As ever I was met by my German publisher, Eckart Schott of Salleck Publishing, and we drove into Mülheim and to our hotel, Hotel Kaiser on Wiener Platz. After dropping our bags off we went out to a little pizzeria (Palazzo) where I had a very nice pizza that I'm sure was meant for four people, not one. Our walk back to the hotel was just short enough to stop my bones from getting too chilled - there was a definite bite in the night air.
While Eckart had an early start to set up his stand at the comics fair, I was able to have a bit of a lie-in (a rare luxury with two small children at home), and I made my way over to the Köln-Mülheim Stadthalle (town hall) at about 10 am, opening time for the show. It was a beautiful November day - sun, blue sky, and not too cold.
The queue to get into the hall was enormous, so I walked round to the side to see if I could find a tradesman's entrance. I did, but was stopped by a door-guard who kept telling me to join the queue at the front despite my attempts to explain that I was there to sign books for Salleck. Luckily, just as I was about to give-up, a chap came up who recognised me and let me through. He turned out to be Thomas Götze, the organiser of Comicmesse Köln, and he gave me safe passage to Salleck's stand. Thank you, Thomas!
I wasn't totally sure if I was there because volume 3 of Die Regenbogenorchidee was now published, but actually that is coming out next May (2015), so I was there just to sign and do sketches for volumes 1 and 2. But that morning Eckart realised he'd forgotten to bring any volume twos! "Ashes on my head!", he said, obviously feeling bad about it. But actually it was fine - a good number of volume one was sold and I was kept very busy sketching - the day flew by. I didn't even have time to look round the hall myself and I didn't manage to take a single photo at the show.
I did meet lots of lovely people though. I always find my German hosts and readers to be hugely polite and friendly and it has made my trips there (previously to Essen and Erlangen) very worthwhile and a complete pleasure. I must offer special thanks to Peter Nover (he wrote the article on me in Zack Magazine at the start of the year) who gave me a complete set of the Erlangen Panini stickers (I'm no. 68!), and the album, as well as a copy of a new magazine he's involved in, Camp (which includes a rare 4-page strip about the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Edgar P. Jacbos, from 1964).
Eckart was also very generous - still feeling bad about the lack of volume two stock, he gave me a present of the two André Juillard Pêle-Mêle artbooks from Pythagore. I'd been drooling over one of these at a friend's house en route to the Lakes Comic Art Festival last year, so this was a wonderfully generous gift (and a rather heavy one, I just about got them into my little bag for the flight home!).
With the day over, I made my way back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep for an hour. At six I met Eckart in the lobby to go out to dinner. He had a very interesting guest with him - Dr. Johannes Wachten, the retired senior curator of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. He had helped Eckart with some specialist translation relating to the Israeli Air Force when Salleck published Yann and Juillard's graphic novel, Mezek.
We took the tram across the Rhein into Cologne, and then a walk to the Art'otel on Holzmarkt to meet one of Eckart's stand helpers for the day, Ernst, and his wife. En-route we had a very interesting historical commentary from Dr Wachten, especially in relation to the Roman origins of Cologne (Colonia, or Colony, more fully Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium - the Colony of Claudius and Altar of the Agrippinians!), which helped to keep my thoughts away from the fact that it was getting really quite cold. Also, there was a lovely yellow moon low in the sky across the Rhein as we walked along the redeveloped harbour on Im Zollhafen.
Things were kept interesting when, after a long walk, we reached our restaurant for the evening, Oxin (on Alteburger Strasse), and I had my introduction to Persian cuisine. Not being a very adventurous eater I found it very tasty, though I kept away from the octopus! Eckart said we should all have ice cream next so, despite feeling rather full, I did my best with some kind of mocha-extravaganza at the nearby Eiscafé Forum.
The cold was getting colder and my brain was thinking thoughts bedward, but we decided on a quick tram trip to see Cologne Cathederal late at night - a very impressive structure that survived the Allied bombing of the city in WWII, and Germany's most visited landmark. We then said our gute nachts and Eckart and I made one more tram journey back to the Hotel Kaiser.
My flight home on Sunday was not until after 4 pm, so Eckart drove us both to Oberhausen (not far from Essen) and to the Ludwiggalerie to see the Streich Auf Streich exhibition - 150 years of German-language comics since Max and Moritz. It was a fascinating display, with many originals and made all the more interesting with Eckart as my personal guide. We followed the visit up with a luxurious lunch in the Kaisergarten Count Westerholt Restaurant (complete with live piano player) and then - though I was getting a little anxious about the time - made a very brief visit to a local moated 15th/16th-century castle, Burg Vondern.
After a little confusion about which direction to take, we got going back on the Autobahn, the traffic was kind, and I was dropped off at Köln-Bonn airport with time to spare for my flight home.
A big thank you, once again, to Eckart Schott for his generous hospitality, and to Ernst for taking me to lunch on the Saturday (and for his and his wife's, and Dr. Wachten's excellent company in the evening). As always, a super-big thank you to everyone who came to get a sketch, buy a book, or even just to chat - danke schon!