Here in Cologne, people tend to scrunch up their faces a bit when I tell them I live on the “other” side of the Rhine. And not in Deutz, close to the river and the city, but Kalk, deep into the hinterlands of the Falsche Seite. Kalk is a neighborhood with a reputation for criminality and limited opportunities, some of which is deserved. But when you look deeper, it’s not hard to see why more and more people are abandoning the Old City, Belgian Quarter, and Ehrenfeld for the bright shores of the right bank.
The prejudice against the right bank of the Rhine goes all the way back to the Roman era, when the city was founded on the left side of the river. Back then, the problem was rampaging Celtic warriors, the same barbarians who would slaughter tens of thousands of crack Roman legionaries at the Teutoburg Forest in what would be remembered for generations as Rome’s greatest military defeat and the end of its efforts to pacify the Germans. It made sense to stay on the left bank after hearing about how the Germans on the other side had made mincemeat of the best Rome had been able to throw at them.
Later, the issue became one of religion. After the German princes were freed to choose the religion practiced in their domains by the Peace at Westphalia, the modern Rhineland splintered as pockets of loyal Catholics and rival Protestants competed for the eternal souls of the German people. Cologne remained a Catholic redoubt, but much to the east became Protestant. As a result of this divide, much animus spewed forth from the left bank onto the right, leading to a divide that likely rivaled that which the Romans and Celtic Germans shared.
Today, conquest and religion are mostly far from the minds of those of us making our homes in Schäl Sick. For me, Kalk is the ideal neighborhood, and I enjoy living there much more than where I used to live in the Belgian Quarter. I have 8 supermarkets within a two block radius of my home, and only two are German. The others reflect the neighborhood: Turkish, Chinese, Bulgarian, Polish, Nigerian and Italian. If I walk another two blocks, I can also buy my groceries from one of the two local Moroccan grocers.
This mix of peoples (and foods) from all over the world living together mostly harmoniously is one I really enjoy, even if I am a bit concerned about the mafiosos that live down the street and seem to never leave their posts at the local cappuccino joint. Still, they do make the best cup in the city, which is a great metaphor for the whole experience of living there. People from all over live on the right bank, and they all get along, more or less.