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In the Jugendpark, I feel like I’m reclaiming a bit of nature for myself

A day in the life of Bassam Ghazi

|   day in the life

Cologne is the city that I’ve lived in the longest. I was born in Beirut, grew up in Berlin and have lived in the north of Germany, Beirut, Heidelberg and then in Berlin again. But I’ve been living in Cologne-Mülheim since 2003. I feel really attached to this part of the city. And even though we’ve since moved to nearby Dellbrück, I can still officially say I live in the district of Mülheim!

From my old apartment I was able to walk along the Rhine to work, coffee in hand – or go for an early-morning jog there. This is also where the gentrification of Mülheim is at its most glaringly obvious. When you’re walking down the new promenade towards Stammheim, all you can see are new builds lining the banks of the river. Ever since I’ve lived here, I’ve been constantly drawn to the Rhine, which is a real gift for the city. Many of the riverbanks have remained in their natural state without being paved over in concrete, which adds to the quality of life here.

My days off are usually at the weekend and you’ll often find me down at the river. I like to use the time to catch up with my children because I don’t see much of them during the week as our working days at the theatre usually last well into the evening. But first things first: housework! I usually get the kids sorted and venture out by around 11 am. Up until recently we had a cargo bike, but it got stolen. I used to be able to put both kids into the attached box and pedal them around town, playing music on the speakers for them. We usually start by heading to the playground on Münzstrasse next to the Mülheimer Mäuerchen, a wall where people like to sit and admire the river views, where I’ll grab a coffee from Café Jaku­bowski. Another favourite spot of ours is the pirate playground on Deutz-Mülheimer-Strasse, right next to Café Rheinspa­­­­­ziert, where they have great waffles!

After that, we leave our bike next to the Katzenbuckel bridge at the port of Mülheim and walk over to the other side, to the Jugendpark headland. We always like to sit in the same place on the riverbank. When their nursery was closed during lockdown, it felt like I was bringing my kids here every other day – and thanks to my mobile hotspot I had my very own open-air office. But the Jugendpark is ­actually a place where we prefer to switch off, so I don’t want to spoil it by working. In summer we barbecue vegetable ­skewers and tofu or beef sausages and in winter we bake bread on a stick over a campfire – and I even encourage the kids to carve their own wooden sticks! I grew up as a real city kid in the Neukölln area of Berlin, so it always feels like I’m reclaiming a bit of nature for myself here. And because of its unique vibe, I don’t think there’s a better place to do this in Cologne than the Jugendpark. The best thing about it is that it’s been pretty much left in its natural, untamed state. This is where I come to take time out from my everyday life. And whenever I’m looking for that kind of peace and quiet in Dellbrück, I’ll sometimes go for a wander around the cemetery. The calming atmosphere seems to instantly wash over the children. But my wife refuses to join us – she finds walking around graveyards a bit morbid.

And wherever we have been, we always stop off for ice cream on the way home. Back at home, I get the kids ready for bed and read them a story. And if there’s enough time left in the evening, I like to sit down and enjoy a glass of red wine with my wife.