The face of Cologne is constantly changing — at least outside the city centre. Around the cathedral and in the Old Town, faux-historical architecture caters to touristic needs. The city currently plans to redesign the area as a “Neue Historische Mitte” (new historical centre) in order to be able to cram even more touristic attraction into the already crowded space. But more interesting things are happening in the western parts of Cologne: the Belgi sches Viertel (Belgian Quarter) and Ehrenfeld.
From the 1970s onwards, the Belgian Quarter was home to artists and a bohemian community
Our tour starts at Hohenzollernring, between Rudolfplatz and Friesenplatz. The Prussians designed this ring road as a representative boulevard in the late 19th century, but today it’s mostly home to cheap eateries and bars as well as bumper to bumper traffic jams. Wolf Vostell’s sculpture “Ruhender Verkehr” (stationary traffic) reflects this perfectly. Its name is administrative jargon for parking cars. That’s why in 1969, Vostell, who was part of the booming Fluxus scene, cast an Opel Kapitän, the flagship of the German car industry at the time, in concrete. Since 1989, it has been parked right on Hohenzollernring, even though bicycle advocates sometimes joke that it should be turned around by 90 degrees to achieve its full artistic impact.
We, however, turn around by 180 degrees and head westwards on Maastrichter Strasse, right into the heart of the Belgian Quarter. From the 1970s onwards, the old buildings became a home for artists, bohemians and people interested in alternative political lifestyles. In the 1990s, the Kompakt, Groove Attack and A-Musik record stores gave birth to the electronic “Sound of Cologne” here. Today, the rents are way too high for the average artist or employee to live here, but the quarter is still the Colognian’s favourite hangout. At the leafy Brüsseler Platz, we turn right into Brüsseler Strasse with its appealing designer boutiques and small cafés (Spatz is particularly recommended). At the next circular we turn left and stop at the traffic lights. To the left, there’s a large mural, which fittingly encapsulates the gentrification of the area. Our next stop is the underpass ahead of us. It’s one of the few spaces where you might be able to spot the “reverse graffiti” of the artist SeiLeise. Reverse graiti is created by using a stencil to airbrush a pattern into the dirt of the stones and ironically it usually only survives as long as the cleaners don’t decide to sweep the whole wall clean.
Behind the underpass, you can choose from two alternative paths. Walking along Ludolf-Camphausen-Strasse will bring you to LC 36, one of the last rem-
nants of the squatter’s movement of the 1980s, which is adorned with a wonderful mural. The alternative is a walk in the park, the “Grüngürtel” (or Green Belt), where you can enjoy an unrestricted view of the Colonius TV Tower, one of Cologne’s landmarks. Both paths end on Venloer Strasse, where we turn left and head for Ehrenfeld.
Ehrenfeld is the most symbolically charged quarter of Cologne
Ehrenfeld is the most symbolically charged “Veedel” (quarter) of Cologne. In the 1970s century, the quarter experienced an unprecedented economic boom because of the car and engineering industry that was located there. From the 1970s onwards, however, the industrial decline led to many artists and migrants moving into the district, who made use of the now vacated industrial buildings. As with many post-industrial neighbourhoods, Ehrenfeld is today often described as a hotbed for the creative industries. And since about a third of the population are migrants, it is equally regarded as a symbol of multicultural Germany.
This symbolism has been cast in stone at the corner of Venloer Strasse and Innere Kanalstrasse. This is the site of the impressive DITIB Central Mosque. After years of political conflict, construction finally began in 2009, yet because of years of legal dispute between the DITIB organisation and the architects Gottfried and Paul Böhm, it’s still not finished, even in 2017. And the DITIB organisation, who runs the mosque, is close to the Erdogan government and has been accused of spying on oppositional Turkish citizens in Germany. The building itself, however, is simply outstanding. Its modernist architecture provides a stark contrast to DITIB’s reactionary politics.
If you move further into Ehrenfeld, things become a bit more prosaic — especially if you walk along Fuchsstrasse to Vogelsanger Strasse. This where you can see 120 years of Ehrenfeld history at a glance, as mirrored in the tenement buildings along the street. At the corner of Piusstrasse the buildings are adorned by a wonderful mural of a kneeling priest. 500 metres to the West, you will notice a building clad with gold-framed turquoise tiles. These are the colors of the famous local perfume “4711”, which was produced here until 2007. The 50s-style modernism of the factory is perfectly formed and you’re well advised to wander around the area to admire all of the buildings. Today, the former factory is occupied by large advertising and television companies and represents the corporate side of Ehrenfeld’s creative industries. Körnerstrasse, located just across Venloer Strasse is where you can find its artisanal side. The narrow street mirrors the quarter’s village past and the small designer boutiques are full with exquisitely superfluous clothing and accessories, Van Dyck offers excellent coffee and Café Sehnsucht is the perfect place to enjoy a slice of cake.
At the end of Körnerstrasse, we turn left onto Stammstrasse and come to a halt at Ehrenfeld station. The walls of the station (don’t forget to cross the underpass!) were decorated with street art during the last editions of the Cityleaks festival. And the murals at Bahnhof Ehrenfeld particularly reflect the quirky, creative and political spirit of much of the quarter. Just a few years ago, most of Ehrenfeld campaigned against plans to build a large shopping mall at a former factory site. Instead, a school that specialises in inclusive education is going to be built there. After visiting the open-air gallery we walk southwards along the “Gürtel” and turn right onto Venloer Strasse. If you want to make a detour into the heart of Cologne’s club scene and the local landmark, the Helios tower, you should turn left before the underpass. We, however, walk along Venloer Strasse and cast a short glance into Senefelderstrasse to see a fabulously painted mural of a hare hanging upside down.
The mural for the local workers move ment at Bürgerzentrum Ehrenfeld is a good spot to end our tour. This part of the Venloer Strasse is the culinary centre of Ehrenfeld with great ice cream and cake, a number of very good Italian restaurants and a vegan burger joint — the only one in Cologne. No wonder it’s in Ehrenfeld.
(by Christian Werthschulte)