(plural Köbessen) is the name for a waiter in a Kölsch bar and is said
to come from the local diminutive of the name Jakobus, which in turn was the
Latin designation for St. Iago de Compostela. Young men taking a mediæval
gap year to make the pilgrimage to the shrine would pass through
Cologne, and would spend a while there, making
money for their trip by acting as waiters. Köbessen today must be
specially recruited for their ability to work fast under pressure, negotiate
crowded bars while carrying vast amounts of food and drink without spilling any,
and most of all, for their humour. For example, when Jeannette and I
sat down in the Malzmühlen bar, the Köbes
greeted us in fluent English with the Shakespearean quip "Two beer, or not two
beer?" (If you come across an English publican joking with his German
customers by parodying quotes from Goethe or Schiller you will let me know,
won't you?) Another joke which loses something in the explanation hinges
on the fact that the word Kölsch refers to the local dialect, as well as the
beer - hence the pun that "Kölsch is the only language that you can drink"!
Drinkste ene met? (Have one with
The local dialect is quite something - if you think you know German, you'll
think you've ended up in a different country when you hear some local Klaaf (=
chat - in Hochdeutsch that would be Gerede or Geschwätz). Letter G is
pronounced like a German J (or English Y) so the familiar phrase 'ganz egal'
(it's all the same to me) becomes less comprehensible when you hear 'yans eyal'!
But if you're interested in languages, it's great fun having a go at
understanding it. At the very entertaining website of the
brewery you will find a useful dictionary of the dialect - you
get a view of the Malzmühle bar (the brewery
tap), complete with sound effects: just click once to activate it, then click on
the customer who offers "Deutsch op kölsch". And even if you're not
linguistically inclined have a look at that website anyway - other parts
of it show you pictures of the bar, and the door leads to the brewery - it's
You don't normally need to order Kölsch - you're in Köln, so
that's what you're supposed to drink! Ask for a beer, and Kölsch is what you'll get. If you ask for
water, the Köbes is quite likely to direct you to the nearby Rhein!
if you fancy trying the Altbier of Düsseldorf,
then wait until you get to Düsseldorf,
just don't ask for it while you're in Köln - not
unless you want to make a closer acquaintance with the waters of the Rhein,
that is! The story goes that a group of Germans, including one from Düsseldorf, went into a Kölsch bar. The Köbes brought them all Kölsch but the Düsseldorfer said he wanted
Altbier (the name of the style, which translates as 'old beer'). The Köbes came back with a glass of Kölsch, which had no head and
a most unappetising appearance, and said "He häs do ding Alt"
(here's your old beer)!
As soon as your glass is empty the eagle-eyed Köbes will swap it for a full one, keeping track of your
consumption by adding another tick to your beer mat (see picture on right).
Tip: if accompanied by small children who might think putting ticks on a
beer mat seems a good game, restrain them unless you want a large bill!
worry about getting your glass refilled so quickly. The
Kölsch-stangen (glasses) in which the beer is served are some 2 inches in
diameter and about 6 inches tall, holding just 0.2l - at that rate it takes
a while to put away your first litre. The size is supposed to keep the
beer in top condition - and all that running about with refills must keep
the Köbessen fit!
If you decide you don't want another glass then either leave your glass half
full (a bit wasteful, that!) or put your Deckel (beer mat) on top of the
glass. When you pay, the Köbes works out your bill from the ticks on
the mat. It keeps the accounting simple - one type of beer at one
price per glass plus the cost of any snacks you've had. The price of
the latter is usually scribbled on the beer mat as they are delivered.
And talking of snacks . . .
(High points of the haute cuisine of Cologne - Vegetarians look
Choosing Ädäppelszupp met Speck
from the menu in a Kölsch bar brings you
a hearty potato soup, with bits of ham in it - and the approval of the Köbes! Then, to really make his day, order up a
portion of Himmel un Äd
(Heaven and Earth), eat it (with several beers of course), enjoy it,
then ask what it is - onions, mash, and apple sauce, accompanying grilled .
. . well, in the UK we call it black pudding, some Germans euphemistically
call it Rotwurst (red sausage) but in Kölsch dialect they don't mess
about, they call it what it is,
Blotwoosch = Blutwurst, blood sausage! And if you're not
squeamish, you'll find it's a very tasty dish. If you see Flönz
on the menu, that's another way of serving Blotwoosch.
Oh, and don't
think of Russia if you see Kölsch
Kaviar - that's just Blotwoosch which hasn't been
grilled! (See right)
Of course, if you're a carnivore who's
really hungry, you could always try a
Hämmche (known as Schweinehaxe in the
rest of Germany) which translates as pork knuckle but to the easily daunted
looks more like a leg of pork. When served with a beer sauce it can be
quite delicious - just make sure you're not planning any other meals that
day . . .
Vegetarians can look now! If you want a snack which is not
made from large portions of animals, try Halve Hahn.
German speakers will already have made a fair
guess at the dialect and translated that as 'half chicken' and vegetarian
polyglots will be spluttering - BUT it's another example of Kölsch wit. Order it, and you'll get
a Röggelche, a rye bread roll, with butter, and a hefty slice of Dutch
Do laachste dich kapott
(You'll laugh yourself silly)
Here's a few examples of Köbes humour.
They are courtesy of some wonderful beer mats provided by Reissdorf Kölsch.
I hope they don't mind my publicising them - please show your appreciation
by visiting their website at
or better still, drinking lots of their product!