Sipping Baileys hot chocolate in our hotel cafe Glen and I debated whether we should stick with our plan to attend the local ice hockey game in Cologne that night.
The tickets were already paid for and we were interested in seeing what a professional ice hockey game actually looked like, but we were so tired.
We’d left our house in England at 4am that morning for an early flight to Germany, not wanting to waste a minute of our time there, but as the evening approached and the temperature dropped to just 2 degrees, our earlier enthusiasm was nowhere to be found and we both silently urged the other to call it a night and skip the game.
We’re used to travelling at a slower pace – staying in a place for longer than the normal holidaymaker and living more like a local. One of the benefits of this way of travel is that you’re not usually rushing around trying to fit everything in, instead you just find that you experience everything organically over time and at a much more leisurely pace.
At the moment (whilst we are based in England) we are having to adapt our travel style to ensure that we get the most out of every trip and our silent protest over hot chocolate was a wake-up call for both of us – we had to stick to our evening plans or we would have fallen at the first hurdle.
Agreeing that if we didn’t leave the hotel now, we never would, we put on some extra layers of clothing and set out towards the famous Lanxess Arena – a 20 minute stroll from our hotel in the old town.
The Lanxess Arena
Initially I’d been a little hesitant about walking to the venue. After all it was a Friday night, pitch black, involved waking over the relatively quiet Hohenzollern Bridge and we felt sure that we would be met by ice hockey thugs getting revved up before the big game (can you tell that we’re used to the football hooliganism of England!?).
We’re not nervous travellers but we do take precautions to ensure our safety abroad and sometimes this means getting a cab rather than risking walking.
On this occasion I’m so glad that we trusted our instincts and opted to stick to walking. I would have been gutted to miss the gorgeous site of the Cathedral lit up behind Hohenzollern Bridge.
We were next surprised to discover that though many of the 19,500 ticket holders were milling around at a number of bars and restaurants nearby, the high spirits never spilled over into anything darker. It seems that Germans are able to attend a sporting event where the passionate supporters of rival teams can get along without mass brawls. It was a revelation!
There is a huge police presence in Cologne which should give some comfort to locals and travellers alike and thanks to this and the excellent sportsmanship of the German ice hockey fans, we were able to have an incredible experience watching local team Kölner Haie decimate away team the Augsberger Panthers without ever being in danger.
Whilst we may have started the evening as curious (albeit tired) travellers, we exited the arena as huge ice hockey fans, revved up ourselves, and ready to find a local team back home to throw our support behind.
How did Ice Hockey grab us so quickly?
Attending a professional ice hockey game is one hell of an experience and it’s one that begins well before the referee blows the start whistle.
Before you even make it through the long queue and into the heart of the arena you can hear the booming of classic rock anthems blasting out of what must be a bloody excellent sound system. Being huge fans of this type of music our excitement for the game started to build along with the anticipation of the other ticket holders with the atmosphere buzzing around us.
We went on to find out that this music is played often throughout the game – whenever the ref needs to stop play (which is often) and during breaks (there game is played in three 20 minute periods with two 15 minute breaks in between). They also play club songs when each team scores and 4 months later we still can’t get the Kölner Haie victory song out of our heads! (There wasn’t much need to play the Panther’s song thanks to their 6-1 defeat…)
Just when you think the game might actually be about to start, on runs a dancing shark who proceeds to break dance for the next 5 minutes, working the home fans into a frenzy which only heightens when the commentator announces the players one by one, with the fans joining in to shout the surnames of their heroes as they enter the rink (via the mouth of a huge inflatable shark – what else?). It’s an insane amount of craziness in one place but it works! We had an absolute blast.
Adding to our new found appreciation for ice hockey was the copious amounts of beer readily available all over the arena. It’s difficult to overestimate the sheer pleasure of being able to drink a plastic cup of cold beer whilst watching a game!
Alcohol can make sporting events explosive for all the wrong reasons however, despite our fellow fans being drunker than Paris Hilton after two Bud Light’s, the atmosphere was never anything other than friendly.
Speaking of which we made lots of friends because everyone was so nice.
Ice hockey in Germany is cool as shit!
Initially having found ourselves sitting next to 2 Panther’s fans (in the Shark’s seating area) we thought they must be nuts as they made no effort to hide their allegiance (the full Panther’s outfit was probably enough to give them away but just to be sure, they cheered loudly every time the Shark’s fans had cause to boo). Wondering whether we ought to distance ourselves from these obvious psychopaths was a waste of worry as, once it became obvious the Panther’s were going home empty handed, the super fans joined us in support of the Shark’s and together we chorused the catchy Kölner Haie anthem after every goal!
It became clear that where football is so often divisive in England, ice hockey works to bring German’s together and we felt so lucky to be invited into the family and to be made to feel like honorary Shark’s for the night.
It kick-started what went on to be an incredible trip and we’ve no doubt that our crush on Germany is largely down to all the fans we met at that ice hockey game on the first night.
Although having attended a couple of games at home since (nowhere near as good as the German showing) we still have absolutely no idea what the rules of the game are. Happily, I don’t think it really matters!