Ode to (the) Joy of Couchsurfing

Sitting in a hostel reception in Cologne writing this. I haven’t been to a hostel in over three years, not since I discovered Couchsurfing (a website which allows you to host travelers in your home and vice versa). It’s free to use, and in the past two and a half years I’ve had many great experiences, hosting people in Edinburgh and using it when travelling myself. Most people initially think ‘ooh, isn’t that a bit dodgy, staying with strangers?’, but having just checked in to an 8-person dormitory (all, of course, strangers), one that has the undeniable stench of too many boys in too small a place, stumbling in the darkness to find my assigned bed number and being hissed at by an already-sleeping and seemingly-angry Brazilian to be quiet, I feel far less at ease than I would in somebody’s home. Furthermore, the presence of lockers in the room makes me weirdly paranoid about my stuff (a paranoia I would never feel with Couchsurfers you’ve at least got to know a bit first.) The fear of enraging the sleepy Brazilian further with the noise of me tapping this out has already forced me out of the room…and I’ve just paid 20 Euros for the privilege .. Ugh.

This jaunt to Cologne is the first time I’ve taken CS a bit too much for granted- I only sent out one request in advance, arriving here about 5pm hoping to wing it with some more last-minute messages sent from an internet cafe. Not entirely unsurprisingly, I’d received no replies by 10pm, when I finally decided to check in to a hostel (one where apparently some other language assistants are also staying) near the train station. Can’t really be bothered to track them down though- I think they’re already out drinking, natuerlich. Plus I would have much rather met an actual local Couchsurfer than more British students, grumblegrumble. The evening here has been otherwise…interesting… witnessed an anti-abortion protest march of about 20 elderly people, hail-Marying all the way along the street, armed with photos of unborn babies…(strange, bearing in mind that this was about 7.30 on a Sunday evening; even stranger considering that I was at a cafe in the well-known gay district of Cologne at the time- not that many babies here…)

Later, as I wandered around killing time, willing my phone to vibrate, I stumbled back into the main square near the cathedral, where a huge screen was broadcasting the Koelner Philharmonie playing Beethoven’s 9th symphony (from the opera house next door). Pretty fancy for free entertainment, and probably more culture than I’ll get in Husum in six months (although defining ‘culture’ is too big a can of worms to open in this entry…) Hearing Ode an Freude sung in German for the first time was quite an experience though, and surprisingly I could even understand the odd warbled word boomed out by the tenor…

Tomorrow the induction course for language assistants in Germany starts (and is the reason I’m here, in case that wasn’t clear…) The pick up taking us to ‘Haus Altenberg’ is outside the main station in Cologne tomorrow afternoon. Not really looking forward to it- having already worked as a language assistant in Germany, I’m not sure I’ll learn that much new, and I’d really quite like to stop moving around now, after a whole summer of living out of rucksacks with little respite. However, it’s a chance to see a few of my Edinburgh-Kommilitonen again, and live in a castle (apparently!) for three days…so it might not be too bad.

Anyway, I best be back to my smelly-boy-dorm, it cost me enough after all…

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