Bier Scooping, Rheinland style
Last Updated : 02/03/10
was having a bad day at work – I’d had to do some and I slumped in my chair with a face like thunder, spinning it around and willing the creaking object to break. Despite my best attempts, however, the chair remained defiantly intact so I gave up and sidled off to the computer room for a quick scan over the budget airline websites to see if there were any offers on. I always find that booking weekends away is a good remedy for having to do some work, I think it’s called retail therapy!
What I found quickly improved my sour mood. Both easyJet and BMIbaby had offers on! (Ryanair did as well, but that’s not really news, is it?) I quickly confirmed with Sue which weekends we had free and where we wanted to go before checking some prices. Bingo! We could go to Bordeaux for some wine scooping in September (and you thought I only drank beer!) and easyJet had also started their flights to Köln that had, for a while, been a destination high on our "must-do" list. Cackling to myself at such good fortune, I soon discovered that we could have a return to Köln for the miserly figure of £36 in late August. Having confirmed with Sue that this was a good move I began to plan the beery itinerary and hotel options for what would be our first proper German beer-scooping trip.
That night I fired up the anthracite powered computer and booked the flights. Superb - Bordeaux was still £39 return, but amazingly the Köln flights had increased by a fiver in the space of 6 hours; bloody cheers then, must have been a big block booking! Cursing my luck (and stag nights, and the loss of a tenner that would have been far better spent on kölsch!) I booked the flights and received my confirmations. A wave of eager anticipation swept over me with the prospect of all those winning Kölsch breweries just begging to be scooped in… and, after all, £41 return isn’t bad when you think about what else you could get for the money…. I failed to think of many items worth more than a return to a beer mecca apart from, predictably, more beer – 15 bottles of Oude Gueuze seemed just as appealing at that moment with no beer in the house!
That was the flights booked but now I needed beer gen, and fast. I knew that there had been as many as 30 breweries in Köln as recently as 1980 but had no idea how many were left now, although I’d heard that quite a lot had closed and had their beer brewed by a large nationally-owned group. I also knew that kölsch had it’s own Appellation controleé, an agreement between the German government and brewers, (called the kölsch convention) which basically means it has rules governing it’s production (isn’t the internet a wonderful thing? How did we find out about things without it?)
The rules a beer must adhere to in order to be called kölsch are –
My usual two sources came to my rescue yet again, with Ron Pattinson’s website listing a bar crawl of Köln and all the breweries, whilst Paul Harrop sent me a superbly written essay(!) on Köln which cut the crap and explained exactly who brews what for whom and where. Just what I wanted! I calculated that there was still 10 breweries active in Köln and most of them were available within the Altstadt, or old town, which is conveniently situated a short walk from the impressive main station and even more impressive cathedral, or Dom. This enormous lump of uber-gothicness is definitely the most impressive church I’ve ever seen and was once the tallest building in the world – until the Eiffel tower took over the mantle. It’s also very handy for navigational purposes when wandering around the city as it can be seen from literally everywhere and enables you to get your bearings very quickly. All that and it’s pretty nice inside too, if you like gothic vaulting and stained glass. How it survived the war when most of the city was reduced to road construction material must be one of the mysteries of the world, but I’m glad it did!
Having received another epic email from Paul Harrop about Düsseldorf, I decided that this place must be included in our trip as there were a possible 6 more brewpubs there, 4 of them making the fabled Altbier which I had learnt was similar to kölsch but brewed with darker malts giving it a much fuller flavour. The number of breweries we were theoretically going to scoop was rising alarmingly; with the three in Bonn the count stood at around 20 and now this was sounding more and more like my kind of holiday! We were also impressed with the public transport systems of the cities as all 3 had trams and the day tickets were reasonably priced (see gen at the end for full details) so getting around between the bars looked like it would be no problem as, being a lazy git, I hate walking too far when a tram can help me out. With a cheap hotel booked on the net a short distance from the centre, we were ready to go.
East Midlands blues.
Sue was delighted that we were flying from East Midlands, as even though it is over an hour from Worcester, it’s not the 2.5-hour slog along trunk routes like Stansted. This suited me too –although I quite like Stansted as an airport, it’s a right pain to get to from Worcester and East Midlands had, on my previous visits, been fairly relaxing and quiet. With the flights being at the sociable time of 15:00 we had plenty of time to pack our bags and, even allowing for the rancid courtesy Ka I had, we arrived at the airport a good 45 minutes before the check-in opened. I had pre-booked a space in long stay but the same thing happened as the last time I’d done this and, after driving miles out to the perimeter fence, we were told it was full which meant we were shunted off to the medium stay area. This is a lot nearer to the terminal and therefore quicker to get to when you return so we weren’t complaining.
The car safely abandoned, we headed to the terminal and found it heaving with holidaymakers of the council tenant variety – lots of "Engerland" tops and shouting in Neanderthal grunts. It was the busiest I’d ever seen it and it suddenly seemed very small for the number of passengers there. There was another surprise when it transpired that the easyJet check-in procedure had altered dramatically (which I’d have known if I’d read the reservation properly) with cashpoint-looking self check-in machines! At first we weren’t sure about the benefits of these devices but when we were the first to see the flight appear on the screens, much to the chagrin of a bunch of chavs who had been trying to be first, Sue fulfilled one of her ambitions in life – to be No.1 on the boarding list! (I’m not sure why I was number 2 as I paid for the flights – must have been a female machine!)
Feeling flushed with success at being numbers 1 and 2 in the check-in we went through customs and found airside busier than I’d ever seen it, unfortunately with more "Engerland" types. The reason for this soon became apparent as flights to the prime scum destinations of Alicante and Tenereife (or Tenant grief as I call it) were delayed and the resulting backlog of scum and other assorted rednecks were milling around, cluttering up the departures hall and generally displaying their lack of intelligence. Cheers then! The hour passed slowly until the planes arrived and the tenants filed on, leaving a relative silence enveloping the room. Our plane had also arrived and we boarded bang on time – unfortunately I’d already scooped the plane 3 times before! We departed a few minutes late and, quite surreally, had to wait for a spitfire to land before we could take off. The hour flight passed quickly and we were soon landing in Germany – let the scooping begin!
So little time, so many scoops.
had, through my various searches on the Internet, discovered that the airport train station had only opened a few months previous and that Köln day tickets were valid to the centre. We cruised through the customs although I had to deftly swap lanes as, as usual, I’d not read the signs and entered a non-EU lane and got stuck behind some bloke from Turkmenistan or somewhere! We found the DB travel centre and purchased a day ticket as we wanted to visit a few brewpubs that night, and fortuitously found up a useful street map from the tourist desk. The station is situated underneath the airport and well signposted; a train arrived only a few minutes after we’d set foot on the platform – result! We settled down for the 15-minute trip with the street map, trying to work out just where all the brewpubs were located.
Much to our amazement, it became apparent that I’d committed an act of unknown genius by booking the Ibis at Barbarossaplatz – it was very close to 2 of the new brewpubs and also the brewery tap of the largest independent Kölsch brewer too. And to think I’d only booked it because it was cheap… We navigated through Köln’s large station to the underground tram stops – and found it a shambles with no trams running! A very helpful public transport official told us that there was major engineering work going on in the underground sections so we’d have to do a bus to Barbarossaplatz instead. This wasn’t good news but at least we didn’t have to walk it, so we quickly located the bus stop and, after a minor confusion as to which way we wanted to go, we were away – along with about 100 others all crammed onto the bendy bus! Not the example of German efficiency I’d hoped for, I must admit. Saying that, I reckon if it had been Britain there would have been no helpful official to tell us what to do and no bus!
It soon became obvious that the distance to Barbarossaplatz wasn’t as great as I’d guessed, but then again I wouldn’t have been happy walking it with our full bags! After negotiating the traffic shambles of Neumarkt we were soon at Barbarossaplatz and we saw that the hotel was a 2-minute walk from the tram stop; that would make our scooping easy – when there were trams running! We were soon checked in and even with a buffet breakfast on the Sunday morning the bill was only £125 for 4 nights. In the room we planned what we would do with the remainder of the evening, as it was 18:30 already and we had a valid tram rover that we intended to use! After a brief "strategy meeting" we decided to scoop in the 3 "new wave" brewpubs and finish at the Reissdorf brewery tap, a short stroll from the hotel.
We ambled the short distance to Barbarossaplatz tram station via a small tree-lined area with pinecones on the floor (remember those?) and discovered that some routes were still running - including ones that shouldn’t even have been there! That made getting to our first intended visit, Braustelle, possible so we took a tram to Friesenplatz (home of the legendary Päffgen brewery) and another the short hop to Leyendeckerstraße. I had printed out loads of directions to the bars but as usual it was Sue’s inbuilt compass that found it for us – I have no "sixth sense" for sniffing out brewpubs, or even knowing which way to go! We entered the cosy bar and immediately the cute little brewery was visible in the back room – it was very coppery and small! The sociable barmaid told us there were 3 beers on – a kölsch, a weiß and a seasonal that turned out to be a cherry beer. This was it, game on, our first kölsch!
Technically speaking, if you stick rigidly to the kölsch Appellation controlee, the beer from Braustelle isn’t really a kölsch as it isn’t filtered. This doesn’t seem to bother them, however, and it’s proudly marketed as one and comes in the strange tall 20cl glasses that bear a passing resemblance to poncy flower vases seen in restaurants. That’s enough about the container though; the beer was the main reason we were there and both kölsch and weiß were very good, the kölsch being dry, bitter and hoppy in all the refreshing ways I’d hoped it would be which was a relief – imagine going there and finding you hated the beer! It was lagery in flavour but had the unmistakeable nuances of top fermentation with some subtle fruity apricot hints in the finish. We tried the special that, despite being billed as a cherry beer, didn’t taste like one but had an intense and unusual Belgian-like fruitiness to it – strange but very interesting and certainly not in the conservative German brewing style. We had another kölsch and left, very happy with the start we had made in Köln.
Next stop was another "new wave" brewpub, the Hellers Bräuhaus. As it was situated quite close to our hotel we did the reverse tram move and got off at Zülpicherplatz for the short wander along Roonstraße. The bar was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday night in studentland (it’s very close to the university) and we got a table in the window and ordered the 2 beers available, the standard kölsch and weiß. Paul Harrop had told me that this was his favourite beer in Köln but I must disagree with him here – I thought it was a lot blander than Braustelle, although still in the recognisable style with hops and bitterness dominating, unfortunately with a toffee-ish malt flavour too prominent for my tastebuds. With the beers in the book we strolled off to the last "new wave" brewpub, again handy for the hotel and only 5 minutes from our location.
Weißbräu could be heard before it could be seen. It sounded like a whole universityload of students had been crammed in there, fed with free beer, and told they’d better sing damn loud to every song that was played OR ELSE. When we walked past, the gentle tones of "Who the f*ck is Alice?" were blasting out of the door and we decided to give it a miss that night, despite it selling a schwartzbier that sounded quite tasty. Ah well, we had another 3 nights left, we reasoned! The final call of the evening, the brewery tap of the Reissdorf brewery, was only a 5-minute walk away so off we went with the student’s enthusiastic singing chasing us down the road.
A short distance along the road was a curry house and, obviously, I checked the menu for Nargis kebabs that would have been a huge scoop in Germany. Unfortunately, the cutting edge of Asian starters wasn’t on the list, although there was a vegetarian Kufta. A few steps past the lovely smelling curry house Sue thought she saw a cat in the grounds of a church so we went to investigate – a German cat was required for sight! We soon found out that it wasn’t a cat, but a whole lawn full of rabbits! They sat or lay on the grass, munching away, whilst some larger specimens galloped around the car park and paths. Rabbits in the city centre? Strange!
We soon found the Reissdorf brewery tap and were impressed by the spacious yet multi-roomed layout and friendly atmosphere. The kölsch was, disappointingly, quite bland with little malt or hop flavour but it wasn’t offensive so we sat and drank it, noting the huge barrel sat on the bar – metal not wood, unfortunately. Some food came by and it looked superb; massive portions too! We realised that we hadn’t eaten that night but decided to make do with a bar of marzipan chocolate as we were booked in for the full buffet breakfast in the morning, so we passed on the food. The beer didn’t inspire us to have another so we wandered back to the hotel and discovered that the bathroom mixer tap didn’t give cold water – tepid was the coldest it got which made the process of brushing teeth a bit unusual! We decided to crash out and go to Düsseldorf on Sunday and, anyway, the bed felt comfortable…
The next morning, we decided that the bed wasn’t as comfortable as it had appeared the previous evening – we both had aching backs after a night on it! The thought of another 3 didn’t appeal tremendously, but I reasoned that we’d get used to it… We trooped downstairs to indulge in the breakfast buffet, as I’d reasoned that there wouldn’t be much open on a Sunday morning – which was wrong, but the breakfast was quite good anyway (if a bit expensive) at €9 each. It included good coffee, juice, various meats and cheeses with bread, eggs, nutella and croissants. We had a good feed before heading off to the station for the train journey to Düsseldorf.
The bus journey to the station was even more of a shambles than the previous day and took a good half hour whereas the tram would have taken around 10 minutes! There seemed to be a lot of people around for a Sunday and, unfortunately, most of them seemed to be getting in the way of our bus. Eventually we arrived and, after a lot of confusion with the ticket machines, we gave up and went to the travel centre where we were sold a cheap group ticket that hadn’t been on the machines! We then caught the first train to Düsseldorf but, unfortunately, so did loads of noisy football fans as there was obviously a game on at Leverkusen that we stopped at on the way. Fortunately they soon disembarked and we were at Düsseldorf hauptbahnhof within 30 minutes. The train was a new-ish double-deck one; I always find it amusing being able to look down on the platform! It’s a strange feeling to be that high up on a train.
We located the tram station and were trying to work out what sort of ticket to buy when we had a stroke of good luck – a young lass emerged from the platform and gave us her ticket! She said she’d bought the day rover but wasn’t going to use it anymore so we may as well have it. After thanking her, we tried to find a map to ensure it was valid but failed so we decided to go with it and plead the "ignorant tourist" if we had to show the ticket to an inspector. Luckily, we only saw one inspector but we got off at our stop before he managed to get to us. We never did find out if the ticket was valid but with all the information we had it certainly looked like it.
We did the underground tram (which seem to be common in Germany – for me, a tram through the streets is a lot more fun than being in a tunnel) over to the other side of the river to check out the 2 "new wave" brewpubs over near Barbarossaplatz (yes, Düsseldorf has one too!). After downloading some route maps from the excellent public transport for the area website, I knew that bus 833 passed by one of the pubs (Albrecht) and the other should be next to the station. As we pulled in, an 833 departed but we thought we’d take a quick look at the pub on the square then go for the next bus to Albrecht.
It soon transpired, however, that the Alter Bahnhof pub on the square no longer brewed (although the shiny kit was still in situ) and just to rub it in the barman confirmed they were intending to brew again in 2005. One brewpub down, 5 to go! We then retraced our steps back to the bus stop – only to find one bus an hour on Sundays, and the next one was in 45 minutes! "B*llocks to that" we said, and immediately took a tram back to the Altstadt to scratch in the traditional Alt brewpubs that I was itching to scoop. The weather was quite sunny and hot and we were developing quite a thirst by this time, having missed out on our first two brewpubs – I hoped this wasn’t a prediction of doom for the rest of them!
The first visit was a bar belonging to the Schumacher brewery, Im Goldenen Kessel. Their brewery tap was out of the Alstadt so we decided, being short of time, to go with their city-centre outlet instead. Im Goldenen Kessel has huge doors opening onto the street and a single small wooden cask perched somewhat precariously in the serving area. It was dispensing a deep amber liquid at a great rate into small kölsch glasses and looked superb. We sat inside by the bar and without much delay a waiter (or Köboes as they’re called) appeared and asked "Alt?" We replied the affirmative and 2 glasses of chestnut coloured beer were placed before us and the beermat marked with 2 lines all within a couple of seconds. That’s what I call efficiency!
Now I know that a lot of scoopers have been to Belgium and are astounded by the beer choice in bars there. In the UK, you may have a choice of, say, 10 cask beers in a good scooping bar, maybe 50 at a pubfest; in Belgium you may have a choice of over 300 or even over 1,000! The unusual thing about Köln and Düsseldorf with their unique top-fermented beer culture seems to be the choice of beer – usually one! In most bars, the barmen walk around with trays of filled glasses and replace your empty glass until you tell them to stop (by placing a beermat on top) and don’t ask what you want. By default you will get a glass of Alt or kölsch – ordering anything else is very rare by the sounds of things; everyone drinks it! It takes some getting used to after the myriad of choice in Belgium, but you soon realise that this is how beer used to be served in times past – you drank the local beer, or you went somewhere else. It’s a history lesson in a glass!
The Alt was delicious. It was rich, toffee-ish, malty, chocolatey and also quite bitter in the taste with a toffee/bitter finish – superb stuff. We were very impressed with the quality of the beer and it’s flavour so we had another just to make sure we liked it! The second was, if anything, even better than the first as we got used to the bitterness and began to note the flavours underneath, such as coffee and red fruit. The small cask didn’t last long and was replaced as we sat there with another of the same size and serving commenced immediately; Alt is obviously filtered! Tempting as it was to stay all afternoon, we had more to scoop so crossed the road to the Zum Schlüssel brewpub. This bar is still owned by the Gatzweiler family who sold out their regional brewery to a large brewing group who closed it, but at least the pub still brews. And brew a damn fine beer it does too! The Alt here was paler but still malty and totally superb – again, there was just the one beer on offer and it came from a large wooden cask sat on the bar.
It was at this point that Sue started a rant about toilet Trolls. In case you’ve not seen one, these creatures live in pub toilets under the guise of cleaning them. They survive by taking money off the customers of the pub who, after having drunk the beer, feel a need to dispose of it and are therefore charged again for pissing it out! Their natural habitat is usually the old-style bars where you’re expected to pay for the use of the toilets – around 20 cents is fine (nothing if you can!) although the trolls have a cunning ploy – they remove all small change from the dish leaving only 1 euro pieces, so unsuspecting tourists think that it’s €1 a piss. Cheek! Sue finds the practice of paying for the toilets more annoying than me, but I do think it’s a bit of a scam to charge you to drink beer then charge you to dispose of the waste products!
With half the traditional Alt brewpubs done, we moved on to the next on the list, Im Fuchschen. It was heaving on the pavement terrace, but, once again, fairly quiet inside so we sat by the window and 2 beers soon came our way. Once again the beer was superb; toffee malt and a generous amount of hops were all involved in the flavour. By this point in the day we were starving so, after seeing some food appear from the kitchen, we got out the phrase book and tried to decipher the menu; we’d just worked out most of it when the waiter appeared with an English version! As usual, I was in "scooping animals for consumption" mode, so went for the Ox in horseradish sauce while Sue had the find of the trip – Rhineland pot-roasted beef with wine sauce. My Ox was very tender and tasty but nothing could compete with the pot roast! The beef was meltingly tender and the superb thick, black, rich winey sauce had small grapes in it – which just called out for the dumplings to mop it up! The food was superb all round, as was the beer; Im Fuchschen is definitely a place to spend an afternoon again sometime.
Looking at the menu, it became clear that Fuchschen also did a wheat beer called Silber Fuchschen (Silver Fox). I attempted to order a bottle of it, but the waiter seemed unduly concerned about the order. "One bottle, not one glass?" he queried. "Ja, Eine Flasche!" I declared in my best Deutsch. When he returned with a bottle of Silvaner wine I realised why he hadn’t wanted to serve the whole bottle! Ooops! I thought we’d be taking it home, but the waiter soon realised the mistake and, smiling, took the bottle away again and replaced it with the correct bottle of wheat beer which, in the usual North German tradition, wasn’t very bubblegummy but instead more dry, bitter and grainy.
The last brewpub, according to gen I’d read on the Internet, seemed to be a right strange mixture. It was a big tourist draw, being very central in the Altstadt, but also sounded the most traditional of the four. Before we visited, however, we needed some more cash – and spent a fruitless 15 minutes trying to find a cashpoint! I thought I’d seen one in the tram station so we had a look but there didn’t seem to be one there. By now we were getting a bit annoyed as if we couldn’t find a cashpoint that would mean only one drink in Ueirge! Thankfully, I spotted the machine that I’d seen earlier and we both got some money out. A tip with German cashpoints (well, any really!) – if you want €100, get out €90. If you get out a hundred chances are you’ll get a €100 note, which isn’t the easiest thing to change! Ordering €90 gives a 50, a 20, a 10 and 2 fives. This makes life a lot easier as some pubs don’t like changing large notes, especially if all you want is one glass of Alt!
Our wallets refilled, we went in search of Zum Uerige. Following the maps and directions we had brought us to a small square with no sign of the bar. After a bit of head scratching, a passer-by informed us that it was about 100 yards up the road we had just walked down – we must have walked right past it! Inside the pub was fantastic – all dark wood and little alcoves. The best bit was the barrels that were continuously rolled through to the bar, scattering normals before them! The Alt itself was a bit of a shock to the tastebuds though; there was a huge hallertauer hop taste and a very bitter finish that, initially, Sue liked and I didn’t. After a few glasses I soon realised that this was a superb brew and possibly my favourite, although all 4 Alts are so good (yet so different from each other) that I’m not sure if I could actually choose a favourite from amongst them. Shame, we’ll just have to go back and try them all again one day! I tried some of their wheat beer, but once again I wasn’t that impressed with the Northern interpretation of the style and we had another Alt to finish off a day that had really opened my eyes to this classic style of beer.
It was, unfortunately, time to leave Düsseldorf so we found the surface tram stop and did one back to the main station where we were spoilt for choice of trains back! We boarded a double-deck one, managed to find a quiet carriage, and within 30 minutes we were arriving at Köln Deutz station. We had decided to get off here and walk down to the tram station as Sue had worked out that the U3/U4 trams were diverting to Barbarossaplatz, which would enable us to score the rare curve (if you don’t know what this means, don’t worry – it’s just "railway enthusiast" talk!) with no booked service into our station. Sure enough, the tram diverted from it’s route and we arrived at Barbarossaplatz feeling pleased with ourselves.
We had agreed that we would try Weißbrau again as I particularly wanted to scoop in their schwartzbier – maybe the only dark beer in Köln? Filled with trepidation, we took a shortcut to the pub and were pleased to find it was only 5 minutes from the hotel; talk about being our local! It was also totally different than the previous evening; like a pubby Jekyll and Hyde, in that it was almost deserted with no singing students to deprive me of scoops! In we went, and the huge copper brewkit looked very impressive against the outside wall. We sat at a table near to it and a very sociable waiter appeared to ask what we wanted – the first time that day. We ordered the kölsch and very good it was too; golden and quite fruity with a hoppy finish. The weißbier was actually quite good for Northern Germany and not too bubblegummy, but the star of the show was the schwarzbier that the menu claimed to be based on a Czech black lager. I’m not sure about that, but it was a very good beer with a subtle chocolatey flavour and a dry, coffeeish aftertaste.
We had another as we both enjoyed it and, after all, this was our local! The food looked good and as we were quite hungry we shared a flammkuchen which is a kind of thin pizza and that certainly filled a gap, although maybe one each would have been a better move! Reluctantly we decided to call it a night and so we wandered back to the hotel, having a check on the bunnies in the churchyard who were still storming around all over the place and seemed to have increased in number, and within 10 minutes we were back in our room to see if the bed had become any more comfortable. The tap was still dispensing warm water and I resolved to try and get it fixed the next day – and promptly forgot.
A day on the Kölsch.
Monday dawned bright and warm. We had decided to spend a day around Köln and try to seek out all the beers we could as well as have a good ride round on the (hopefully fully operational) tram system. We walked the short distance across to the tram station and immediately saw the trams were running to their correct configurations – a real relief as it made getting around town a damn sight easier. We bought some chocolate croissants from the bakery by the tram station before buying a rover ticket from the machine and then taking the first tram to the main station. There, we stocked up on some very good butties from the large food area under the platforms – there are hot food stalls, butty and cake stalls, a little supermarket, and various other food options; we were very impressed and I’ve never seen anything like it in Britain (surprise!).
The touristy morning was decided on, as even though some of the bräuhaus were open, 10:00 seemed a bit early to start scooping beers! Saying that, the time of day didn’t stop me the last time I was in Czech, January 2004, when I visited the Pardubice brewery early one morning to get some takeouts for home. I walked into the off-sales department (well, more of a room full of crates) at about 08:50 and, after seeing a local buy a crate of Porter and drink a bottle before leaving, I thought I’d better emulate him to fit in with the local customs. So, I ended up drinking 8% Baltic porter out of the bottle in a snowy Czech town at 09:00 in the morning… before breakfast! I suppose it was what you’d call a liquid breakfast, and most welcome it was too as the temperature was 10 below zero and the snow was pelting down. Somehow, with a bellyful of Porter, it didn’t seem as cold walking back to the station…
However, I digress. We took a leisurely wander over the huge Rhein bridge to the Deutz area to take some photos of the Dom from the other bank. The bridge is vast; you don’t realise how wide the Rhein is until you’ve walked halfway across and you look at how far away each bank is! The bridge is heavily used by trains; sometimes there were 3 or even 4 trains at a time crossing the river which made the bridge shake quite a bit although not in an alarming way! Anyone with a fear of water may think twice about crossing on foot, but as there are 3 bridges used by trams there isn’t really a problem in finding alternative methods of crossing the Rhein. It is well worth doing, however, for the excellent photos of the towering Dom and rail bridge from the Deutz side.
We sat on a wall watching the heavy river traffic of huge barges filled with unidentified cargoes pass in a never-ending stream. A lot of the boats are Dutch and a lot also carry a car on the back, presumably for the captain when the destination is reached! This, and the picturesque view of the Dom behind, kept us occupied for a good half an hour before we had to return over to the Neustadt. We probably would have spent longer if it were not for a rancid dog which, having the whole riverfront for miles as it’s toilet, chose to defecate right under our sitting position on the wall. You wouldn’t have thought the stench could travel so perfectly from the grass below 10 feet up to our seat, but the dog must have had a diploma in working out trajectories of shit-stench for it soon became unbearable and, cursing the rancid animal, we walked back over the Rhein to have a closer look at the majestic Dom.
We walked around the Dom to the front and it really brought it home just what a colossal structure it was. There is a stonemason’s workshop on the side where men were industriously carving lumps of rock to replace bits of the stonework that towered above – there was plenty of evidence of a lot of renewal recently as lots of stonework was fresh, not stained black by pollution as the rest is. One funny bit was the "gargoyle depot" where statues and gargoyles were lined up for future use, and one looked like Dave Brown from Frodsham! Honest…
From the square at the front, the Dom was even more impressive – the spires reach 227 metres into the sky and it hurts your neck to try and take it all in. The sheer power of the building is amazing, and the person who said, "If there is devotion embodied in a building, this is it" was spot on. I’m not Christian by any stretch of the imagination, but I defy anyone not to be impressed by the beauty of the Dom, and it’s beauty isn’t skin deep. We joined the tourist crowd in milling round the inside and it’s a pure feast of classic Gothicism – soaring pillars, arches, ribbed vaulting, the works. The height of the ceiling makes you stand and think "how did they build that?" and the spires are a lot higher still. By the time we emerged it was nearly midday and by consensus we decided it was time for a beer. So, that was the tourist bit over, now to get down to the serious matter of beer (and brewery) scooping!
Our first visit was the Früh brewery tap, our choice being made for us as it’s only a few minute stroll from the Dom. Despite it usually being wedged with tourists, it was pretty quiet when we got there and we bagged a table near the serving area easily. Being near the service area serves multiple purposes; it helps you get served with beer as the waiters are always bustling past, and it lets you observe the ritual of pouring kölsch from the cask into the trays which hold a ring of the little 20cl glasses. We soon acquired a glass of beer and sat back to enjoy it.
Ron Pattinson, on his superb beer website, states there are 3 major kölsch styles; Früh is hoppy, Malzmühle is malty and Päffgen is bitter. As this was our first taste of one of the classic styles I hoped I’d be able to pick out some flavours in the beer and, indeed, it was notably hoppy in all departments; I’d say personally it tastes dry hopped but is this possible in the way kölsch is served? I’d assume the beer is dry-hopped in the conditioning tanks prior to racking but would love to be told exactly what they do, if indeed it is dry hopped at all or just well hopped late on in the kettle. Whatever the answer, we were impressed with our first kölsch of the day and could have stayed a lot longer if we didn’t have a load more breweries to scoop!
The next visit on the itinerary was Sion. This bräuhaus (which in Köln just means a pub which may have brewed at some point in it’s history as opposed to actually brewing now) was reduced to rubble thanks to the RAF and USAF during the war and was rebuilt without it’s brewery. The beer now comes from the huge KVV plant but Paul Harrop told us that it was the only one from there still to have some character so, therefore, was the only one ethically available for scooping! Respecting his knowledge on these matters we decided to give it a go and see how bad (or good) it was. After only a few minutes walk we were sitting inside the pub with the impressive bar in front of us upon which 2 metal casks sat. Wooden ones, even though they probably don’t add much taste-wise to the beer, look a hell of a lot better! The service was fairly slow despite us sitting opposite the bar and, in the end, the beer pourer took pity on us and drew us some kölsch (in bars, there is usually 1 bloke pouring the beer and x waiters delivering it and taking money, although in some places the waiters also do their own pouring) that was, as Paul had said, gently fruity and hoppy without being too interesting.
With no reason to stay in Sion we drank up and moved on to the next winner. Peter’s bräuhaus is an excellent refurbishment of an old building that used to contain a brewery many years ago. It still doesn’t, but it looks convincingly old despite only being a bar for 10 years. The kölsch comes from Peter’s brauerei in nearby Monheim and, although there are rumours it has recently closed, the barstaff maintained the beer still came from there. It certainly didn’t taste anything like the Sion and was fairly hoppy so, until we know otherwise, it’s being claimed as Peter’s! We had soon drained our glasses and headed off for the short walk to the Gäffelhaus.
Gäffelhaus is yet another pub that used to brew but has, like most of the others, moved it’s brewing operations out to the outskirts. Gäffel is one of the larger producers so, as can be expected, the beer isn’t that exciting and is served from taps under pressure in the bar, the only one to serve their beer in this way. They also serve a "light" kölsch that must taste like water – ordinary kölsch isn’t exactly the most flavoursome beer (except Päffgen!) so I’ve no idea what this version would be like. Obviously enough, we tried the kölsch and didn’t try the light version! With hindsight, maybe we should have scooped it in to see just how crap it was…
The last major visit in the Altstadt on our list was Malzmühle. Unusually, the brewery is not secreted away in some suburb but situated right next to the bar and the smell of brewing wafted mischievously around as we sat sampling the beer. Malzmühle had been listed as one of the 3 classic kölsches by Ron Pattinson but it failed to live up to it’s billing with us; the flavour wasn’t as malty as I’d hoped and the hops were quite restrained. It wasn’t a bad beer by any means, but it didn’t have enough character to live up to it’s star billing. I’d like to try it again, however, as I think it might be one of those beers that you could develop a taste for as Bill Clinton allegedly did on his visit there a few years back.
Heaven and Earth and a wasted journey.
We’d saved (hopefully) the best until last. Päffgen brewery is situated to the west of the centre in the "yuppieland" area, although it was still a truly traditional brewery tap by all accounts that I’d read. We did the short underground tram journey to Friesenplatz and easily located the pub down a narrow street heading towards the Dom, which fills the skyline at the end of the road! We gingerly opened the door and peeked inside and, thankfully, all was well – a wood-panelled bar with the typical pine-topped tables stretched away into the distance. Two wooden barrels were sat on the bar and waiters were bustling around with trays of kölsch. This looked the business and we realised that we were hungry after seeing the waiters staggering under the weight of typically German portions of food, so we found a table near the serving area and awaited some beer.
Two glasses of kölsch were soon filled from the wooden casks and placed on our table. I tasted the beer and immediately knew that this was the kölsch for me out of all the ones we had tried; it was dry and quite bitter in flavour but also had some maltiness and a dab of hops in the flavour – a perfectly brewed refreshing and eminently drinkable beer. If the food is this good, I thought, we’ve found the ideal brewpub! Sue had seen the Rheinland pot-roast beef on the menu that she’d had at Im Fuchschen in Dusseldorf, so she was OK. I wanted to try a typically Köln dish so it had to be Heaven and Earth which is black pudding with mashed potatoes, apple sauce and mustard. We decided to have another glass of the superb beer whilst we waited for the food to arrive – then another! Those little 20cl glasses seem to empty very quickly…
It didn’t take long for the waiter to deliver our food and I was astounded by the size of my plate – a huge mound of mashed potatoes and apple was host to 3 large blood sausages and a massive pot of mustard. Sue’s beef was a smaller portion than the Düsseldorf example, but almost as good, which is a massive compliment! My Himmel und Aird was excellent and the huge pile soon shrank, aided by swigs from another glass of the bitter, tasty kölsch. We were wondering how long to stay when I remembered Gastätte Lommerzheim! This bar, from what I had read about it, was unique – a survivor from the war (and showing the scars) in a backstreet in Deutz which served Päffgen kölsch and huge portions of food. Lots of people had raved about it so we were determined to scoop it in and, now we had discovered how good Päffgen kölsch was, it was even more of an essential visit!
Reluctantly, we paid up and left Päffgen and took a tram over the bridge to the Deutzer Freiheit stop. Siegesstraße didn’t look very promising but we persevered and soon we found the bar – closed for summer holidays, according to a note on the door! Gutted! The pub was due to be closed anyway on Tuesday, but the good news was that it re-opened Wednesday so we would be able to sample it’s ambience before heading home. The place looked a right beast with cracked walls, old brewery signs and surrounded by modern concrete carbuncles. We peered in through the windows and could see one room full of tables and not much else – we had to come back on Wednesday and scoop this place in!
As it was now past rush-hour, we managed to get onto a tram and returned to the city centre where we decided to return to Weißbrau for some more of their schwartzbier as, despite having drunk some excellent kölsch, the dark beer there was very good and a change from pale, hoppy beers. As we got back to Barbarossaplatz an old tram could be seen on route 6 so we tried to catch it but, unfortunately, it stormed off before we could get to it. It was the first old tram we’d seen all weekend and it looked very much like an Amsterdam model so we decided to try and find some on the same route the next day. We headed off to Weißbrau for a few glasses of schwartzbier, although the waiter who had served us the previous night had other ideas! Without asking us he produced 2 glasses of weiß which we had to consume before we could have a schwartz! We decided to have an early night (well, early-ish) so we wandered back the short distance to the hotel, making sure the bunnies were OK in the church garden on the way past (there were even more of them).
Crêpes with nutella and marzipan.
I awoke with the realisation that the bed was one of the most uncomfortable I’ve ever slept on. This had occurred to me when I had awoken at around 03:00 with the feeling of someone was pummelling my back with boxing gloves containing horseshoes, although a quick check with an eye half open revealed no such thing was occurring. After standing in the shower with the hot water directed at my back for 15 minutes I felt a lot better but after cleaning my teeth in lukewarm water again I wrote a note (in German) to the cleaners complaining about the lack of cold water. We made our way to the tram station via the bakery for some of their lovely chocolate croissants and got the first tram to Bonn, our destination for the day. We knew there were 3 brewpubs there, although 2 looked difficult to get to so it was a bit of a journey of discovery.
I’d guessed the journey would take some time, but we weren’t expecting the hour-long trip! We must have stopped at around 30 stations en-route and, as the scenery wasn’t very exciting, it soon became a bit of a drag – the train back would be a far better bet we decided! Eventually we arrived into an overcast Bonn and, armed with our tram rover, we decided to have a quick spin round to get the lie of the land. We did a large circuit via Ramersdorf which involved street-running most of the way although there were some tunnel sections, and re-crossed the Rhein south of the city and came back up the other side on a telecom-sponsored line – the trams were pink and dubbed the "telecom express"!
We arrived back into the hauptbahnhof and wandered into the centre of town, viewing the Bräuhaus Bonnsch on the way – we’d be there later on! During a quick stop to consume a butty, we heard fire alarms going off in a building nearby and 5 fire engines plus support vehicles duly arrived – overkill or what? There appeared to be no fire so they quickly departed again. Sue then acquired a big alien insect on her back, which I brushed off but had vanished when I went to investigate what it was.
Bonn seemed to be a fairly nondescript type of city with a few impressive buildings, but the overall feel of the place was of an everyday city going about it’s business. Bonn was the capital of West Germany during partition and I’d have thought there would be more evidence of grandeur than we found there. In the tourist information centre we found a massive map of the area and soon decided the other 2 brewpubs were too far out and difficult to get to, so one scoop only in Bonn! We found the main square, on which was a crepes stall selling some weird combinations including our favourites – marzipan for Sue and nutella for me! After consuming the superb crepes we went down to the Rhein and sat by a bridge for a while watching the trams crossing over and cargo ships passing under it. Our plan was to go back to the brewpub and then back to Köln, but the weather intervened and it absolutely lashed down with rain and that, as we didn’t have coats, was pretty bad news! At last the clouds relented enough to let us get back to the centre where we purchased a huge "atlantic pollack" fishfinger roll from a Nordsee shop and ate it under the shop canopy whilst the weather once again turned nasty.
We decided that we’d exhausted Bonn’s delights and it was time to drink some beer, so off we went to the brewpub via a superb little shop that sold Walker’s shortbread, Neuhaus Belgian chocolates, German marzipan and other sweet treats – they even had Mozart Kuegelen from Salzburg! The brewpub was soon reached and we ordered a glass of each of the 2 beers – Bonnsch, a pale grainy beer, and the ubiquitous weiß. Both were OK if not very exciting although the glass Bonnsch was served in looks just like the one for t’Zelfde from Bosteels in Belgium; a sort of strange curved horn with finger holds!
The beers weren’t good enough to warrant another so we headed back to the station and found a train departing within ten minutes – but we’d misjudged the time and it was packed, being 5 o’clock. We managed to find seats and we got our tickets checked for the first and only time that week before alighting at Köln Süd. The plan was to re-visit Hellers on Roonstraße but, when we arrived there, there was a massive crowd outside and it was clearly not going to be possible to physically get through the doors so we aborted that plan and decided to try and find a few old trams, as I’m a saddo. After finding heritage trams on route 6, a superb idea came to me – do the entire route and get off at Friesenplatz for some more Päffgen! How’s about that then?
After visiting both ends of number 6’s route, and narrowly avoiding having a huge branch from a tree fall on me at the northern one, we alighted at Friesenplatz and were soon inside Päffgen again. This time we sat in the small, wood-panelled left hand room and ordered the other Köln food speciality, Halven Hahn. If you speak any German you’d probably expect half a chicken to arrive and, at €3 or so, this would be good value. What actually arrives is a rye roll with butter, a pot of mustard and a large slice of mature Dutch cheese with a distinctly nutty and caramel flavour. OK, so it’s only a cheese butty, but it compliments the kölsch superbly. We relaxed and discussed the next move whilst we drank the excellent bitter beer – I would have stayed all night, but it was our last evening in Köln and we still had a few places to scoop in.
There were still a few kölsch breweries we hadn’t got in the book and one, Sünner, sounded quite traditional. Their brewery is way out in the east past Deutz but, luckily, a tramline runs right to the door so we took a ride there – only to find it closed! The bar next door, also owned by Sünner, didn’t look very promising so we returned to the centre to visit their showpiece pub in the Altstadt, the Walfisch on Salzgasse in the maze of narrow streets near the river close to Heumarkt. "Bloody hell, I’m in Brugge!" I ranted when we found it. The pub is tall, old, and has the very Flemish castellations on top but although it’s old it hasn’t always been there; it was moved here in the 1930’s brick by brick. It’s certainly a gorgeous building but what of the beer?
Inside, the small bar on the right has a table in front of it and we decided to perch here to scoop the kölsch in. The room was decorated with old brewery signs and trays and seemed to be a store for the "beer towers" I’d first seen in Tunisia; 3 foot high plastic tubes which are filled with beer and dispensed via a tap at the bottom. The other rooms were large and decorated in a traditional style and full of customers enjoying the kölsch, some from beer towers! A small metal barrel was sat on the bar and the barman, after asking the customary "Kölsch?" dispensed two glasses for us which didn’t last long due to the thirst we’d worked up with the unnecessary trip out to Deutz. The beer was rather average we thought, although we’d had a lot worse! I think by this time I was unfairly comparing everything to the superb Päffgen, so maybe I didn’t give the Sünner beer the chance it deserved? Ah well, maybe next time…
The Rough Guide mentioned a bar called the "Bier Museum" which we had seen whilst searching for the Walfisch, and although it sounded like a tourist trap we decided to have a quick look to see if there were any beers worth drinking. It soon turned out that the place wasn’t worth a look as it had a beer menu on the door – fair enough, 12 beers, but all pretty common stuff and the prices were well chingy! We left the tourists to their overpriced beers and headed back over the Rhein to check on the Lommerzheim – Tuesday is it’s closing day (ruetag) but the sign on the door had said closed until the Monday so we considered that it was worth a look!
Predictably, we were soon outside the firmly closed door with no sign of life inside. I was a bit gutted as we’d now have to hope it was open on the Wednesday morning, which would be fine apart from the limited amount of Päffgen we could consume due to having to drive home from the airport. Ah well! We then sat on the wall facing the Dom and watched the sky grow darker and the endless stream of cargo ships pass by until it got a bit chilly and we decided the lights on the Dom weren’t going to come on for us. We caught a tram back over the river and headed for out local, Weißbrau, for a few glasses of the schwarzbier. Our regular waiter was on the ball tonight and brought us two glasses of dark beer without us having to ask; surely the sign of being in your local?!
We had a few beers before returning to the hotel. We now only required 2 of the main kölsch beers, the very rare Richmondis (which we hadn’t seen anywhere) and the very common Dom (which we’d been told was very bland), and were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves for doing so well in scooping so many during the last 3 days. I’d not really looked at the hotel bar whilst leaving, but something caught my eye as we walked in – a Dom pumpclip! We decided that we may as well scoop the beer in, seeing as it was being given to us on a plate like that, so we did – and, just as everyone had said, it was very bland! It was also served in a 30cl glass, the only one of that size we saw.
Back in the room, we found a letter from reception. They had fixed the tap so we now had cold water (we tested it, and it worked!) and for compensation they had attached a free drinks voucher… if only we’d gone back to the room first we’d have saved €5, and not paid for a scoop which we hadn’t really enjoyed. At least we could now brush our teeth in cold water so we decided to use the voucher for a free coffee in the morning – no way was it going to waste, and we didn’t want another Dom kölsch either! We settled down for our last night’s sleep in the world’s most uncomfortable bed and, if I was a Christian, I would have prayed for the Lommerzheim to be open on Wednesday! (Thinking about beds, however, I remember staying in a really dodgy lodge in Gateshead a few years back for work and I think that may have just edged the "world’s crappiest bed" award…)
We started the day well by using the free bar voucher to acquire some huge take-out cups of coffee from the restaurant – result! As we only had until early afternoon, and as I couldn’t drink much beer with the car at the airport, we decided to have a good bash on the trams and get some of the routes in then pay a last (and hopefully successful) visit to the Lommerzheim when it opened at 10:30. We hoped some of the old trams would appear on route 6, and sure enough they did – the route is rush-hour only and run exclusively by the old trams! When the services finish, the trams take a strange route to get back to their depot, running on route U1/U7 from Neumarket as "E6" as far as Aachenerstraße. We did a few of these then some normal trams until it was time to visit the "Lommi" via route U1/U9 to Deutzer Freiheit station.
All the way to the bar we were hoping it would be open – I didn’t want to miss this apparent classic of European drinking culture as when the current landlord retires it may vanish forever. I could see the pub, but it still looked closed; I cursed our bad luck in choosing this week when the pub was closed for holidays! Then, as we got closer, we could see lights inside…then people inside! I wore a massive smile as we entered the bar to find it already quite full, despite only having been open for 15 minutes. The décor is interesting – one plain wood-panelled room with brewery adverts and other local stuff on the walls and a long bar down one side of the room with a wooden barrel of Päffgen sat on it. We found a table and sat down and with hardly a minutes delay the landlord appeared and uttered the usual greeting in Köln pubs – "Tag. Kölsch?" (Hello. Do you want some beer then? If not, clear off – it’s all we sell). We replied in the positive and soon two glasses of foaming beer were placed before us. I ventured a sip from my glass – it was absolutely gorgeous, maybe even better than the Päffgen brewery tap, and a very reasonable €1.10 a glass.
We sat and supped our beer as the bar filled up with locals who seemed to all know each other and have a remarkable capacity for kölsch consumption. Soon, the food started to appear and I suddenly realised I was hungry – the portions were massive! I’d read in several sources that the place was famous for it’s pork chops ("kotelett" in German) and they certainly looked the business so, when the landlord next replaced our glasses, I asked in my best Deutsch for 2 koteletts with chips. He didn’t raise an eyebrow at 2 strangers in his little locals bar drinking his beer and eating his food, which makes me think that the place must get a lot of visits from other beer lovers nowadays – I just hope it survives when he retires, it deserves to be preserved as a classic bar for beer lovers everywhere to experience.
As we drank the excellent beer and watched a steady stream of plates groaning with food parade past we were joined by two elderly locals who, although they spoke hardly any English, were very friendly and I managed to strike up a conversation of sorts in English and halting German. It turned out they were Italians who had arrived there during the war and stayed! Soon, our food arrived and I wasn’t sure if I could eat it all – the cutlet was around 20cm long and a good 5cm thick, served with onions, a mound of chips and home-made fruity sauce. I half expected the meat to be tough but the knife cut through it with ease such was it’s tenderness. The flavour was excellent too, the chips were perfectly cooked, and the sauce complemented both perfectly. What a top meal! It took a good ten minutes to demolish the chop, aided by more kölsch, and when I eventually sat back in my chair it was with a feeling of having experienced something very special in the beer drinker’s tour of Europe; Gastatte Lommerzheim is certainly one of my favourite bars, despite only selling one beer – which is dud! Try explaining that to Gary Mess!
The bar was now getting very full and it was time for us to leave. Reluctantly we finished our 4th beer and, having paid the miserly sum of €25 for this taste of nirvana, headed back to the tram station for a few more rides before the train back to the airport. On one of the tram moves we managed to see a bar selling the only main Kölsch we hadn’t managed to find that weekend (Richmondis) – we’ll get it next time! We arrived at the station with 10 minutes to spare so we bought some marzipan from the supermarket under the platforms to keep us occupied on the plane, then did the S-train to the airport. As the train approaches Köln Deutz, you can almost see the Lommerzheim, almost smell those huge koteletts, almost taste the Päffgen… Long may it bring pleasure to all!
We were a bit miffed to arrive at the airport and find we were numbers 63&64 to check in. For those who don’t travel by easyJet or Ryotscare, passengers are given a number when checking in – as we were 63/64, around 62 people had checked in before us. When boarding, it’s usually parents with young children first, then numbers 1-30, then 1-60, then the rest. Sometimes they vary this by having 1-40 or even 1-60, but in most cases having a number higher than 60 isn’t a position of strength. We weren’t impressed with the airport either, as there were very few places to sit without going into the "holding pens" for the gates and the expected local wine shop didn’t materialise – just a brand-led multinational crud-flogging shed which was quickly dismissed. However, soon the plane arrived and we trooped into the boarding area right on time.
The boarding procedures at Köln airport were soon discovered to be strange. Rather than loading in batches, they got the first 60 passengers onto a bus and drove that to the back steps of the plane. Therefore, despite having a usually crap boarding number, we were actually 1st onto the plane as the bus was only just disgorging it’s passengers when I stormed through the barrier onto the front! We got our usual seats (9E and F) and we sat back awaiting departure. It was all going too well! Suddenly, the pilot came over the tannoy, sounding apologetic, and I knew something was wrong. "Sorry about this, but Manchester air traffic control have put a slot restriction on us – we’re going to be around 90 minutes late!" Great, cheers then! We sat on gate for a while, but as the gate was required for another plane we were shunted off to a waiting area where the sun beat down on us – even with the blowers on, it was getting very hot onboard and of course the crew couldn’t open the doors, not being on gate. After what seemed to be hours, the pilot suddenly announced that we were away, and around 80 minutes late we were finally off!
As we climbed away from Köln, the Dom could be seen towering above the city – we could still see it when the city itself was left far behind; I remember on my interrail in 1991 arriving in Köln and seeing the Dom for miles beforehand – it’s one huge building! The flight back took just over an hour and, as we only had hand luggage, we were out of the terminal within 10 minutes of landing. A bus to the carpark was waiting and, as we jumped on, away we went – talk about personal service! We were in the car and driving out of the airport 5 minutes later and, having missed a lot of the traffic by being an hour late, we were at home just over an hour later! Result.
For the beer lover, Köln and Düsseldorf are an essential visit. Not only do they both have their own unique beer styles but they also have some superb bars in which to drink them, Gastatte Lommerzheim and Zum Uerige spring to mind immediately. Kölsch can be bland, but there’s nothing wrong with Päffgen, Früh or Malzmühle whilst all 4 of the old breweries’ Altbiers are excellent in their different ways. The strange experience for scoopers having been to Belgium is that most bars only sell one beer!
If you’re a desperate scooper then I’d still recommend both cities as there are loads of beers to scoop in Köln and quite a few in Düsseldorf, but the cities will really reward an extended stay where you get to know the bars and feel of the place. Köln certainly grabbed me as both a beer mecca and as an interesting city in it’s own right; Düsseldorf looks almost as good and we’ll be going back there next time! The food is also excellent in all the places we tried and the hotel, although we may have been unlucky with the bed, was clean, spacious and had every amenity.
Overall, just get yourself over there – it’s hellfire! Sitting in Päffgen, Lommerzheim or Zum Uerige drinking those little 20cl glasses certainly made a lasting impression on me! I’ll be back!
Getting to Köln is about as easy as falling off a log; although I’ve never consciously tried the said act I imagine it’s really easy to accomplish. Apart from taking a Eurostar to Brussels then a Thalys to Köln, you can fly with cheap airlines from some UK airports although the number of routes have declined recently. easyJet fly from Gatwick, HLX fly from Manchester, Germanwings go from Edinburgh and Stansted whilst Air Berlin fly from Stansted. The fares can be very reasonable – from £20 with HLX; we paid £45 with easyJet which isn’t bad. The actual airport (called Köln/Bonn, code CGN) is new but crap with little seating and hardly any shops apart from brand-obsessed ones, but it has a station underneath and is close to Köln so it’s easy to get to and from.
Getting to Düsseldorf is almost as easy with around 4 trains an hour from Köln. It also has an airport (Air Berlin fly from Manchester and Stansted to Düsseldorf, Jet2 from Leeds/Bradford, and FlyBE go from Southampton, Manchester and Birmingham) and the ex-US military base at Neiderrhein (a good distance away) is served by Ryanair from Edinburgh, Glasgow Prestwick and, of course, Stansted. Personally I’d fly into Köln and do the train, but you may save some money by going into Neiderrhein.
Both cities have superb public transport networks with trams, trains and buses that will get you just about anywhere in town and both have reasonably priced day tickets (including "5 person" ones which are valid for up to 5 people and not much more expensive than a one-person ticket) with the network maps easily found on the internet. The trams are frequent and clean and run from very early to very late making extended bar crawls a possibility! Single tickets in Köln are €1.90 a throw so, with a dayticket (Tagesticket, valid to 03:00 the day after punching) being €5.20 (€7.60 for up to 5 people) it makes sense to invest in one, although there are "strippenkarts" as in the Netherlands that you punch (entwerter) in the on-board machines to validate. These work out cheaper than singles although with the amount of travelling required to get to all the bars I’d get a dayticket. One word of advice – tickets are available from machines on stations and on the trams/buses which take coins only, not notes! They also take German debit cards of unknown pedigree so we had to save €8.30 of change a day to buy our ticket. You can always buy them from the hauptbahnhof over the counter, or at the airport at the DB shop as we did. (Public transport websites are : Köln and Düsseldorf).
As Köln and Bonn’s transport systems are shared, the area is divided into slightly confusing zones – you can get a day ticket at Köln that is valid in Bonn too. Overall, both cities are easy to get to, get around and get out of which is very important for a beer tourist – you don’t want anything too difficult after a few beers! We didn’t get our tickets checked at all on any tram in any of the 3 cities, but we did on the train from Bonn to Köln. The penalty fare for having no tickets seems to be €20, so it’s up to you…
Köln hauptbahnhof is a large, busy station with a massive domed roof and loads of shops, including a large food area. The ticket machines are confusing, but you can buy tickets from the DB travel centre, which we found to be a better bet. With the Rhein/Rhuhr conurbation being heavily populated it’s well served by trains to other parts of Europe and can easily be reached as part of a larger "city crawl" and as Köln airport is a major hub for Air Berlin and Germanwings you can get to (and from) just about anywhere in Europe.
Köln is full of cheap hotels being a weekend destination, but Düsseldorf’s hotels seem to be mostly pricey as it is a major banking centre, although there are some cheaper ones around the station. We stayed in the Ibis Barbarossaplatz in Köln that was ideally located for the 3 "new-wave" brewpubs although the bed was rubbish – maybe we were unlucky? Just have a look on Expedia and see how many hotels there are in the city centre; there’s even one in the station! Accommodation shouldn’t be a problem in either city although, as a rough guide, Köln is cheaper by quite a big margin.
The drinking culture in both cities is quite similar. The Bräuhaus serve usually only one beer, their own (either brewed there or, more commonly, elsewhere) and you may get some soft drinks too. When you enter a bar, choose a table and sit there and a waiter will usually arrive. He’ll usually simply ask you "Kölsch?" (or "Alt?") to which you reply the number you want. The beers are served in 20cl "highball"-ish glasses (tall and thin) called "stange" which can be emptied frustratingly quickly when you’re thirsty. When you finish your beer, if you want some more then just wait – the glass will be replaced, usually without even asking. If you don’t want any more then either place a beermat on top of the glass or mention to the waiter you wish to pay – "Rechnung, bitte" or "Zahlen, bitte" both work (usually). Kölsch is usually between €1 and €1.50 a glass, which is roughly the same price per "pint" as beer in the south of the UK – about £2.50, although as kölsch is roughly 5% it works out better for, excuse the hideous American expression, "bangs per buck".
Eating is done with great gusto and usually entails massive portions and the food we had was, without exception, of great quality and value. The usual snack with a glass of kölsch is "Halven Hahn" which isn’t a half chicken; it’s a chewy, dense, tasty rye roll with butter, a slab of excellent Dutch mature Gouda and usually a pot of mustard too. For a larger meal ask for "Himmel und Aird" which translates as heaven and earth! It’s a large plate of mashed potato with applesauce topped with several fried blutwurst (black puddin’ to us), some onions and the usual pot of mustard. If you like black pudding, you’ll love this! Other meals include whole pig’s legs (haxe) and Rhineland pot-roast beef – this is meltingly tender beef with a thick winey sauce including grapes! It comes with either mashed potato or potato dumplings. Ox also features on many menus and very nice it is too with horseradish sauce, which is a lot milder than the usual English version. There are bakeries everywhere selling cakes and croissants and the quality we found was universally high, which contrasts with McScum who unfortunately have a lot of presence in the cities if you like that sort of crap. Coffee is available in most cafes and bakeries and is usually freshly ground and strong which goes well with a chocolate croissant!
Köln is a beer scooper’s dream city – or it would have been 20 years ago before most of the breweries closed! It’s still a superb place for a beer crawl though, and with 10 or so breweries around the city there are some scoops to be had, albeit one at each bar (apart from the new brewpubs) and with the trams making it easy to get around, plus the choice of airlines flying there, there’s no excuse for Euro-scoopers not putting it on their list. Add to this Düsseldorf being a short train ride away, and you have a great long weekend on the beer, and bloody good beer most of it is too; enjoy.
Brewpubs in Köln.
The only beer in Germany to have a legally enforced method of production, Kölsch is a strange hybrid that has somehow survived in a land of bottom-fermenting beer. Kölsch is top fermented in the usual ale style, although it uses lager malt and usually some wheat malt, before being cold-conditioned in the lager style. This gives a lager-like brew with (sometimes) hints of the ale yeast in the form of fruity notes in the flavour; Braustelle has definite apricot hints! When the beers are not well hopped then I think most tasters would have trouble distinguishing them from pils in a blind tasting, but in the case of Päffgen and Früh the hoppiness seems to bring out the other flavours. These aren’t the most exciting beers in the world, but they are unique and definitely worth sampling.
Heller’s Bräuhaus, Roonstraße 33. (1800-0100, Closed Mon) U6/U8/U9/U12/U15 to Zülpicher Platz. Follow the tramlines away from the centre and take the first right into Roonstraße. A modern brewpub with 2 permenant beers (kölsch and weiße) and occasional specials; the brewery is in the cellar.
Bräustelle, Christianstraße 2. (1800-0100, Closed Sun). U3/U4 to Leyendeckenstraße. Take the Leyendeckenstraße exit and continue along the main road (Venlierstraße) round the shallow bend. Bräustelle is on the right hand corner of the next road junction. Distinctly un-German brewpub that serves an un-filtered kölsch, weiß and a monthly beer from the tiny plant in the back room. The atmosphere is very sociable and the beers are good; the monthly special can be very adventurous.
** Weißbräu CLOSED EARLY 2009, NOW RE-OPENED as Freischem's **
Freischem’s Brauhaus, Am Weidenbach 24/Pantaleonswall. (1100-0100). Take any tram to Barbarossaplatz, 18/19 are the best. Follow the Salier Ring southwards and Am Weidenbach will be the second left, or walk past the Ibis, take the first right then at the end by the strange church (Saint Pantaleon) right again and the pub is on the right after 100 metres. Originally a brewery, this building survived the war and was reborn as a brewpub in 1991 by a company from Munich. Now independent but still brews a weiß and kölsch along with Köln’s only dark beer – according to the menu a copy of the Czech Črno style but in reality nothing like it. Good beers and food but can be very busy!
Hausbrauerei Päffgen, Friesenstraße 64-66. (1000-0000). Tram 3/4/5/6/12/15 to Friesenplatz. Walk back towards the city on Friesenstraße (the Dom can be seen at the end of the road) and Päffgen is on the left. Classic old brewpub with the best kölsch of all in many people’s view; the brewery is at the rear. Excellent food and beer from the wood if you can fight through the pavement cafes serving crud to get here! An essential visit, and to quote Ron Pattinson - "it's as good as being in Düsseldorf"; spot on.
Sünner Bräu and Kornhaus, Kalker Haupstraße 218. (1000-0000). On the Deutz side of the Rhein. Catch trams U1/U9 to Kalk Kapelle and the bar is more or less by the station entrance on the main road, heading back into town. There is also a local’s bar next door and a beer garden in the brewery grounds in summer. As you may have guessed by the name, Sünner also make schnapps and a wheat beer. For an easier scoop, see Sünner im Walfisch below in the Altstadt. Fairly malty beer with hoppy hints, the brewery has been in the family for over 100 years.
Brauerei Zur Malzmühle, Heumarkt 6. (Mon-Sat 1000-0000, Sun 1100-0000). From Heumarkt tramstop (trams 1/7/8/9), head away from the Dom. Malzmühle is close by at the end of the square with "Afri Cola" on the front in large letters; the brewery is next door. The stone doorframe is all that remains of the original building that was flattened in the war – thanks once again to the RAF. One of the 3 classic kölsch beers, served from a wooden cask, and has a loyal local following.
Other bars in Köln.
There's a bar called the "Biermuseum" at Buttermarkt 39 in the Altstadt and although it has 16 beers on tap there's not a lot of interest.
Brauereiausschanks zum Pfaffen is the old "Altstadt Päffgen" pub which is now owned by Max Päffgen following the recent split in the family. The beer isn't brewed here but is, apparently, made in the city and therefore is a sign of the interest in Kölsch that still exists. Find the bar in the Altstadt close to Gaffel and Malzmühle at Heumarkt 62.
For some Päffgen in the centre, try the Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass at Salzgasse 5.
To score a slightly dubious Kölsch visit Brauhaus Gaststätte Schreckenskammer just behind St Ursula church close to the station at Ursulagartenstr. 11. I think the beer is a variant of Dom Kölsch from Erzquell in Wiehl-Bielstein.
Dom Brauereiausschank, Tacitusstraße 83. (1000-2300). Hohn, aka the famous Dom Kölsch, is no longer brewed here – when Küppers moved to their massive new factory in 2001, Dom moved into their old brewery on Alteburgerstr. The beer is widely served in the city and is easy to scoop – the Ibis Barbarossaplatz has it on the bar! Dom's brewery has now closed and all beer is from Erzquell in Wiehl-Bielstein.
Früh am Dom, Am Hof 12-14. (0800-0000). Right in the centre by the Dom. From the Hauptbahnhof go past the Dom and turn left in the Hohestraße main shopping street. Take the second left into a small gallery style shopping mall; this leads to Am Hof with Früh being immediately on your right. The most heavily touristed bräuhaus but still has to be done for it’s beer, long since brewed in the suburbs, but one of the 3 "classics". Another building that somehow survived the war, Früh is housed in a superb rambling beerhall with many rooms and alcoves. The beer is from a wooden cask and tastes distinctly dry-hopped to me.
Brauhaus Sion, Unter Taschenmacher 7. (1000-0100). Near Früh, this is another place that no longer brews although, unlike Früh, they have contracted their beer out to the huge KVV factory. Still a classic bräuhaus, this place is well worth a swift stange on the way from Früh to Peter’s.
Sünner im Walfisch, Salzgaße 13. (Mon-Thu 1700-0100, Fri 1500-0200, Sat-Sun 1100-0200). A gorgeous old townhouse that wouldn’t be out of place in Gent or Brugge with it’s gabled frontage and ancient windows. It hasn’t always been here; it was moved here in the 1930’s from nearby and they’ve done a superb job on it. It serves Sünner on gravity and is very handy for the Altstadt. If you’re in need of a Päffgen fix there is a bar a few doors away on Salzgaße; Brauhaus en d’r Salzgasse at Nos. 5-7.
Gastatte Lommerzheim, Siegesstraße 18, Deutz. (Old hours were - Mon-Sun 1045-1400 & 1630–2400, Tues closed but not sure what they are now).
** This bar has now re-opened! **
Absolutely classic little bar, the only survivor in the street from before 1939 and showing the scars to prove it, in an unpromising sidestreet near Deutzer Freiheit tram station. It was run by the elderly Hans Lommerzheim for over 50 years and closed when he retired (he died only six months later, aged 74); I said four years ago that "If there's any justice in the world it should be preserved forever as a classic example of a simple drinking house (Kneipe)" and, thanks to Päffgen brewery, it has been. According to this report they've gently refurbished it, added a new kitchen and a new cellar bar, but mainly left it how Herr Lommerzheim left it, serving only Päffgen Kölsch from wooden casks and, presumably, still doing the famous massive pork chops.
Apparently in the 1990's Lommi decided to redecorate but the locals objected so much he stopped immediately! He also famously refused to reserve a table for Bill Clinton in 1999, saying "If he comes to us, he will be treated the same as any other customer - I don't make reservations, even if it would be the Emperor of China. I don't like to disappoint my regular customers". Respect to that man, RIP Lommi and here's hoping your life's work lives on for many years to come - I shall be back, that's for sure!
Peter’s Bräuhaus, Mühlengaße 1, Altermarkt. (1100-0000). Tucked away in a small street at the city end of Altermarkt, this reconstruction of a classic Bräuhaus served beer from the Peter’s Brewery in Monheim – although this has closed, so where the beer is brewed now is anyone’s guess (the casks still say Peters on them). There is a patio-type area on Altermarkt itself with it’s own cask of beer sat outside!
Gaffel Haus, Altermarkt 42. (1000-0000). The easiest way to Altermarkt is to get off the tram at Heumarkt, and (walking towards the Dom) follow Untere Kaster which leads into the square with the pub on the left. A recent conversion into a brewery tap, the brewery is (as usual) out in the suburbs at Eigelstein 41. The only bräuhaus to serve it’s beer on pressure and brews a "light" kölsch too!
Bräuhaus Reissdorf, Kleiner Griechen Markt 40. (1600-0000). Either Take U3/U4/U9 to Poststraße, walk back along Poststraße towards the centre and turn left into Grosser Griechen Markt. At the end of the road turn left again into Kleiner Griechen Markt, or from Weißbräu, turn left out of the door, keep going across the main road, and Reissdorf will be on your left – total walk about 500m. The brewery has now moved to the city outskirts but this strangely traditional yet modern tap remains. Serves huge portions of food and average beer from a metal cask on the bar.
The other brewery in Köln is Richmondis, owned by Königsbacher of Koblenz. Quite rare, the beer nevertheless does appear in a few bars in the old town – if you’re lucky! This is the one we didn’t manage to find on draught.
Most brands of Kölsch come from a huge beer factory (the KVV, Bergisch Gladbacherstr. 116-134), previously independent brewer Küppers. I can do no better than reproduce this decription I was sent –
"Köln's largest brewery is a mega beer factory that goes under the snappy title of the Kölner Verbund Vertrieb. This is owned by the national Brau und Brunnen group, who take over and close breweries down in fashion that make Whitbread look like amateurs. Brau und Brunnen is currently the 4th largest brewing group in Germany, although both Heineken and Interbrew have long term plans for them. The following brands (all of whom were once independent) are brewed here: Gilden Kölsch; Römer Kölsch; Felskrone Kölsch; Sester Kölsch; Kuppers Kölsch; Kürfursten Kölsch; and Sion Kölsch. In addition any number of own label Kölsch's roll out on a regular basis. It is claimed that all of these beers are brewed to different recipes, and all are marketed separately as if they came from separate breweries. From an ethical point of view the only one that is safe to scoop is the Sion Kölsch, as it has managed to maintain its soft hoppy character (having any character proves it is different from the rest of the KVV output)".
Be warned that there are numerous "brands" of Kölsch on sale, particularly in the Altstadt, which are allegedly rebadges of stuff from the KVV. A few legitimate-ish beers exist, such as the one-off done by Dom for Schreckenskammer, but treat any name you don’t know with healthy suspicion. Do what we did and print off a copy of Ron’s brewery list before you go – it contains most of the beers.
For more bars to visit see here.
Brewpubs in Bonn
Bonn doesn't really have it's own style of beer and only one of it's three brewpubs is in the city centre. It makes a pleasant morning's trip to see the, frankly, limited sights but IMO the beer scene isn't really worth making a special effort for.
Brauhaus Bönnsch, Sterntorbrücke 4. Almost in the centre of the city, this brewpub has a very visible plant in a room at the back where they make the blonde, biscuity but a bit bland house beer and a wheat. Sociable enough, but frankly not worth the trip unless you're in the area.
Brauhaus Am Ennert, An den Hecken 1, Beuel. Quite a long way East of the centre, I can't comment as we didn't have time for a visit. Can be reached by a bus - see the huge map in the tourist office for a better idea of how to get here.
Brauhaus 13 Linden, Löwenburgstr 39, Niederholtdorf. Another one we didn't have time to visit, if anything even further away from the centre that Am Ennert!
Brewpubs in Düsseldorf
See here for my newly updated page on this very beery city!
Version 1.4 - 02/03/2010 by Gazza.