So, I just moved to Cologne, Germany to continue my university studies. I came here on August 1st and I have spent the last few days walking a lot and exploring my new neighborhood (class hasn’t started yet). I live in what is called Neustadt-Süd, so basically in a rather modern part of the city, just south of the main city center.
In general, I have a very good impression of what I have seen so far of the city. Compared to Hamburg, where I have lived for the past three years, Cologne seems much more “down to earth” and also much livelier. But then, maybe I was living in the wrong part of Hamburg. The neighborhood here might be similar to Hamburg’s “hipper” areas such as the Schanzenviertel. There are many nice shops around here, big chains as well as tiny, individual shops. What, for me, was a big difference coming from Hamburg, is that many of the shops here (even the big ones) are squeezed into buildings which somehow seem like modified apartment buildings. Like this, everything blends in and is often more difficult to spot than the huge buildings built specifically for the purpose of having a big shop in there or built in the oh-so-convenient block-shape, like it is often the case in Hamburg.
A great advantage of the area I live in now is that everything is so close, you can actually walk to almost every place you might need. My university is a 15 min walk, post office, restaurants, cafés, fitness centers, a huge park and all kinds of shops are just around the corner, literally. In the short time I have been here, I have already spotted an East-African, a Japanese and a Tibetan-Nepalese restaurant and I can hardly wait to try out at least a few of them in the near future. Also, I’ve already had great tapas (though somewhat Greek-influenced) and, of course, the famous local beer: Kölsch. The Hiroshima-Nagasaki-Park, located directly at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Japanese Studies, is a great area to sit down and have a picnic, read a book or just spend some time in the sun. My future jogging route will probably also lead through this park. I was amazed at how silent it actually is there after having walked along the noisy streets for so long before arriving there. Lastly, I found out it’s very convenient to have a big church (not the famous Cologne Cathedral, mind, but still big enough to be a great landmark) close to where you live. Most of the time, you can spot the church somewhere in the distance and like that always have a general idea of where your home is. So far, I really like this neighborhood. Of course there are the usual spots where alcohol addicts meet, but I found out pretty soon where these were and now I can avoid them most of the time.
Most of the people I have talked to so far are also very friendly and always willing to help. I particularly realized this when I first went to my university. No matter where you go, you are always given answers to any questions or problems and in the hallways everybody greets you with a smile and a nice “Hello”. Coming from my (slightly bigger) university in Hamburg, the difference is huge. Back in Hamburg, I sometimes spent days being sent from office to office for some tiny question, just because nobody felt responsible to help me. Another huge difference are of course the university’s opening hours which were usually from 11 am to 1 pm or so in Hamburg, whereas in Cologne people seem to be available all the time.
Lastly, in case you’re travelling between Hamburg and Cologne (like I do now), I recommend taking the newly established Hamburg-Köln-Express (Hamburg-Cologne-Express) HKX. I took it when I moved here and it is, in my opinion, a lot better than the conventional option of taking the Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) ICE or IC. To be honest, the HKX has the same problems the Deutsche Bahn has. When I was waiting for the HKX to Cologne, their original train was apparently not working, so we had to wait for a replacement. As a consequence, we left Hamburg about 15 minutes late. But still, they found a replacement and didn’t just cancel everything like the DB often does. And we made up for the lost time pretty well by shortening our stopover times, so we arrived in Cologne almost on schedule. Secondly, the air conditioning was broken, as is so often the case, especially when it’s hot outside like it was then. But they offered us free cooled drinks and ice-cream, so it wasn’t as bad as you might expect. What really made up for all these problems though, were the HKX’s many advantages compared to the DB. Not only are they faster and (usually) a lot cheaper. (If you book well ahead, 20€ compared to 60€ is a lot!) They also have much better service and this is what really convinced me. Most importantly, the personnel talks to people with a smile on their face. They also offer help storing bags on the luggage rack and come by with their snack cart every once in a while. Conclusion: Friendly service makes all the difference. Let’s hope they can keep up with that good start when their number of customers increases in the future.