I love to gather a bit of knowledge when I wander around this world and interact with other cultures.
Most of the time it happens by accident -- I somehow absorb a tidbit or two while simply strolling around gawking at stunning old churches or castles in Europe, for example. Many encounters send me scrambling to Wikipedia to learn more as soon as I can get a good Internet connection.
Other times, I listen intently to a tour guide who aims to impart some crucial detail to me. My visit to Cologne was one of these times.
It's easy to pay attention, of course, when the subject is beer.
In Cologne, when it comes to beer, it's all about the Kolsch.
But we waited until the afternoon (I know, such restraint!) to start our sampling . . .
During our Viking River Cruise on the new longship Viking Mani, we stopped in Cologne for a day as we cruised the middle Rhine region. We spent the morning touring the fourth-largest city in Germany, checking out the city squares, buildings at world-famous cathedral. Cologne, located on both sides of the Rhine, was heavily bombed in WWII, liked many other major cities in the war.
The cathedral was hit more than a dozen times by bombs but was still standing even after the rest of the central city was destroyed. Construction of the church began n 1248 and was not completed until around 1880. (Work stopped in 1473 and was not resumed until 1842.) The structure contains record amount of stained glass, much of it centuries old and that was removed from the church during WWII to keep it safe.
The city also is the birthplace of the fragrance eau de Cologne (water of Cologne), which was created in 1709 by Johanna Maria Farina. The blend of citrus oils, alcohol and water was created to help offset the very bad smells of the city at the time. The perfume was a sensation and very costly, accessible only to the upper class. The site of the original shop (below) still exists as the world's oldest fragrance facility.
After our tour of the city sights, we aimed to settle in for some brews and a soccer game with residents. Our flavor to savor! We had heard about Kolsch and wanted to grab a few cold ones to tide us over before dinner and a late-night brauhaus crawl. All told, we had 10 of these 7-ounce tasty brews by the end of the day over the course of two drinking sessions -- a stop at a pub to watch Bundesliga soccer matches and the beer tour later in the evening. We sampled five kinds of Kolsch, and all were satisfying.
What you need to know about Kolsch drinking in Cologne:
1. The amber-colored ales are served in a special glass, the slender 7-ounce stange, so the beers stay cold.
2. The name Kolsch, German for from Koln (Cologne in English), is protected by law for beers that come from in and around Cologne. The directors of the Kolsch breweries signed the Kolsch Convention in 1986 to preserve its integrity. Kind of like Champagne in France.
3. The brews are served between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit and contain about 5 percent alcohol by volume.
4. There are 26 varieties of Kolsch, with the oldest and best selling types including Gaffel, Fruh, Reissdorf and Peters.
5. Kolsch is served in brauhauses (and bars, too) by Kobes, or bar staff. The specific Kolsch brew houses serve nothing but their own brand. Simply grab and seat and wait to be served. They know what you want. It's regarded as improper to try to flag down a Kobe. They will serve you as soon as they can.
7. Note: They go down nice and smooth, especially the first couple. If you're not careful, that 5 percent ABV can kick in quickly, and you might be surprised to learn you are struggling with your balance when rising from your seat. We paid about 1.90 euros per glass.
You'll truly love the festive atmosphere and delicious beverages at these German brewhouses.