It's my first visit to the city, the fourth-largest and one of the oldest in Germany, founded by the Romans in 38 BC. It was here that the term Eau de Cologne originated, and it is here where one of Europe's biggest street carnivals is held--the Cologne carnival season commences each year on Nov. 11 at exactly 11 minutes past 11am.
Cologne is also renowned for its beer, or Kölsch, and during this time of the year, the local bars extend their menus to include a traditional drink called Glühwein, or glow wine. Commonly available during the Christmas season, Glühwein is typically prepared from a concoction of red wine, cinnamon, vanilla, citrus and sugar. It is served hot, hence, the term "glow" as the wine illuminates in the heat, and also gives those who've had a drink or two a rosy glow.
But, in spite of their intoxicating love for beer--and the seasonal hot wine--the Germans, as most of us would know, are incredibly efficient, reliable and organized. Some locals attribute the orderly life to the many laws and rules that govern the German life.
As my friend puts it: "There's a law for every s*** here."
In that way, Germany isn't that much different from Singapore, which has been so aptly dubbed a "fine" city for the numerous penalties it imposes when rules are broken.
I can't speak for the Germans, but as a Singaporean, I've come to accept the laws and regulations as a small price to pay in exchange for security. There aren't many countries today where women, or men for that matter, can feel safe walking alone on the streets in the middle of the night.
That said, though, I also believe that as a country's population matures, it needs to learn to live with fewer rules and allowed to develop on its own. It needs to be able to evolve by its own rationale and make its own decisions--both right and wrong.
Some ground rules are necessary to provide the basic guidelines, but beyond that, we should all be capable of thinking for ourselves, rather than wait to be told to do what's good for us.
I remember standing at a pedestrian crossing one day with a friend, waiting for the little red man to turn green. After checking for any oncoming traffic, I started my way across the road, leaving my friend still standing at the crossing. It was a small road with little traffic--I wouldn't dream of doing the same for a major junction--but still, my friend was indignant.
When she chided me for breaking the law, I replied: "Rules are made for those who can't think for themselves." I told her that there was clearly no traffic a mile away, and as clear-thinking adults, we can easily rationalize that it's safe to cross the road. So why wait for a little green man to tell us that?
In the business realm, rules can lay the ground for much-needed corporate governance, especially in this post-Enron era. However, too much regulation can be prohibitive and damaging to business development.
On top of that, innovation cannot flourish when it's constrained by excessive rules and restricted by unnecessary boundaries.
And hopefully, one day, the Singapore government will learn to trust its people to realize for themselves why chewing gum and subway trains don't go well together, and lift the country's ban on the latex candy.
Until then, at least, I count the small blessing that there's no law in Germany restricting the amount of Kölsch and Glühwein I can consume during my stay here. So, here's wishing one and all happy days...Prost!