Eau De Sauna: my Ode to Cologne
Confessions of a Gay Road Tripper, Vol.II Part I
More from Jack Cullen
“You’re nahht going to put theese on Farce-boook?” warbles Patri as I train the lens of my iPhone on his small white bum. He’s drunkenly doggy-paddling across a really rather enormous square-shaped Jacuzzi in pursuit of the bubbles’ reactivation button. An empty lube sachet is tangled inside his wild wedge of white-blond hair but I’m too drunk to mention it. Like Gaga, I don’t speak German, and it’s so tedious hearing oneself explain things slowly in English. As a rule of thumb in Germany I only open my mouth when strictly necessary.
It’s 6.30am and I’m sitting in ‘Sauna Babylon’. Patri brought us here after the bar I met him in Die Mumu closed. It was a long walk in the rain across the city centre, and we originally went to a sauna that was closer by called Phoenix, but they refused Patri’s suggestion to let us in for a fifth of the price on account of us being slim and young. In Germany youth is the gay scene’s skeleton key, it can unlock anything, and sure enough, Sauna Babylon obliged. Men still buy drinks for boys in Germany, and they put their arms lovingly around each other’s shoulders.
Sauna Babylon is the nicest gay sauna I’ve ever had the fortune to visit. Beyond the jacuzzi (which Patri now appears to be drinking) lies a set of French doors that lead onto a large and secluded outdoor pool. It’s raining heavily outside, but that doesn’t dissuade three athletic and tanned Germans from attempting naked drunken back flips. Sofia Coppola may as well be directing my evening.
The private cabins are very large here, with king-size raised plastic mattresses and room to stand up in, it’s a far cry from those disgusting bog-like cubicles in Chariots. “You harve gay sauna in London?” asks Patri. “Yes” I say, already feeling embarrassed in advance. I have a brief upsetting image of stout closet-case Brits closing in slowly around Patri’s delicate body, thick and moist hands unashamedly lunging at his balloon-like cheeks.
The sauna room itself here is more like an amphitheatre with its three large sides of cascading wooden seating. The staff are refreshingly lax about everything too - Finally when Patri and I plucked up the sobriety to leave there was somebody getting taken against a wall just inches away from reception.
THE BEST GAY BARS IN COLOGNE:
The city of Cologne has a rich, charismatic and very active gay scene. Split into two main areas, both south of the Cathedral, I would recommend you visit the Western sector of the Cologne scene. There is a real drinking culture in Cologne, and some bars stay open until the last group of people leaves. You can smoke indoors too, which feels like a novelty at first but makes your clothes stink.
This place is hilarious. It’s a schlager bar, which means they play traditional and overly melodramatic German songs that middle-aged gay men remember watching on God-awful early TV variety shows in their childhoods. Everyone sings and sways along and the beer is very cheap. By 2 o’clock or so people quit shouting folk in favour of grabbing each other’s asses and stomping around to Jennifer Lopez.
A few doors down from eXCorner, this bar reminded me of a police charity disco I once attended at a working men’s club in Melton Mowbray. The décor consists of tiny mirror balls shoved into glass vases, men whistle at you (quite earnestly) and there was a man dressed as an airhostess who handed out free condoms. Every third Thursday they play exclusively past Eurovision entries. So a terrible bar really, but fun nevertheless.
The best gay bar in Cologne if you’re into incredibly attractive students. They also make their own drink called Mumu juice which comes in a branded bottle with a photograph depicting two German gays being massively German and gay.
The biggest gay club in Cologne, they play lots of pop and students go there during term time. On Saturdays they have a Turkish fetish night, or ‘Homo Oriental’ as the Germans misleadingly call it. Not my thing, so I didn’t go.
WHERE TO EAT IN COLOGNE:
This place is wedged between the two bars above, and has an amusing low lit interior with a large fish tank, fake climbing flowers and indoor palms. It’s like a bond villains shag pad basically and there’s a fanciful cocktail menu that must have been put together in the early 80s. The food itself tastes great and is reasonably priced.
BEST SAUNA IN COLOGNE:
Even if you’re not the sauna type, do pay a visit to Sauna Babylon that I wrote a bit about above. It wasn’t that busy but if you take your own entertainment then it’s great. The other saunas all looked a bit shit in Cologne, in fact, it’s worth walking past Sauna Vulcano just to laugh at its drippy and macabre exterior.
Flights n stuff. Some more pics.