Cologne: Old friends and new lives.

Did anyone ever look great as a teenager?

Sitting in Albrecht’s vinyl infested flat, my hangover is making me feel wretched and melancholy. Simple tasks seem too challenging, and I’m thinking about copping out by ditching the laptop to go for a stroll. I miss being in my twenties, where this would be easily solved by some schnitzel and glass of Kolsch.

Last night I schmoozed. Last night I also drank.

Me and Albrecht have been friends since we were 16 and 17. Trapped in a boarding school with other kids who in hindsight must have been sociopaths, we formed a fast and close bond through music and well, trying to escape the lunatics we were stuck with.

There’s something strange about a long distance friendship over friendship in day to day life. While 17 years have rolled by for both of us, we’ve made and lost friends, had low points and high, loved and had our hearts broken, and while our lives have changed drastically since we were teenagers, our friendship has still endured.

I have a theory about this. The chief reason is that we don’t have to be around each other the whole time. Also, as we only see each other, at best yearly, and at worst with a gap of about three years, there’s always news and new lives to learn. It’s having an old friend and a new friend all at once.

Even then, this time, Albrecht got woke. And his foremost concern, understandably given my history of making very insensitive jokes since the first day we met, was that I would crow, mocking him over being a snowflake.

The reality though, is that to live in this world, and not allow that space needs to be made for acceptance, even if I may adore saying the worst things that come to mind, I too have done my best to adapt as a kid that grew up in the 80s and 90s to be tolerant as well. A social justice warrior of sorts, but hopefully with the dogged cynicism that comes from knowing a world before everyone got butt hurt over using terms like, well, butt hurt.

Anyway, after the penny dropped for Albrecht that as per usual, we were pretty much on the same page as we always had been, a week unfolded of parties, wine, port and hangovers like the one I’m currently enduring.

The oldest street in Cologne.

Only now looking back do I realise that every time I have visited Albrecht in Germany, it has resulted in my sneaking into some ridiculous parties the likes of which I would never have gone to back home.

My first trip over was at the tender age of 16, when I went to Albrecht’s home town of Hamburg. It was my first time to Germany, my first time to the Reeperbahn and my first ever terrifying interaction with an overly friendly prostitute.

If you don’t know, the Reeperbahn in Hamburg is where all the clubs and bars are. It however is also the red light district for the city.

Given my upbringing to this point had been in the rural Highlands, my experience of red light districts, and European hookers, was amateur at best.

I don’t know. It was the early naughties.

As me, Albrecht and all his friends ventured towards one of their favourite pubs, I became aware of a great deal of women, all wearing tight, brightly coloured ski-pants, loitering around on the main drag. Seemed sensible, it was a cold December as I recall.

If I can give advice, I would say this – if a girl in a red light district dressed in tight ski pants in winter makes eye contact with you, do your best not to stare back. I can promise you the result of getting your arm grabbed by a lady of negotiable virtue is thoroughly alarming, especially when you’re only a child who’s barely even had his first drink.

If you’re wondering how to get out of a situation like this, there are really only two options. One is to sleep with the prostitute of course. The other, and the one I elected to take, is to whimper, in the most confident and manly manner, “no thank you” while desperately tugging your arm back and scuttling off towards any other location in the world than that street corner.

I hope she still laughs about that moment. Maybe it was the highlight of her evening. Actually, I probably just hope she’s alive and living in a better world than that cold December evening.

The rest of the night was eventful, but uneventful.

We finished up at a Thai karaoke club, in the small hours of the morning, singing Britney Spears to a room of slightly irritated and bored Asians.

Having known Albrecht for such a long period of time, I have seen a 17 year old kid getting bullied at school for making the mistake of being German.

I have seen a student discover literature and philosophy at university.

It was about 2am and no one was sober.

And now in our thirties, I have seen Albrecht finally arrive at a legitimate and professional level of music. When we were kids, one of his foremost party tricks was to play the music for every level of Super Mario on piano, each track punctuated with that twinkly bit when you pick a power up as you progress to the next stage of the game. Hilarious, skilful and still one of my favourite things about Albrecht.

Now though, Albrecht has just jacked in his last job due to stress. My father who taught him music at school doesn’t know this, but as one musician to another, he couldn’t believe Albrecht would turn his back on such an incredible gig.

As you probably know, late night talk shows in America always have a house band. Germany also has talk shows, and also has house bands.

Over the past couple of years, Albrecht has gained some authentic notoriety in Germany from becoming the band leader for just such a show. From the kid who played Super Mario during free periods at school, to one of the two guys responsible for running an entire band for a popular national TV show. It’s a hell of an achievement, but beyond that, a hell of a transition.

Last night, I got drunk with a group of those band members. The band is so popular, that they tour Germany, Austria and Switzerland playing to sold out theatres and auditoriums. Unsurprisingly, the show gets recorded and edited down into a video for social media and beyond. Last night we attended the viewing party for that show. How I got to be there, is a mystery. Nevertheless I don’t question, I just go.

I can confirm the drummer’s hair is always that cool.

The show turns out to be excellent, although my German isn’t adequate enough to understand it all. His band mates are all absolutely delightful, bending over backwards to include me in the evening. Take note dear hipster music wanks of Glasgow – the ones that are the real deal don’t waste their time pretending they’re too cool to be nice. And as we drink the free bar in the TV station dry, the last of us slowly peel off to head home.

It was an excellent night to start my time in Cologne, but this was Albrecht’s final farewell to his band mates and the show. Now he has his own music career to think about, which is what he has always wanted to do. For me, the excitement will be getting to see what a German pop star does next. My friend of 17 years.

It just so happens, that today, on the day I am finishing writing this, Albrecht has just dropped his latest single.

The track is banging. The track is called Der Ubergang, which translates to English as “The Transition.”

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