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Bourdain’s Field Notes

COLOGNE, June 2016—Cologne is an example of a German city that I had been to before that I liked; I liked the food, I liked the beer culture; I thought we’d make a good show there, unlike any others. As happens, all too often, we arrived at either the worst or best time to make an hour of television. There had been a New Year’s Eve, I guess you can call it a riot, of what were said to be mostly people from the Middle East. Cologne had really taken the lead and been very open-hearted and welcoming to refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. The way it was being played in the press was: “Look, this is what you get. We warned you this was going to happen.”

It was a pretty appalling and terrifying evening. We arrived just as that had happened, and were fortunately there to find out what residents of Cologne felt about it, and the answers were kind of remarkable.

I think the Germans in general, and the Cologne residents, were particularly tolerant and welcoming. Germans, in general, feel that there’s no problem that they can’t fix if they just think about it long enough—that, if they try hard enough, there’s a tidy solution. They’re often right. They are determined to get to do this thing and to get it right. That was what people told us in Cologne.

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Travel like Bourdain

“Here decent beer is a way of life. It’s a birthright. You don’t talk about it too much. You freakin’ drink it.”

Local Lingo

Kölsch: A style of pale ale, low in carbonation and typically served in a small glass, that is native to and beloved by Cologne

Mettbrötchen: Raw minced pork on a roll, sometimes with onion; one of the traditional Kölsch accompaniments Bourdain ate

Halve Hahn: (Literally a “half chicken” in German — although there’s no chicken in this sandwich) A buttered rye roll with gouda

Know Before You Go

Situated on the Rhine, Cologne was historically a trade city. The city’s economy was premised on outsiders, one local told Bourdain.

“The Cologne people, from the beginning, were interested in other people and they took profit of other people,” said Heinz Grüne, a lifelong Cologne resident who does marketing for beer companies. “We are not afraid of influences from outside.”

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