There’s a saying in Cologne that states that the city is not capable of planning any decent squares. And there’s definitely something to it. In fact, most of the major inner city squares such as Neumarkt, Heumarkt or Friesenplatz are either surrounded by heavy traffic or occupied by the outside seating areas of pubs and bars. They are noisy, feel cramped and are not well suited for simply meeting on the street to relax and chat for a while.
This is why for quite some time now people headed out of the city centre if they wanted to meet in a public space. One of the most popular squares is Brüsseler Platz in the Belgian Quarter, west of Hohenzollernring. The old trees in front of the church provide a lot of shade and you can sit comfortably on the steps of the flowerbeds. The corner shop “Brunne von Kölle” on nearby Brüsseler Strasse sells a broad selection of lemonades and craft beer. The best time to visit Brüsseler Platz is in the afternoon. In the evening the square fills rapidly, becomes littered with broken bottles and people start behaving obnoxiously. This has led to numerous conflicts with the local residents, which the city council has tried to mitigate with the help of professional mediators, the police or by cleaning the place aggressively with sweeper machines at 11 pm.
So, come evening, it’s best to move on. Fortunately, there are plenty of options. A little further to the north, there’s the Stadtgarten with its commercial beer garden, but the wall on Venloer Strasse is a popular and non-commercial meeting point in the evening. If you prefer to leave the city centre altogether, you should head for the Blücherpark in Bilderstöckchen, which not only has a small lake for rowing, but is also a well-frequented spot for families having a barbecue. There’s a small beer garden, which provides food and a good selection of beverages and on the weekend, local DJs will spin disco, house, reggae, or salsa — for free.
However, you’ll probably end up in the “Grüngürtel” (Green Belt), which is the name for a number of interconnected parks surrounding the city centre. It was constructed in the 1920s when the Germans had to give up the fortresses that surrounded the city centre. Today, the Grüngürtel includes a number of playgrounds, some football pitches and a skate park. Most people use it for a short walk or meeting their friends. A good place to start would be the Aachener Weiher west of the city centre and close to the bars and clubs of the Belgian Quarter.
Now, what about the Rhine, you might ask? Well, the city of Cologne takes unusual pride in its river, but has for a long time neglected to convert its riverbanks into pleasant public spaces. The “Rheinaue” grassy area near the Old Town is usually crowded with stag and hen parties and on the small promenade, cyclists, musicians and pedestrians compete for space. So, crossing the river towards the newly constructed Rhine boulevard in Deutz is a good option. The large concrete steps are situated between the Hohenzollern and Deutzer bridges. There’s a small “Büdchen” (kiosk) serving food and beverages and in the evening, the steps are flooded with sunshine and offer perfect views of the Cathedral and the Old Town. If you prefer to sit on grass instead of concrete, you should make the 20-minute walk towards the peninsula of the Deutzer Hafen in the south directly opposite the high-rises of the Rheinauhafen, a nice spot to have a picnic and there’s no better place to relax while being in close proximity to the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
(by Christian Werthschulte)