Cologne's residents are used to dealing with crowds during Carnival, but now they expect some 800,000 visitors of a more spiritual nature as Catholic World Youth Day 2005 begins Tuesday.
World Youth Day: Like Carnival, only with fewer drunks
Despite the all-but-guaranteed traffic delays, overcrowded trains and busses and even more zigging and zagging through Cologne's already jam-packed pedestrian zone, most people are accepting the World Youth Day guests with the laid-back attitude known to the Rhine metropolis.
Michael Willms, a waiter on the terrace at the Früh brewery said he hasn't noticed any major differences in the people sipping from the slim glasses of Kölsch beer he delivers to their tables.
Michael Willms will practically have a view of Pope Benedict XVI from work in Cologne's pedestrian zone
"There have been some groups with the World Youth Day backpacks and few more nuns and priests than usual, but there hasn't been a real change in the clientele," Willms (photo) said. "I don't think the World Youth Day visitors aren't really the type of people that generally like to sit around in breweries."
In fact, during many of the scheduled WYD events Willms and his co-workers won't be delivering many glasses of beer at all. When Pope Benedict XVI comes into town on Aug. 18, much of Cologne's pedestrian zone will be closed off and Früh's terrace seating will have to be cleared as people crowd into the city for the papal procession.
Cathedral cleared of pews
"It is amazing how much has been organized and how clearly the city has thought everything through," said Anne Becker, a Cologne native who raises money for the cathedral's renovations by selling raffle tickets. "I think everything is going to come off without a hitch."
However, Becker also admitted that while she's looking forward to seeing the cathedral largely empty of pews, which are being cleared away to make space for more visitors, she plans to stay away during the World Youth Day events, which run from Aug. 15 to Aug. 21.
That's advice that Cologne locals also received from WYD organizers who implored city dwellers to stay out of the downtown area on Aug. 18 unless they were interested in seeing the pope themselves as delays will be unavoidable.
Klaus Jürgen Kopke plans to stay in town for the papal visit. The unemployed artist made a chalk drawing dedicated to the pope Thursday in front of the cathedral.
Klaus Jürgen Kopke's chalk drawing in front of the Cologne Cathedral
"I chose the subject because of the World Youth Day," Kopke (photo) said. "I'm looking forward to the whole thing and hope to see the pope."
Rebecca Slomski, an American student at Madison University who is taking part in a summer program in Bonn, is one of the thousands expected to attend the mass celebrated by the pope in Marienfeld, one of Cologne's suburbs.
"It's going to be a highlight to see a German pope in Germany," she said. "It's probably a once in a lifetime event."
Not everyo n e i n terested i n pope
Cologne resident Sandra Kern, 30, said there are some WYD events that interest. But seeing the pope isn't one of them.
"I really have a lot of problems with him," she said. "I don't like his views on homosexuals, contraception or women in the priesthood."
Not everyone in Cologne is happy that the pope is coming to town
A number of organizations critical of organized religion, including the International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, have also decided to set up a "religion-free zone" in Cologne for people looking to get away from the spiritual tone that has taken over the city.
"We don't want to insult any Christians, but we want to protest that one denomination has taken over an entire city," Jacques Tilly, a sculpturer who created a float of a toothless dinosaur watching over a flock of sheep that will parade through the city, told German public broadcaster WDR. "We want to show that we are also still here."
Busi n esses ope n lo n ger
Regardless of their religious views, businesses have also decided to make their presence known at the event by staying open longer to cater to the thousands of visitors.
While there are still rooms in all price categories to be had, Nadine Rausch of Köln-Hotels, a hotel booking service across from the cathedral and main train station, expects a run on accommodation as the World Youth Day begins. She said the agency has decided to extend its hours and is also offering visitors discounted WYD T-shirts.
Markus Mielke is interested in the World Youth Day mainly for business reasons
Inside Foto Lambertin, a photography shop in the shadow of the Cologne Cathedral, Markus Mielke (photo) admitted his interest in the World Youth Day is largely professional as the shop will extend its opening hours for visitors looking for disposable cameras, film and batteries.
"There will be a lot of people in the city and it's going to be a busy time," he said. "It will be stressful, but we'll just work through it."
Disclaimer: Deutsche Welle is a media part n er of World Youth Day 2005