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Sat Oct 03 2015: The Great Beer Feud of the North

Liverpool and Manchester clash on the soccer field. Montreal and Toronto throw off their gloves on center ice. The benches in the dugouts clear when Boston and New York go head-to-head at the ballpark. Oxford and Cambridge duke it out on the academic standings as well as on boats on the river Thames. So many great rivalries over the years with the town just down the street.

But do you know about the on-going feud between the North Rhine-Westphalia neighbours of Cologne and Düsseldorf? And what the big brawl is over?

Since we are so close to both cities, Hans and Julia take us on a tour of the region to find out firsthand!

But first, we visit a church! Altenberg Cathedral

Did I mention that Hans really likes churches? Although the Cologne Cathedral gets most of the attention in the area, the Altenberg Cathedral is still quite impressive for being out in the middle of nowhere.

Although we're taking a break from our bikes, others have different ideas on how to spend a sunny day

Hans is giving us the history of the church

Of course, all this walking around the cathedral and the expansive grounds built up quite a thirst, which was Hans' idea all along. Plus he really likes churches! We head back into Cologne for a liquid lunch and Hans takes us to the most well-known brewery in town, Cölner Hofbräu Früh. As we sat down to order, he introduced us to the long-standing feud between Cologne and Düsseldorf, centered around which city brewed the best beer.

You could say that it was a bitter rivalry.

Hans said that he wanted to take us to both cities and sample the best of both types of beer, and then we could make up our own minds as to which brew was the best. He said he himself had a favorite, but he wasn't going to try to color our judgment or influence our decision-making in any way.

Before we ordered, Hans gave us a bit of history about the Hofbräu Früh. It's rated the best brewery in town, specializing in Cologne's brand of beer called Kolsch. However, he also told us that this place is also well-known for its snooty servers who aren't very friendly. Our waiter came to take our order (actually he just wanted to know how many glasses of Kolsch to bring), and came back promptly and set the small 0.2L glasses on the table.

Neda and I exchanged glances, "Hmm... they're not that rude", we both telepathically conveyed to each other in that husband-wife way that only comes about from nearly two decades of companionship and close-quarters living and travel.

Sampling the best beer in Cologne: Kolsch from Hofbräu Früh

At Hofbräu Früh, once you start drinking, they keep bringing you beers when your glass is empty. They record how many glasses your table has had by marking them as slashs on a coaster. The only way to stop the beers from coming is to put a coaster over your empty glass. If there seem to be a lot of slashes on the coaster it's because it's a Früh tradition that for every round of Kolsch that we drink, the waiter also orders himself one. Really? Hrmph...

Kolsch is a light-coloured lager with a very thin taste, similar to the weak cervezas in Latin America. I'd imagine it would be very refreshing on a hot summer day, but since Neda and I prefer much darker beers, we didn't enjoy it so much.

Hans, remaining neutral and impartial while drinking Kolsch

Neda offered her opinion, "It doesn't have a very strong taste", she stated diplomatically. She added, "And the waiters are kind of rude"...

Hans nodded in quiet satisfaction. Julia just rolled her eyes. I have to work on my matrimonial telepathy.

Ostrich Farm

Since we've already done some sightseeing in Cologne a couple of days earlier, we hit the road again. We passed by this ostrich farm on our travels through the scenic Rhineland countryside and stopped to take some pictures. I was surprised to learn that there are quite a lot of these bird farms in Germany. Ostrich meat became popular here in the early 2000s after some cattle were found to be infected with Mad Cow disease. It became a national public concern and Germans looked to alternatives to beef, and ostrich farms started cropping up all over the place.

Ostriches are the largest birds in the world. But they have such funny-looking, tiny heads

Then it was off to Schloss Burg Castle to do more walking around and sightseeing. It's the largest reconstructed castle in Rhineland.

Gates to Schloss Burg

Fresh baked goods inside the castle walls

Sample of local apple wines from the region. Did I mention apples are really popular in Germany?

Very pretty grounds, but very touristy too!

My security detail :)

Used antiques for sale. And Claudia Schiffer.... who is from North Rhine-Westphalia, which I guess is the tenuous connection?

My energy is flagging

From Schloss Burg, we take a trail that follows the Wupper River north. It's about a 2km hike through a pretty forest and I suspect that Hans is taking us through here to build up more of a thirst for the second half of our beer tasting tour.

Müngstener Bridge in the background, the highest railroad bridge in Germany

And then it's off to Düsseldorf, Cologne's rival in the Great Rhineland Beer War! And yes, we are doing all of this in a single day!

When we arrive into the city, we are whisked off to the Altstadt otherwise known as "the longest bar in the world"

Scores of people pack the bars and patios that line both sides of the streets as far as the eye can see. Hans spreads his arms out proudly as if to say, "See how popular this place is? The beer must be good here or something..."

Doing a little sightseeing before we hit the bars. Düsseldorf City Hall

The city seems to have a much younger vibe than Cologne. And the crowds!

Bars and restaurants line the walkway along the River Rhine

Our tourguide giving us more of the history of the area

Finally, we get to try the Düsseldorf beer, called Altbier

We took in the atmosphere of the crowded bar on the Altstadt as the waiter cheerfully set down four glasses of Altbier. From the dark tint of the ale I already knew I would prefer this over Kolsch. Hans sipped his beer and looked like he was in heaven. Julia just shook her head at him. I don't think she really has a horse in this race. I took my first taste of the copper-coloured Altbier. The strong taste of malt and hops filled my mouth and stretched the corners of my mouth upwards. The smile on Neda's face echoed my sentiments. I think... Exactly what we needed after a long day of touring the Rhineland.

Although Hans failed spectacularly to remain impartial during the whole judging process, in the end, it turns out that we are both more Altbier fans than Kolsch.

Decision goes to Düsseldorf! Technical knock out.

Speaking of knocked out, we poured ourselves into the car and headed back south towards Bonn. On the ride home, Neda and I pass out sound asleep in the backseat, victims of the Grand Old Beer Feud between Cologne and Düsseldorf.

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