The Train Station

Sometimes I don’t know what to make of Cologne main station, the Hauptbahnhof. I’ve seen robberies here, muggings. A Pizza Hut employee was stabbed to death in front of his store just a few months ago, and it was here that the infamous New Year’s Eve attacks happened, which seemingly tainted the social cohesion in Germany ever since. On the other hand it is the place where I’ve met Brendan Gleeson, standing if front of the Yorma corner store, unrecognised by the passers-by who weren’t aware that Mad Eye Moody was among them. Dutch show master Rudi Carell passed by me here, a few weeks before his death, smiling and wishing me a good morning. It has been my starting point for countless journeys across Europe, and as many happy returns to my wife. So maybe this particular station has a thing in common with all the other stations: the capability for both hazard and contentment.

Like so many other German train stations these days, in the eyes of operator Deutsche Bahn the station in Cologne should be clean and shiny, another commercial outlet for their countless contractors, another place to consume and increase shareholder value before hopping on a sleek ICE train, and no place to loiter and congregate. But the plastic shopfronts can only marginally hide the human stories that still make the train station a fascinating place, especially at night when the stores are closed: the drunks huddled together on the bench in the Telekom WiFi-isle like lost souls in a waiting room in a story by Joseph Roth; the small picture and faded flower that friends or family have pasted to the wall next to Pizza Hut to remember their friend; the square in front, allegedly synonymous with failed integration now, but still a place where hundreds of colourful stag and hen parties gather before invading the old town.

For the moment the station remains a human place in the world, with the whiff of urine sometimes stronger than the perfume samples in the Douglas store.

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