The destruction wreaked by the Second World War left behind a mix of architectural styles
Cologne is probably the only city that attempts to elicit affection from its residents with the help of an art installation bearing the slogan ‘Liebe deine Stadt’ (Love Your City). It’s not that the Colognians don’t love their city: on the contrary. But their fondness for its architecture isn’t overwhelming. The destruction wreaked by the Second World War left behind a mix of styles and a severe lack of contemporary architectural gems. It’s best to ignore the Cathedral. Standing with your back to it, turn right, past the café terrace, down Burgmauer, the narrow cobblestone lane. Descend the stairs and cross over the four-lane Tunisstrasse, until you reach Burgmauer 60, the location of Haus Wefers, one of the most beautiful post-war buildings in Cologne, designed by architect Karl Band in 1956 as a building with three faces: the one along the busy Burgmauer has a brick façade with small windows; an expansive glazed front with shop windows constitutes the east façade and the façade along Komödienstrasse contains a grid-like residential wing. A splayedout pillar structure stands tall in front of the shop entrance on the ground floor. Heading back, you’ll pass the Cathedral on your left before reaching the city’s Central Train Station. Only Cologne could build a place of hustle and bustle right next to one of such great devotion. But that’s not the locals’ fault. It was Prussia’s King Friedrich Wilhelm IV who, in 1859, wanted to erect a symbol of technical progress in direct vicinity of the Cathedral — and so the train station ended up more or less right next to the altar. Despite its destruction in the Second World War, the station has remained in its original location. In 1957, the Prussian bombast was replaced by a sleeker building with a distinctively curved, free floating roof construction. A filigree mosaic embellishes the ceiling, while a kidney-shaped arch links the entrance and ticket halls. The glass façade offers unobstructed views of the Cathedral.
If you ignore the Cathedral for a third time, you’ll discover one of the most remarkable buildings in Cologne on the south side of the square in front it: the so-called Blau-Gold-Haus (Blue and Gold Building). Erected in 1952, it served as the corporate identity symbol of the original Eau de Cologne, 4711. The turquoise and gold façade design, the curved storefront windows and the striking roof valleys are a nod to the label on the brand’s perfume bottles. Once the 4711 headquarters, today the building houses rooms and suites of the neighbouring Dom Hotel. Resembling an optical Eau de Cologne waterfall, the Blau-Gold-Haus is particularly beautiful at night.
To gain a vivid impression of Cologne’s chaotic architectural mix, cross Roncalliplatz until you find your self on Unter Goldschmied: underground car parks, snack bars, apartment complexes and commercial buildings from all periods are cobbled together here. Some of them have been renovated with great care, others are falling apart. Just a few metres further on, at Theo-Burauen-Platz, the alley opens onto a beautiful 1950s architectural ensemble, which includes the Senats Hotel, with a brick façade and white horizontal concrete strips, and, directly opposite, the Spanischer Bau, part of the Cologne City Hall complex and shaped like the number eight arranged around two courtyards. This three-storey brick building exemplifies Cologne’s architectural reaction to National Socialism in the 1950s. But there’s no sign of any political pomp and circumstance here, only restraint, objectivity and conservatism. This impression continues in the understated interior design with the curved steps, wood panelling and light fixtures. A must-see!
Aft er viewing so much 1950s architecture, it’s time for a rest. One of the most beautiful inner-city oases can be found at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Museum of Applied Arts). The second-oldest museum in Cologne was built in 1957 on the ruins of its predecessor building and follows the floorplan of a medieval monastery. Its block-like structure contains one of the most beautiful courtyards in Cologne, where the remnants of a medieval cloister meet art from the 1950s. You won’t find a lovelier place to drink coff ee in Cologne.
Cologne’s brutalist churches employ concrete in all its rawness
For the second tour — Cologne’s architecture of the 1960s and 1970s — you’ll need a bit more stamina: Cologne is not only the city of refined and graceful structures or the oft enmundane architecture of the 1950s; it’s also home to Brutalism, which employs concrete in all its exposed rawness. One of the most impressive architectural examples of this era is found at the beginning of Berrenrather Strasse, and can be reached by taking the number 18 tram to the Weisshausstrasse stop. Built between 1965 and 1972, the Saint Johannes XXIII Church was designed by sculptor Josef Rikus. From the outside, it looks as if the architect had been experimenting with huge building blocks. Things look very diff erent on the inside, however. A massive concrete trunk is reminiscent of a living tree and shelters the congregation. Aft er a short walk along the busy Universitätsstrasse, you will encounter a very diff erent architecture in the University of Cologne’s library and lecture theatre buildings. While the church appears more jagged, the cube-like structure of the library looks impenetrable, with the windows buried deep in its façade. This is a cube of knowledge, whose openings, however, look a bit like embrasures. Adjacent to this is the open and sculptural auditorium building, with its transparent foyer, open stairways and animated, sculptural façade. And the fact that the Brutalists were capable of creating more than just concrete blocks is evident in the inviting greenery surrounding the buildings.
Christian gloom here, Asian transparency there
At the end of this short Brutalist architecture tour are two buildings that could be considered to represent a cultural conflict: Christian gloom here, Asian transparency there. Located at the intersection of the idyllic Clarenbach Canal and Brucknerstrasse is the Christi Auferstehung (Church of The Resurrection of Christ). Built between 1963 and 1970 and designed by architect Gottfried Böhm, the structure resembles a medieval castle made of exposed concrete and bricks. The building’s forms are huddled close together while the interior is reminiscent of a cave with high windows. In contrast, the Museum für ostasiatische Kunst (Museum of East Asian Art), designed by Le Corbusier’s student Kunio Maekawa, is quite diff erent. The flat cuboids and cubes are grouped loosely together into a building that is extremely vibrant and open. Sculptor Masayuki Nagare designed a Japanese meditation garden and the granite sculpture entitled “Fahne im Wind” (Flag in the Wind) for the ensemble. Aft er being awestruck by so much Brutalism, it’s time for tea on the museum terrace, from where you can enjoy a meditative view of the artistically designed islands in the small artificial lake, the Aachener Weiher.
(by Hans-Christoph Zimmermann)