A letter from Cologne? Why? What connects the German town at the river Rhine with Ireland, especially Local Ireland? Well, more than people might think.
It is not the fact that Cologne is an important catholic town – with the enormous gothic cathedral in the centre of the city, which has its 750th anniversary this year. Neither is it the fact that Cologne is the birth-place of the famous German Nobel-prize writer Heinrich Böll, whose love and affection for Ireland is written down in his literary work or manifested in his purchase of a house and the part-time residence on Achill Island in the early sixties. (By the way this house is a place for cultural exchange between the Irish and the Germans nowadays.) Nor it is the fact that some of the sights and places in this city, which was almost completely destroyed in World War II, remind people of several locations at Dublin.
Cologne has its own way of life – which was formed by many historical influences. Cologne was founded by Romans and has a lot of medieval history. At this time it was the most important capital for pilgrims. Many relics can be found in its churches, for example the mortal remains of the Three Holy Kings in the cathedral’s reliquiary. Its history continues to the days of Napoleon, whose results of military street-planning can still be seen. Also many old families from Cologne still have French Names. History still is visible in the multiculturally influenced highly technological present.
So Cologne has its very own special way of life – just like Dublin. But the real link between Cologne and Dublin are the many Irish living there. It is their second hometown. And, in various ways, it is their exile.
So far, so good. But what is so new to that? Millions of Irish folks have been going into exile from the days of the Great Famine up to the present. There is nothing really new to that, yes. But forgive me these minor comments. The above lines were only the introduction for some stories I would like to tell you about this beautiful and charming town, about the life here, about the Irish and about me – the observer.
Every morning while the train rattles over the famous ›Hohenzollern‹-Bridge towards the Central Station, my view strays out – not to the cathedral, which lies nearby the station, neither to the ships on the Rhine nor to the interesting architecture of the ›Kölner Philharmonie‹ and its metal-roof shimmering in the sun – but simply to the cross-country bus station and a little jolt takes me away, yes, shut the eyes only for a few seconds and there it is: the tiny pain inside, a pain like the lost childhood or the years uneventfully spent waiting, so – let us call it ›wanderlust‹. Or, better, homesickness, which is the hated feeling of many of the Irish.
Twice a day the bus goes to Britain and Ireland, twice the day the bus comes from there and you can see another group of dispersed young – sometimes very young – Irish. With nothing else more than a sports bag and a case full of things they do not really need, except for the scratched old spirit level. Well, why am I telling you this, it is the same old story which can be watched at many places all over Western Europe and the States.
»It’s not so bad in Ireland as some years before«, somebody (of course of Irish nationality) said. Nonetheless Cologne has a not-so-small and quickly growing Irish community. But to hell with grief. This is not the time for something blue – because life takes place in town, you are not alone so come with me, we’re going to have some ›real‹ Stout or some Whiskey or whatever and see what the night will bring.
And then there is the point of no return in my notebook, where the black pencil line flutters like a flag on a Rhine-ship – it must have been something very important, it is not usual for me to put literary notes into this little book with many, many white pages, no, and even less in this – well – condition. You can read this flickering writing on my mind-walls, these materialized thoughts of a drunken lad.
And what is the important message now, Maestro? Er – some musician, Colm Mulligan, I guess, plays at Flannagan’s. Oh great! I can see the light! And -? »What is this for a night?« Yes, Sir!, that was the very significant result of too much beer and this sentimental guitar music and all the homesick and homeless Irish round your own absence. And it was the product of a romantic solidarity, too – coming from a free-time writer, whose home is sometimes also far, far away from this place of being. Because you knew at that time that your own trip with the cross-country bus was not too distant from that night, maybe five weeks ago.
At the time this face was the occasion for some small-talk with the keeper (do not say ›governor‹ to the Irish keeper in Cologne, really). But not affection was the motive, no, it was the little blue pain inside, which the guitar player gave to me and which I surely didn’t want. Come on, let’s share the pain, I told myself, then it will be more bearable for both.
And then the full pain took hold of the keeper while Mr Writer told something about his trip to Dublin. Yes, the keeper said, and this is right here in my notebook, too, Dublin is smaller, but apart. Oh dear! and I gave him the money and more money for the last two drinks that I would have shared with him, but he didn’t want at all and so they were mine. At four in the night it was the keeper’s job to put the rest of the money back into my jacket pockets and the friendly redhaired Irish carried me upstairs, outside. Then the full pain struck me heavily...
While sitting at my typewriter that little story sounds a bit sad to me. But it is the life between happy and sad moments that is so typically Irish, if you believe in the Irish songs or in the Patricks and Graces and Timothys and Sarahs nearby at the bar. And that – by the way – is the same bar where two waiters set up the black and white checkered board – now these two are becoming chess players – with all the silent and the peace of mind your home-land normally brings to you.
With regards from Cologne,