Social history is well documented in the north of Cologne. Not just at the Ford plant and former Clouth rubber factory but also in the local places of worship. After all, it is here, in the erstwhile proletarian stronghold of Nippes and Riehl, that you will find an impressive collection of modern churches. These buildings have borne witness to the major reforms and conflicts experienced above all by the Catholic Church in the 20th century.
Our bicycle tour begins in Mauenheim at the Philipp-Nicolai-Kirche – Kirche being the German word for church – a Protestant church built in 1965. As is the tendency with all modern churches, the interior of this two-storey brick cuboid is plain and simple. Right next to the building is one of the characteristic features of church architecture in the north of the city: a freestanding campanile or bell tower that was only added as recently as 1989. The Salvator-Kirche in Weidenpesch (1958) also boasts an impressive bell tower. Its brick exterior and honeycomb windows reflect the architecture of the neighbouring church. Although straightforward in design, the nave of this church is vitalised by its blend of bricks and white plaster. It is at its best in the evening when the sun shines through the western honeycomb window, filling the church with diffuse light.
The unassuming design of most modern churches is founded in an idea popularised by the Liturgical Movement back in the days of the Weimar Republic in Cologne, which ultimately ushered in the major church reforms of the 20th century. Rather than worshipping the saints on the altars and church windows, the focus was to be on the interaction between congregation and priest (and, in turn, God) – so the minimalist church architecture provided the perfect backdrop for this. This conflict is embodied by the Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche in Weidenpesch, which was completed in 1931. While its floor plan and pillar structure have a strong Gothic influence, the walls and chancel are white and ornate.
Further north, in Longerich, we see the progress made in church construction in the space of 25 years. In 1956, this where the foundation was laid for the Convention of German Catholics settlement, where Catholic families with at least four children could move into a small house. The cornerstone of this settlement is the parish church, Pfarrkirche St. Bernhard. Not only is it named after Bernhard von Clairvaux, the father of the Cistercian Order, but his ascetic lifestyle is clearly reflected in the plain brick facework as well. Also well worth a visit is Christ-König-Kirche in Longerich. Built by Fritz Schaller in 1951, it dovetails perfectly with the residential architecture in the northern part of the district.
Crossing Neusser Strasse and Scheibenstrasse, we head for Niehl via Schlenderhaner Strasse and immediately catch sight of the detached grey stone tower of the Protestant Petrikirche church. Inaugurated in 1965, the church is modelled on a traditional basilica design. The monumental interior is made of the same dark stone and exudes a meditative calm. In the direct vicinity is the Fordsiedlung, a settlement built for Ford employees in the early 1950s. The accompanying Catholic church was named St. Christophorus after the patron saint of travellers. It was built in 1959 by Rudolf Schwarz, whose 1930 design for the Fronleichnamskirche in Aachen is regarded as a pioneering work in modern church architecture. In Niehl, he opted for a cube-shaped building of concrete and brick. As envisioned by the Liturgical Movement, to which Schwarz belonged, there is no divide between the altar area and the congregation in the nave. Since 1989, the church has been used by the Armenian community, who have added a dome to the minimalist interior.
Further south is St. Clemens, a Catholic church built by Karl Band, one of the leading names in Cologne’s church architecture. Here, Band built a Gothic-style altar vault supported by bare concrete pillars. For its part, the red-brick church tower is a direct nod to the factory towers in Cologne’s industrial north. Across Nordpark and Riehler Gürtel we pedal our way to Riehl and see the Protestant Stephanuskirche with its impressive saddle roof and its Catholic neighbour St. Engelbert. In 1931, the latter was built by Dominikus Böhm as an architectural expression of the Liturgical Movement, much to the displeasure of the Vicar General. The parabolic outer walls are made of modern concrete but decorated with traditional brickwork.
The last stop on the tour is St. Hildegard in Nippes. This square church is characterised by its tiny windows, the calling card of architect Stefan Leuer. The altar and tabernacle are also well worth a visit. This church is not likely to be there for much longer – as the parishes have more space than money, modern churches are the first to be phased out as places of worship. Here in Nippes, they will be replaced by urgently needed housing.
Start: Mauenheim, Nibelungenstr. 62Destination: Nippes, Corrensstr. 2Length: 15 km, 3 hours
Suggested pit stops: Rheinkult, Neusser Str. 515, WeidenpeschRennbahn Biergarten, Scheibenstr. 40, WeidenpeschThere are also plenty of places to eat around the Florastrasse tram stop
Philipp-Nicolai-Kirche: Nibelungenstr. 62, Mauenheim
Salvator: Schlesischer Pl. 28, WeidenpeschHeilig-Kreuz-Kirche, Floriansgasse 2, Weidenpesch
St. Bernhard: Hansenstr. 398, Longerich
Christ König: Altonaer Str. 65, Longerich
Petrikirche: Schlenderhaner Str. 32–34, Niehl
Cologne Armenian community (formerly St. Christophorus): Allensteiner Str. 5, Niehl
St. Clemens: Friedrich-Karl-Str. 222, Niehl
St. Engelbert: Riehler Gürtel, Riehl
St. Hildegard in der Au: Correnstr. 2, Nippes
(by Christian Werthschulte)