Cologne is often referred to as “the northernmost city in Italy”, a reputation that its people more than live up to. As soon as the sun comes out to play, people go outside to join it. Urbanologists refer to this process as ‘Mediterraneanisation’. This is something that was particularly apparent during the coronavirus shutdown. While the pedestrian zones and nightlife hotspots in the city centre were like ghost towns, there were still plenty of locals out and about on the pavements and in the squares and parks right on their doorsteps. So if you want to experience Cologne like one of the locals, one of the city’s many public squares is a good place to start.
Arguably the most interesting of these is Ebertplatz, built in the 1970s to a Brutalist design with concrete surfaces, underground passages and a fountain in an abstract art style. It was neglected for many years before ending up as a hangout for drug dealers. Those are still doing business there, but in 2018, artists joined forces with the city administration to restore civic life to the square: exhibitions, installations and performances were held, the fountain was turned on again and a café was opened on the square itself. As a result, Ebertplatz is undergoing something of a renaissance, with people sitting under the trees until late and children splashing in the fountain in the summer or skating on the ice rink in the winter. It’s well worth a look – especially if you’re an architectural enthusiast. The square is to be given a complete overhaul soon but can still be viewed in its original architectural design for the time being.
In the rest of the city centre, it’s not always so easy to get together in the open air. Due to the coronavirus situation, many public spaces are subject to extremely strict rules about large gatherings of people. To compensate for this, the City of Cologne has freed up kerbside parking spaces in certain areas to allow cafés, bars and restaurants to offer their customers outdoor seating. If you prefer to bring your own food, Rathenauplatz near the ‘Kwartier Latäng’ (Latin Quarter) is the perfect place to take a break: kids can romp around to their hearts’ content in the playground while the adults enjoy a game of boules. And if you get thirsty, there is a beer garden nearby. On the way there, you should also check out Yitzhak-Rabin-Platz – formerly an asphalt square, it now has a new lease on life as a kind of garden with a long table and raised flower beds.
Cologne has plenty of spots that are ideal for people-watching, each with its own individual charm. Such as Chlodwigplatz in the south of the city, where the alternative scene – admittedly a little long in the tooth these days – holds sway, and where city’s famous friendliness is best experienced with a coffee at weekends. However, a more authentic taste of Cologne can be found on Saturdays right beside the underground station Kalk Post, on the other side of the Rhine. This has evolved into a place for young people to meet up, amble through the neighbouring shopping centre or play football behind it. We recommend stopping for coffee and then taking a stroll down Kalker Hauptstrasse, where there is no end of great Turkish food on offer.
And finally, a tip for those who like to party late into the night: because of the stringent noise regulations in Cologne’s inner-city districts, you’ll be hard pushed to find any open-air nightlife options. Apart from Odonien, that is. Although very central (ten minutes by bike, five by S-Bahn train), this cool club is located between two railway lines, meaning that there are no neighbours to complain about the noise. And owner Odo Rumpf recently added a new giant steel sculpture to his open-air paradise. During the week, the grounds are a great place for a wander or a beer. And when the wave of new infections has died down, Odonien will once again be the only place in Cologne where you can literally dance the night away until the sun comes up.
(by Christian Werthschulte)