tram/train/whatever it was and decided to have lunch instead. We went to the Italian restaurant above the cocktail bar from the previous night, located in what looked like one of Cologne’s shopping streets, and had lunch there as we were both pretty hungry. I ordered a salmon burger and it was delicious.

I’d thought of going to Museum Ludwig, but considering the time, it was between that and the chocolate museum. I eventually decided that I’d had enough of paintings in European museums and opted for something different – and Wouter, being the amazing sweetheart that he is, went along with it even though he doesn’t eat chocolates at all. Before that, though, we went to Mr Cake’s Cupcake café, which was a pretty memorable experience.

We were there at 2.45 pm. The place was closed and didn’t look like it had an entrance. We saw a sign that said it opened at 3 pm. We waited with an elderly couple in what looked like the entrance to a private carpark, but soon discovered that the entrance to the café was at the back. We went down to the café and were greeted by the sight of a small, intimate room, tastefully decorated to give off a warm and homely feeling, with only a big table in the centre surrounded by stools. The elderly couple was already seated at the table; we were the next guests to arrive. Subsequently, more people arrived, and when all the seats were taken, the owner had to turn people away.

There were about 10-11 people at the table and those were all the seats the place had. It was like dining at a communal table at a friend’s house with guests that you didn’t know, and the owner played host as such. He was a German artist from a family of bakers and he started his business as a catering company, then decided to open a little café. He said that he baked his cupcakes fresh daily, about 100 a day. I had two cupcakes while everyone else had one; Wouter’s allergy prevented him from eating (he was there for me, the sweetheart) and so I took his share!

The cupcakes were very different from the typical cupcake. The cake itself is choked full of its ingredients: peanuts, hazelnuts, cherries, bananas, chocolates...and instead of using icing sugar or whatever, he uses mascarpone cream which blends perfectly with the cake. I found the cake to be rather dry but absolutely perfect with the cream. It wasn’t the most amazing cake I’d ever had in my life, but it was pretty damn good; and perhaps what made the experience memorable was how cosy the place was and how the owner made you feel quite at home in his little café. I loved it.

After that, we walked over to the chocolate museum. The most exciting part was seeing how a block of chocolate was made. Other than that, it was pretty meh.

We hit another cocktail bar at night, a pretty upscale one. I love cocktail bars and I love going to cocktail bars with Wouter.


Laptop is low on battery so that’s it for now.