Urban development in Cologne: the list of antics is long

Urban development in Cologne: the list of antics is long

In Cologne, a long-awaited museum project has been delayed again. Once again it shows how there is a permanent crisis in terms of urban development.

A crossroads where trams, cars and cyclists mix

Chaos at Barbarossaplatz: Cologne is also lagging behind when it comes to the traffic turnaround Photo: Christoph Hardt/Geisler-Fotopress/picture alliance

It is often said that, in the end, a society always gets the politics it deserves. Cologne is one of those places that shows that this is not true. Whatever one may think of the city, and its equally typical and inhibiting penchant for complacency. This The people of Cologne don’t deserve city politics. For decades, Cologne has been making headlines with bankruptcies and breakdowns.

At times it’s quite entertaining. Just like with the redesign of Breslauer Platz at the main train station a few years ago, where the planned fountain – more of a tragedy than a water feature – was “forgotten” and later had to be supplemented at considerable additional expense.

The fiasco on Heinrich-Böll-Platz, which has to be closed every time events are taking place in the Philharmonie below it, is already a tradition because noises from the surface of the square penetrate into the concert hall. No joke: The costs for the security personnel who have been driving passers-by, skaters and cyclists off the square for decades run into the millions.

The list of such antics could be continued indefinitely. But since then at the latest Collapse of the historical city archive in March 2009which was caused by a subway project that was as ominous as it was controversial and cost the lives of two people, what is happening in Cologne no longer seems comical, but rather tragic.

The sight of wasteland

Most recently, it was once again the plans for the expansion of the Wallraf Richartz Museum, one of Cologne’s cultural flagships, which made people shake their heads. When the city acquired the plot of land next to the existing museum and not far from the historic town hall, the D-Mark still existed. Actually, the realization of the extension, the design of which goes back to an architectural competition decided in 2013 (!), should have started long ago, but in August it became known that this would not happen this year either.

The city spoke of previously unknown cavities in the subsoil, the critics of the fact that they simply failed to examine the subsoil earlier – they would have had enough time. At the end of November, the city announced a new schedule: Construction is now expected to start in fall 2023 and the project is expected to be completed by mid-2028.

It is to be hoped that the representatives of the Fondation Corboud, whose collection is to be housed in the new building, will not finally lose patience and turn their backs on the city by then. The contract for the permanent loan of 170 paintings, mainly works of Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism, dates from 2001.

In any case, here, in one of the most central and historic places in the city, the sight of wasteland is not spared for the time being. What would be something easier to endure if not already implementing the neighboring “Archaeological Zone” which would strain patience unduly.

Failed culture (capital) city

The idea for the project, now somewhat awkwardly known as the LVR-Jewish Museum in the Archaeological Quarter, came about as part of Cologne’s (failed) bid to be European Capital of Culture 2010. That was at the beginning of the millennium. The start of construction was delayed until 2017 and since then the project, which is so important for Cologne and which is intended to make testimonies from more than 2,000 years of city history tangible on an underground course, has been making headlines, above all with cost increases and further delays. In October it was announced that construction would not be completed until the end of 2026 at the earliest.

It is often said today that Cologne can no longer build cultural buildings, because practically every major cultural project has a worm in it. First and foremost in the ten-year refurbishment of the listed opera house and theater on Offenbachplatz, the construction costs of which have tripled over the years. But if it were only that! A few rays of hope cannot hide the fact that urban development in Cologne is generally not in good shape.

The city is lagging behind when it comes to the traffic turnaround, which is shown, among other things, by the fact that cycle paths that deserve the name are still piecemeal and local public transport is unreasonable. Another annoyance: much of what is listed as a historical monument is not treated and appreciated in the cityscape as one would expect given its cultural and historical value; This applies to the traces of Roman history as well as to the many Romanesque churches in the city, whose often neglected surroundings do not suggest that they are among the most important in Western Europe.

And most of the larger urban development projects that have been implemented in recent years are not convincing either. Especially not when you measure it against Cologne’s self-image of playing in a league with other European metropolises.

Untapped Opportunities

The flagship district of Rheinauhafen boasts glamorous facades but not urban life, and it takes a long time to find larger-scale projects that would create a truly compelling new slice of the city.

The fact that Cologne wants to do better in the future with projects such as the development of the Deutzer Hafen – the former industrial port is to become a “lively, social and colorful quarter” – is cold consolation, given what has happened in recent years and to this day mostly arises. Vast amounts of abandoned industrial and railway areas have been given new uses. What an opportunity to develop Cologne and what a tragedy that it wasn’t better exploited!

Most of what was created is also not affordable, also because Cologne only began to react late and then rather hesitantly to the problem of rising rents and real estate prices. While in 1990 just over a fifth of the apartments were publicly funded, this proportion fell to just 6.7 percent in 2021.

This is also due to the fact that Cologne, following the example of Munich and other cities, has for several years required investors to create at least thirty percent subsidized and therefore affordable living space when building apartments, but at the same time gave them considerable leeway to evade this obligation .

life in the second class

“Milieu protection statutes”, with which luxury renovations or the conversion of rented into condominiums can be prevented, have only recently been applied and only selectively, which strengthens active urban policy initiatives in Cologne in their criticism that the city lacks determination in the fight for affordable Living space is missing.

It is often said that Cologne is a city that requires a lot of humor to live in. Just recently, the cabaret artist Jürgen Becker ranted in an interview with the Cologne city gazette about the conditions in his hometown (“Cologne has always been good in the second class”) and explained that those responsible at the top should be chased out of the city. Would that do it? It’s no secret that Cologne’s administration is in bad shape.

Most recently, a city ranking by the German Economic Institute (IW), in which Cologne landed an unflattering 30th place, attested to the city’s “partially dysfunctional administration”. The non-party Mayor Henriette Reker, who was elected for the first time in 2015 and re-elected in 2020, has so far been unable to keep her promise to bring the administration into shape, nor has the alliance of Greens, CDU and Volt, which has been determining the fate of the city council since 2021, the disastrous picture , which Cologne has been giving up for years, is able to correct.

“Et es wie et es”, “Et kütt wie et kütt”, “Wat wells de maache?”

At the same time, however, the question of who or what is responsible for the conditions in Cologne cannot be answered with a simple “those up there”, and when looking for a more satisfactory answer one cannot avoid asking the people of Cologne themselves to take the look You can feel sorry for them, but they may also be partly to blame for the fact that their city is not moving.

Protests, when they do take place, tend not to be as mobilizing as might be expected given the number and scale of urban policy failures (and as is the case in other cities), and there is something to the Observation that one tends to arrange oneself, true to the motto “Et es wie et es”, “Et kütt wie et kütt”, “Wat wells de maache?”.

The fatalism and purposeful optimism that speaks from this Rhenish wisdom may help to endure the everyday madness in Cologne. But they could also be part of the reason that said madness is proving to be so enduring.

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