what I found out in the meantime is that you CAN use cookies and headers,
just like you said, but my particular problem arose because a notice was
issued for an undefined variable;
I didn't check correctly for it's existence.
so any output, and also output like notices, warnings and errors, just
anything you might get in a development situation, outputs headers and the
consecutive calls to header() or setcookie() will fail.

for clarity, this was the output:
notice; undefined index: bla in file.php on line 162 #wrong check in if
warning: cannot add header infromation - headers already sent by (output
started at file.php) in file.php on line 164#wetcookie call, but notice has
already been sent out, so this will fail

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