The beauty and diversity of Cologne is sure to enthrall any first timer to this German city. Kunle Ogunfuyi attended this year's edition of Photokina, the world's leading photography trade expo, held recently in Cologne, Germany. He narrates his experience...
Undoubtedly, my recent experiences in Cologne, (the German city renowned for its beauty and diversity) Leverkusen and Neuss, would remain indelible in my memory for some time to come. What started with my emergence as the overall winner and most outstanding photographer at the second edition of the Nigeria Photography Awards (NIPHA) on May 27 in Lagos later turned out to be a lifetime opportunity.
Coming with my award plaque was a sponsored trip to Germany to attend the world's leading photography trade expo in Cologne, courtesy of Lufthansa, the major sponsor of the awards. However my experience in obtaining a travel visa from the German Embassy in Lagos was not funny at all. It then dawned on me why many Nigerians give thanksgiving and testimonies in churches after obtaining a visa to travel out of the country.
After I eventually scaled the visa hurdle, I set out for my trip. I was shocked to the marrow upon arrival at the well-lit state-of-the-art Frankfurt airport which I learnt was built far back in 1936, although it has undergone series of rehabilitations in terms of expansion.
Huge Human Traffic
Making your way to the next point of call at the airport was stress-free despite the huge human traffic. There were lots of signboards to indicate directions mounted almost everywhere and the friendly- looking immigration personnel were always ready to help any visitor in need with a smile. The fascinating thing I must point out at this juncture is the time-consciousness of the Germans. The train, which is a major means of transportation in Germany and other European countries, gets to each station at its designated time like a programmed world.
Diversity, Beauty of Cologne
From Frankfurt, we arrived in Cologne, which is regarded as the fourth largest city in the country, just within the twinkle of an eye. I could not help but marvel at the diversity and beauty of Cologne, which will surely keep any first timer to this German city spell bound. From its famous ancient Roman Catholic Cathedral that could be seen from every part of the city to the fact that Cologne is also the seat of the Archbishop, they are all beautiful scenes to behold.
I learnt that in 1996, the United Nation Educational and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) adopted the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Cologne as a world heritage site. The construction of the cathedral was believed to have started in 1248 and was completed in 1880. The Cathedral boasts of non-stop inflow of visitors day and night that in turn brings revenue and tourists to the city. As one moved closer to the Cathedral, the sculptural edifice was better appreciated as each work appeared well- detailed and preserved.
Bridge of Love
Away from the Cathedral is the Hohenzollern Bridge of love where over a million locked padlocks could be seen affixed to the fence across the bridge with lovers' names crested on them. For an art lover, you will be amazed at the abstract beauty it brings to the mind. In almost every few minutes interval, you would find love-birds on the bridge locking padlocks bearing their names against the bridge to symbolise their everlasting love. The locked keys are usually thrown into the River Rhine below with the hope of no return. Looking down from the bridge is the beautiful Rhine River, a scene with double-decked boat restaurants along the river bank. The preservation of monuments is next to none in this German city as a large number of monuments were erected in Cologne in honour of past kings and other notable movements.
And you don't have to be in a hurry to cross the road because the traffic law works here. There are paths designated for bicycles, walkway and vehicles as well as well-positioned traffic signage.
As I earlier mentioned, the train leaves each station at its designated time and no 'African time' is observed. If there was going to be a slight delay, you would have been informed beforehand. I was told that trains are available to any destination at 20 minutes intervals. So, you don't have to worry.
I was initially worried at the absence of police traffic officers. But in a place where electricity is no more a thing of public discourse like it is in Nigeria, the traffic light takes full control of vehicular movement and the surveillance cameras monitor offenders while the police operate from the control room and other strategic areas and not everywhere you go.
The roads and streets are well-maintained but you may be disturbed with the hundreds of cigarette butts at some corners, subways and bus stops.
The Cologne Trade Fair complex where the Photokina was held was founded in 1922 and till date still plays host to a number of trades shows which include the Art Cologne; Anuga- world's most important food and beverage trade fair; Imm Cologne- leading trade fair for the furniture sector; Gamescom- trade fair for interactive games and entertainment as well as Photokina.
Photo Fair, Photokina
Photokina, which happened to be the purpose of my visit, is the world's leading fair for photography and imaging, bringing together all stakeholders in the imaging world.
It features cameras manufacturers, flash lighting solution companies, printing machines, image editing software, binding, bags, and other accessories companies. The trade fair confirmed its position as the most important international innovation and trading platform for the photo and imaging industry.
Around 185,000 visitors from 166 countries came to Cologne. Finding accommodation was not difficult at all. In some budget hotels, you are likely to find the rates of their rooms pasted on the wall outside; so do not mistake it for the hotel address. Germans are very business-friendly to a fault and having made an advance booking for a hotel in Leverkusen, because most hotels in Cologne with online presence were fully booked before my trip, I was able to change to a more pocket-friendly one in Neuss after a night without a problem. Interestingly, it is more economical to buy drinks or coffee than table water while food (pastries) is reasonably affordable.
Getting back home after a thrilling experience in Germany in an atmosphere that works, we arrived at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos to the reality that I was back in Nigeria as we were faced with non-functional facilities at the arrival hall.
There and then, I started to wonder how many in my shoes would be asking why our system is not working. Why can't there be constant electricity supply? Our roads are so bad that they have become death traps.
The transportation system cannot be hailed either. We have most public officers elected or appointed travelling out of country with tax payers' money with the sole aim of bringing back some experience and knowledge to build the nation. But 52 years after independence, we still have little or nothing to show despite the amount of resources at our disposal.
All these are the cause of unending negative stigma some Nigerians are faced with when trying to do legitimate business or take their family out to visit other countries. They are often refused visa on the ground of the examiner's perception of "I do not think you will come back after the expiration of the visa," or "your bank account is not good enough" as the case may be.