April 16, 2019

Exploring Cologne - <c't webdev>, Day 3

Exploring Cologne - <c't webdev>, Day 3

February 7

I begin this blog post with a short section on tech magazines in Germany, and how fascinated I am by their popularity in the country.

Then, I talk about my experience of Free Walking Tours in general, and how what I enjoyed the most about exploring Cologne as a part of one of these tours.

Magazines in Germany

On the second day of the conference, I finally got to ask what <c'twebdev> stands for. I knew that it is a web development conference, but I wanted to learn more about the meaning behind the name itself. Apparently, this conference has been organized by a major publisher and developer magazine, c't. It has a massive monthly circulation and extremely popular in the region.

Personally, I am always shocked to learn how popular developer magazines are in Germany. I previously encountered another dev magazine, JavaPro, which organizes JCON conference in Dusseldorf. While I see more and more content in America is moving to the online medium, it is interesting to observe other international markets and their relationships with the printed media.

With this great mystery behind the name of the conference solved, it was time to finish my time at <c'twebdev> and go on exploring the city of Cologne.

Free Walking Tours

Free Walking Tours is an amazing concept that is extremely popular in European cities. The idea is simple - you go on a tour for an hour or so, and then pay to tips to the tour guide.

I genuinely love this type of service. Regular tours which you have to pay in advance and make sure you are never late can easily turn into a disaster. I would never forget a horrible tour experience I had when in San Antonio where a driver (aka, my tour guide) was driving around town on his minivan, showing the buildings from outside his car and letting someone on a tape recorder to actually describe what I was seeing.

Walking tours are completely different. Usually, you have to sign up, but since it's tip-based, you can probably just join a group walking around town (I did that once in Riga, Latvia). To find websites for these tours, you can simply google "free walking tour in Blah (i.e. city you are visiting)".

After you join the group, you get to hear about the city from someone who actually lives there! Even more importantly, you get to walk around - sometimes for hours if it's an especially long tour. Since most people traveling are on vacation, combining physical activity with sightseeing is always a great choice.

The fact that people who are giving these tours are commonly locals gives you a chance to learn about things like what areas to avoid, how much local rent is, where people go for drinks and to have fun, and lots of other important aspects of living in the city.

To the point of tipping, people who join these tours need to understand that the service is not free to run. Most of the guides I've met are freelancers. In other words, they are not employed by any agency and instead have to pay to websites like FreeTours  for using their platform for booking and advertising. So if you are going on such tour, please pay tips to keep these tours going

Walking Tour in Cologne

I had really enjoyed the tour of Cologne. Our guide, of course, had to show us known landmarks like the Cologne Cathedral and a few local museums.

But more importantly, she took us in some hidden places of the city. One of such places was an underground parking lot. While building this lot, the construction workers discovered some ruins, and instead of canceling the project, just build around it! It reminded me how we sometimes work with legacy code by building on top of it instead of actually fixing or isolating it.

The tour guide was very knowledgeable not only in the old history of the city but also in its more current events. She told us how locals adore Bill Clinton and how he is known to be "a party animal" to quote the guide. Apparently, when Bill visited Cologne in 1999 he went to now famous The Malzmühle, and drank a very respectable amount of beer (even by local standards) .

After we finished discussing American politics, we moved on to talk about Cologne's founding history. One of the most interesting stories was that Cologne's coat of arms has eleven flames.

Some say it symbolizes 11 virgins  (some say 11 thousand) who very given away to the Huns during the besiege of Cologne. These virgins were subsequently killed and beheaded.

The interesting fact that many years later, local church started selling bones of these virgins to people visiting Cologne. However, after many years of such sale, people started questioning of how it is even possible to have that many bones from so few victims. It was later discovered that the bones the church had been selling were actually from whoever died around that area: women, men, and even pets.

Overall, the city was lovely and got to learn a lot from this tour. I am sure to come back to Cologne in the future, and go one another one of these great walks of the Old Town.

Leaving Old Town

Cologne's Old Town is irrefutable beautiful with its cathedral and other old buildings. However, I really wanted to see places where local students spend their time. With that idea in mind, I decided to walk towards the closest university and see what it's like for myself.

One of the first things you notice while walking to the university is how well maintained bike lines are. Another great part of the surrounding are was a number of parks where people get to bring their families and enjoy some nature.

Unfortunately, my original plan to go to the Live Music Hall failed. I was told I could see some open concerts around that area, but because I was visiting that part of time fairly late, everything was already closed.

Despite not getting to see what was inside of the Music Hall, I still got to see one of the most modern and breathtaking mosques I had ever seen in my life. It had a very opened design - even the column and the main hall were half exposed for anyone to see.

After visiting the mosque, it was time for me to leave Cologne and continue my journey to the next city.

I want to finish this series about <c'twebdev> saying thank you to the organizers for inviting me to speak and the awesome audience who were extremely welcoming. I can't wait to attend this event next year as well!

P.S. You can see more photos from my trip to Cologne in this album.