Cologne Pride is the largest LGBT celebration in Germany. Charlotte Dingle travelled out to enjoy the parade weekend from Friday 1 to Sunday 3 July.
I learned the tiny smattering of German I know from listening to obscure industrial bands as a teenage goth, so it was with some trepidation that I stepped on to a plane to Köln. Thankfully my fears of a weekend spent eating only verzweifeln (despair) and drinking only traurigkeit (misery) began to fade when I arrived at the airport. Brandishing a metro map, I rushed up to the information desk and began to stutter out my hotel name while flapping out a strange sign language. Thankfully, instead of vacant incomprehension, I was treated to an explanation in extremely fluent English of where all the different coloured lines went, how much tickets cost and what the food at the hotel was like.
After dropping my stuff off at the hotel, I travelled into town for the Pride opening gala dinner. Unfortunately the first part of the evening’s cabaret show was less dumb-Brit-friendly. I was genuinely relieved when the extremely fast German jokes turned into a series of very polished, professional and enjoyable musical acts and I didn’t have to keep on pretending it was someone else who’d laughed in the wrong place.
I woke up to a gigantic breakfast buffet at the hotel. After lgorging myself on impossible quantities of toast and coffee, I rolled into town. At 1pm, things were just getting started – before the crowds and blaring speakers entered into the equation, the whole thing had the charming and slightly surreal feel of a traditional German market with rainbows and naughty toys randomly placed throughout. I grabbed myself a Kölsch – a pale, hoppy and very tasty local beer – and went for a wander.
The largest crowd was gathered round a rope ladder with a mat underneath, which was periodically ejecting giggling revellers. At the top of the ladder was €50. Every time someone else fell off and gave in, the ladder’s owner gleefully ran up the ladder himself. Simple but highly entertaining. I’m not sure what exact law of physics allowed him to complete the climb when nobody else could manage it, but it certainly looked as if it was pure acrobatics and not some dodgy trick. Amazing.
The morning’s king-sized feast was wearing off, so I dropped into a cheap ‘n’ cheerful noodle bar for some lunch and a look at my map. I somewhat ambitiously planned out a tour off all the churches, not realising they were a bit further apart than I thought and that two days isn’t long if you have to take in the city’s Pride celebrations too… If you do have the time, though, you’re absolutely spoilt for choice. There are 12 Romanesque churches dotted round Cologne’s old town (Aldstadt), and of course the spectacular world-famous cathedral – which fortunately I did manage to check out the next day.
The next day, Sunday, was the day of the parade. I arrived an hour early and the streets were already teeming, so I installed myself on a very small step halfway up a tower on the other side of the road. Despite the erratic weather, it was an extremely upbeat event with some stunning floats and a lot of enthusiastic dancing.
After lunch I walked along the river until I got to the cathedral. Wow. Just, wow. The atmosphere inside was spoiled a little by the noise of screaming children and harassed looking monks fruitlessly attempting to silence them, so I covertly wired myself up to my iPod, put on some rousing choral music and sat back to take it all in. It’s hard to imagine the amount of time and work that must have gone into creating something so intricate – you can stare at the walls for hours and still keep noticing new things.
I texted my mother to tell her how awestruck I was, lamenting the bomb damage to parts of the building – and she reminded my that my own grandfather had been responsible for some of it! It was a curious feeling, reflecting on the country’s disturbing past at the same time as feeling so moved by the beauty of my surroundings.
This contemplative mood was swiftly shattered as I stepped out on to the cathedral steps and found them covered in drunken Pride-goers. I walked back along the river, grabbed another yummy Kölsch and threw myself back into the fray. By now the streets were gridlocked and the party was in full swing. Installing myself by the main stage with another beer, I waited to catch the final rally (sniff) and then prepared to leave.
I boarded the tram back to the airport with a heavy heart, longing to stay in Cologne until the very last little stone face on the Cathedral had jumped out at me…
Cologne Pride website:
Key Germanwings facts:
Prices start at €29.99 one way, including tax. Flights can be booked at germanwings.com, or you can call 0906 294 1918 between 7am and 8pm. Calls are charged at 25p per minute. Germanwings is one of the most successful low-cost airlines in Europe. At bargain fares Germanwings offers flights to 75 destinations in Europe from its five bases in Cologne/Bonn, Stuttgart, Berlin-Schönefeld, Hannover and Dortmund. The low-cost airline operates a fleet consisting of 30 Airbus A319 aircraft.
Park Inn Koln City West:
Prices start at €95.50 for a double room, excluding breakfast and 5% city tax.
Innere Kanalstrasse 15,
50823 Cologne, Germany
Tel: +49 (0)221 57010
Cologne Tourist Board:
Kardinal-Höffner-Platz 1 (opposite Cologne Cathedral)
50667 Köln, Germany
Tel: +49 (0) 221. 221 - 26015