In order to prevent any misunderstandings: Timo Eckstein has nothing against women. Most certainly not. But when it comes to his job “then I become a chauvinist”, says the 38-year-old and adds with a charming smile: “I’m the ‘Köbes’, women are waitresses”. Understood. But Timo, who last worked at the Cologne cult pub Lommerzheim and now serves at the equally famous “Zur Malzmühle” brewery does not mean anything bad by this. Quite the opposite. Because to get a job as a Köbes, you have to have something special. Timo explains why to DeinNRW on a visit in Cologne.
Nobody knows any more where the term ‘Köbes’ came from. What is sure though is that Köbes is the Kölsch (cologne dialect) form of Jacob (James). Otherwise, he turned up somewhere in the fog of the breweries of the 19th century according to what they say in Cologne. It may be that many of the brewery boys („Brauers-Pooscht“) back then, who worked in the brewery by day and served in the brewery pub at night, were called Jacob (James). Another story says that it was pilgrims on the Jakobsweg (The Way of St. James), who served in the breweries in order to earn some money for their journey that gave the Köbes their name. Whatever. In any case, the Köbes is still the secret boss of the brewery and is not in any way obligated to the guests, only to the beer. But he is also an entertainer and philosopher, sometimes a little crude but always charming.
“As a Köbes, you can be brash but never outrageous.” This is how Timo describes his way of interacting with guests. Because “every table is a stage”. You flirt and make fun, tease and laugh. And if a guest does actually order an Altbier (dark beer, literally translated ‘old beer’) “then tell him he should just leave the Kölsch standing long enough - and it will get old by itself”. And pilsner? “You can get it free at the swimming pool.” Timo is never short of a silly saying. “I step on people’s right foot” says the young man with the full black beard and the winning smile.
"Every table is a stage."
In Cologne, where Timo has lived for more than 30 years and where carnival is of course also celebrated, at the Nippeser Lappepiratet, there’s only Kölsch, nothing else. But it has to be cleanly tapped and fresh, the Köbes places great importance on this and what it means. And Timo, whose parents also had a pub in Cologne at Hansaring for a long time, and was therefore “somehow born into gastronomy”, does not make any compromises when it comes to tapping either. Because ultimately, the guest has a right to have the glass filled up to the serving mark (mind you that does not mean a fill line in the case of a Kölschstange (Kölsch beer glass)) and for it to have enough of a head on top. Beer is only “cleanly tapped”, Timo explains to the laymen, “if it leaves proper curtains in the glass”. And every beer requires a head, whether top-fermented or bottom-fermented.
A throng like at an end of season sale
At typical Kölsch pubs and breweries like the Lommerzheim in Köln-Deutz, every Köbes must also know how to tap beer. Above all, however, he requires tenacity. Because even before the most Kölsch of all Kölsch pubs opens, “a queue of people forms outside the door like at the summer sales”. It maybe that the Köbes – who can be clearly identified from his long blue apron and leather purse - has to lug a 50 kilo keg of beer out to the taproom every 20 minutes and tap it. Every 20 minutes, 31.5 litres of Kölsch: That’s exactly how much the Fat Bertha keg holds at Brauerei Päffgen, continuing a long tradition at the Lommerzheim. The brewery has been there since 1959, run for 45 years by Hans “Lommi” Lommerzheim and his wife Annemie. Here, many anecdotes are told about the quiet but quick-witted landlord. In 1999, on the occasion of the world economic summit, he is supposed to have refused a visit by the then US President Bill Clinton to his wood-panelled taproom. The reason: The regulars would have to stay outside. At the Lommerzheim, a cutlet is traditionally served with the beer, which by the way is not ordered from the brewery but rather brought by the Köbes until the guest puts a beermat on top of his glass, signalling that he is finished. But not just any cutlet. The legendary pork cutlet here is a hefty 700 grams in weight and certainly doesn’t come from a discounter. Everything that is put on the table in the rustic taproom comes from local producers and traders. The new landlord Frank Glitscher owes this to himself and his customers. Apropos: “On good days, we sever up to 400 cutlets.” One Whitsun it was apparently 1,200.
Timo’s current employer is also loved by guests from all over the world: the traditional Zur Malzmühle brewery. It is the second oldest of its kind in Cologne and was started over 150 years ago as a malt beer brewery. And even today, along with Mühlen-Kölsch, malt beer is still one of the best sellers at the brewery that still brews at its original location in Cologne’s old town. Especially at weekends, there are also queues here to get to one Kölsch or other.
Köbes is, as already mentioned, not an easy job. And when Timo talks about it, you can vividly imaging how the 1.75 metre tall, very fit young man clears the way through the guests standing cheek to jowl. And why men are Köbes and women are waitresses... “I’m actually 10 centimetres too small for the job too”, the former ice hockey player quickly adds. So would he prefer to do something else? “No way. My job goes right to my heart.”
You will often meet Timo at a brewery in his free time too, if he’s not riding his Harley around Nippes. At “Golde Kappes”, he likes to chat with his colleagues. Even as a child, he was often at the traditional hostelry with his parents, where you can still see a Beichtstuhl (confessional box). This is where the Köbes got his “Kranz” (beer tray) and settled up before he went into the taproom. Nowadays, bills are settled with receipts or “Märkchen”. In the past and now, the guest always only paid at the end. And the following applies at the brewery:
“The beermat is a matter of honour”.
“At the Golde Kappes, Saturday was always family time”, Timo remembers of his childhood. “First we went shopping, then a “Strammer Max” (eggs, bacon and bread) here, a Kölsch for my mother and a lemonade for me, and then we carried on shopping”. His father, himself a landlord, loved to tell him stories of his home town. His son has remembered many if these to this day, for example the story of the Archbishop of Westerburg and the Battle of Worringen in 1288. Because the 38-year-old, who you would hardy recognise on his days off in beige skater pants, a fleece jacket, baseball cap and dark sunglasses, loves his city. And loves his Veedel (neighbourhood) even more. “Because Cologne is essentially just a conglomeration of lots of little villages.” And when Timo walks along the streets with lots of new graffiti and pubs, there is always time to chat too. Because Timo knows the people in Nippes, and they know him.
Time also sees his city label, which he founded a few years ago with a graphic designer friend of his, as reminiscent of “his Cologne”. The name “Trois Rois” is of course derived from the Three Kings, who are very important to the people of Cologne. But it also includes the influence of the French. “For example, I still always say ‘trottoir’”, says Timo. It is found on t-shirts, hats and mugs with the name of city districts such as Nippes, Deutz, Ehrenfeld and Kalk, with the old postcode 5000 and a little skull, like the one its creator also wears on his finger. The items sell well in the small, trendy shops that are once again to be found in Nippes. Because like Timo, most Cologne natives are local patriots to some extent of other. “I would even say”, says the 38-year-old, and has to laugh a little himself, “that Cologne is a city where the most devotional objects are sold to the locals themselves.” Even if “Cologne really isn’t so attractive any more. I love this city.”
Three questions for Timo Eckstein
"Kölsche Jung" and fan of motorbikes
Timo, you have 48 hours of free time. What would you definitely do with this time in NRW?
Timo: No question, motorcycling. That’s the best thing of all: Helmet on, hop on the Harley and then ride around the area with the boys.
Which place in NRW did you most recently discover for the first time?
Timo: Zeche Ewald in Herten. There was a motorcycle event there recently. I was there for the first time. I really liked the old industrial setting straight away.
Your personal favourite place in NRW.
Timo: The Rhine! I always enjoy sitting down or going for a walk somewhere along the Rhine. It’s at it’s most beautiful when the sun is slowly setting and you look down at the water from one of the many bridges and see the silhouette of Cologne shimmering. It has something mystical about it then.