Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 11 February 2016

The highlight of the Cologne carnival was a wrestling match between a pair of drunk Italians dressed as polar bears

The hotel reception was lit by three gloomy low-wattage light bulbs. It should have been six but the management was economising. The hotel’s nod to the city carnival was a single balloon strung from one of the empty bulb holders. I let my backpack drop from my shoulders and checked in. WiFi, said the receptionist, cost extra. The WiFi registration process was as insanely convoluted as buying illegal drugs.

Room number dreiunddreissig was on a shabby corridor with two other doors. The room was dismally cold and small. It was bare of every amenity one normally expects to find even in a cheap hotel room, except for a bed, a kit wardrobe and a tiny table whose surface area was taken up by a dirty old television. The thin carpet was soiled, the wallpaper peeling. The toilet in the adjoining bathroom was fixed at an angle to the wall of 45 degrees to fit it in. The partition wall was thin enough to hear the three women in the next room chatting and laughing and coughing and opening cans. The din of accelerating engines from the road outside was constant. Shutting the window muted the din a little. I tried the WiFi. It didn’t work. I kicked off my boots and sank down on to the low divan, grateful simply to be able to stop moving.

After I’d rested, I went downstairs to reception, complained about the WiFi, and went outside to smoke a cigarette. It was raining and the daylight was failing. I walked along the pavement until I found shelter in the doorway of a rather grim public building of some sort that was closed and shuttered for the duration of the carnival. I stood on the doorstep and lit up. I came and stood in this doorway to smoke several times before it was pointed out to me by a passing antiquarian bookseller that I was standing in the doorway of the former Gestapo headquarters in Cologne, now a historic archive of National Socialism.

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