Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Not Your Oma's Cologne

A Canadian Teutonophile was excitedly telling her UK-based daughter about her planned excursion to Munich when the daughter broke in to say "Avoid the railway station right now." And the Teutonophile was sad, for she remembered travelling all over Germany by train in the 1960s, which was only twenty years or so after her own father was at war with the joint. Astonishingly, Canadian girls--daughters and granddaughters of German-slaughtering Canadian soldiers--were probably safer travelling around Germany in the 1960s (and even the 1950s) than they are now.

Here is Breitbart to explain why. If you wish to take it all with a grain of salt because it is Breitbart or because Russians were involved in reporting the story, be my guest. However, you can take it from me that walking around Cologne in 2006 as a solitary female was not unparalleled joy. It turned out that the "male gaze" was neither imaginary nor extinct nor reserved for those women under 35.

How to cope if you are female but want to tour large German cities? Here are some tips.

1. Wear whatever you damn well please.
2. But wear shoes you can run in or boots you can kick with.
3. Adopt the hostile resting face expression of German women on public transit.
4. But be willing to ask for emergency help from older Germans, no matter how hostile their resting faces. They will be on your side, guaranteed.
5. A male family member makes a great travelling companion. However, if he is a young man, don't be under any illusions that he himself is safe from attack. The untold story of the Cologne New Year's Eve is the number of young German men who ended up in hospital.
6. Avoid large groups of men. Don't think you can brazen your way though with a haughty glance and your nose in the air, as in films. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
7. Don't go out at night by yourself; there will be fewer older Germans around to come to your aid.
8. Don't assume you will be safe alone in a taxi cab with the driver, especially if you are drunk. (This goes for British cities, too.)
9. If you go out dancing, note where the bouncers are. (Also good advice for British cities.)
10. Don't strike up conversations with men you haven't been introduced to, especially not to prove how unracist you are. Some men from certain cultures honestly think that any woman who initiates a conversation with a man she doesn't know must be a whore.

And furthermore:

11. Don't assume all German German men are angels, either, but they have certainly been trained at home and at school to assume the dignity and equality of women.
12. Don't mention the Second World War when making friends with young Germans. If you come from one of the Allied nations, they will eventually bring it up themselves. The trauma continues.
13. Praise Germany; no matter how much Germans complain about it, you must stick to "Germany is wonderful" like a broken record. The bread is wonderful. The cathedrals are wonderful. The shopping streets are wonderful (and how). The art is wonderful. Rilke is wonderful. (Read some Rilke before you go.) Goethe is wonderful. (If under 35, read The Sorrows of Young Werther, but don't commit suicide, please.) Germans are perfectly capable of trashing Germany 24 hours a day, but if a foreigner agrees with them on this, they suddenly get cross.
14. If American or Canadian, read Karl May's books about Old Shatterhand and Winnetou before you go. Trust me on this. Be gentle on the subject of the wrongness of dressing up like movie Indians, feathers, warpaint, leather fringes and all because gazillions of Germans love it and did it as kids.


  1. No 12-14: So true – you seem to have grasped some of our characteristics quite well. As to no. 12, we bring this topic up eventually, no matter which nation you are (Allied or not). The trauma continues… I have to defend ourselves a little (thereby confirming your no. 13): At least some of us know that Karl May’s descriptions of Indians do not reflect reality. I enjoyed reading his books and dressing up as Winnetou as a kid, but I think I could not bear it any more now; it is such 19th century rubbish (and quite racist). I would not even think of asking American or Canadian visitors to read Karl May before coming to Germany (I would feel quite embarrassed if they did).

    I think all of your tips are relevant, not only in Germany, but in other European countries as well (as you said). I would add, go out alone at night if you want to, but use streets that are well-lit and where there are other people. If you look like an average Central European, that is; I guess it is different if you are foreign-looking.
    I am German, and I don’t have a car, so I always travel by public transport, also at night, and mostly alone. Only yesterday I did a 6-hour train journey through Germany and Switzerland. My current train-travelling experience is that there are rather more foreign-looking people in the stations than there used to be, but I myself have never been harassed in a train station or anywhere else by anyone. On the trains, there is the exact same grumpy-looking crowd as always. Tens of thousands of normal people still use trains and walk through city centres every day. I must say that my most unpleasant experience with travelling by train and walking through a German city was being anywhere near Munich Central Station during the Oktoberfest. Avoid, avoid, avoid. 6 million visitors in three weeks, all of them passing through the Central Station, and most of them drunk. (Nobody talks about the number of assaults on women during the Oktoberfest.)
    So at the moment I can say that I don’t feel any more insecure walking through a German city by night or travelling by train than I did a few months ago, and I hope and pray to God that this does not change. I would like to encourage anyone who wants to come here – it is not as bad as the media say! (Not yet?) Apply the usual cautions, of course, then you should be fine!

  2. Thank you for the native's eye view! The Karl May tip was for talking to old people, really. I thought about qualifying that by saying the younger generation might not have read Karl May. But the Canadian tourist industry and First Nations Peoples do make sacks of money from eager Germans coming to see the Real Thing.

    Thanks especially for the Octoberfest tip! As much as I threaten, I would really like to go back to Frankfurt again. I had a nice little visit to Cologne last summer with family (during Gay Pride Week, actually, so there was a different demographic around). It was quite different from my visit in 2006 when I was on my own.