Cologne has an ambivalent relationship to its public squares. On the one hand they are planned down to the very last detail with the design of each paving slab adhering to strict regulations, while on the other hand, most squares in Cologne’s city centre don’t offer much in the way of quality of life. Neumarkt, Heumarkt and Friesenplatz are all on busy streets. They are loud, taken up with chairs and tables from bordering restaurants and cafés and definitely not ideal if you just want to sit somewhere for a chat.
That’s why most people tend to meet up away from the larger squares of the inner city. One of the most popular spots is Brüsseler Platz in the Belgisches Viertel (Belgian Quarter). Large, shady trees in front of the Church of St. Michael make this an inviting place to hang out. In case you get thirsty or hungry, the square is surrounded by a wide selection of restaurants, pubs and cafés, whose offerings range from traditional pub food to Burmese cuisine. But like every popular hotspot, Brüsseler Platz has its own set of problems. Residents haven’t been shy in complaining about the noise of the punters. Round table discussions ensued, along with strict rulings by the city council. But the evenings here remain loud and busy — which means it isn’t exactly the most relaxing place to hang out either.
Which may be why, a few hundred metres north, a different spot has become the new meeting place. Directly on the corner of Venloer Strasse and Spichernstrasse, the wall around the Stadtgarten park begins, where the residents of the Belgian Quarter like to meet for a chat when the weather is good. The advantages are obvious: the heavy traffic on Venloer Strasse conveniently blocks out the sound of loud conversations for neighbouring residents and a nearby kiosk ensures a steady supply of drinks. However, the best thing about this wall is its location. Not only is it really close to Gewölbe, one of the best clubs in Cologne, but Venloer Strasse also leads directly to the party district of Ehrenfeld, meaning you will be sure to bump into friends and acquaintances on their way to the next party location.
The other alternative to Brüsseler Platz is a few hundred metres to the southwest in the middle of the green belt, which was created in the 1920s, when the Germans were forced to demolish their fortresses after the First World War. Today, this green belt has many attractions to offer: an open-air fitness park at the television tower, several football pitches and a skate park. But you can also just chill out on the green fields. This is also recommended at the Aachener Weiher: next to its artificial lake there is a small bar serving drinks and cocktails, and the pubs, restaurants and clubs on Aachener Strasse are all within walking distance.
The best spots in Cologne are far away from the big squares
But those who wish to get to know the residents of one of Cologne’s “Veedel” (districts) at a kiosk over a beer are best offheading to the Agnesviertel (Agnes Quarter) in the north of Cologne. In good weather, the neighbourhood’s residents like to perch on the edges of the flowerbeds and benches in front of the Church of St. Agnes on Neusser Platz. The kiosk provides them with a constant supply of beer, coffee and delicious panini. The local kids like to draw on the paving stones with chalk or play catch in front of the church. And later on in the evening, people can easily wander into the neighbouring bars and restaurants or just head home. But in one sense, Neusser Platz is a typical Cologne square as it is surrounded on all four sides by traffic. And luckily, driving speeds are reduced to walking pace here, making it as good a place as any to relax and recharge.
(by Christian Werthschulte)