Cologne City Hall and the glass pyramide housing a Mikwe, a Jewish ritual bath. Photos: Günther Ventur / Stadt Köln

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City Mayors profiles city leaders from around the world. More


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City Mayors profiles national and international organisations representing cities as well as those dealing with urban issues. More


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City Mayors lists cities and city organisations, profiles individual mayors and provides information on hundreds of urban events. More


Cologne City Hall
By Gregor Gosciniak, German Editor

19 March 2005: Visually, the German Rhine metropolis of Cologne is dominated by its gothic cathedral. The magnitude of the cathedral (Kölner Dom), one of the world’s most photographed monuments and Germany’s number one tourist attraction, often lets one forget that the city is also home to many more historical buildings. One of them is the Cologne City Hall (Kölner Rathaus).

Cologne City Hall is Germany’s oldest city hall. It was first mentioned between 1135 and 1152. The City Hall was then located next to the city’s medieval Jewish quarter. In the 14th century a new City Hall was build on the foundations of the old one. In 1367 a fire in the Jewish quarter caused severe damage to the building.

As often, the Rhineland people turned a mishap into an opportunity for improvements. After the fire, the square in front of City Hall (Rathaus Platz) was enlarged and the City Hall itself expanded. At the same time, work started on the first vestibule. The City Hall’s impressive gothic tower was added between 1407 and 1414. The tower is 61 meters high and it is built right over the City Hall’s former wine cellar. The wine cellar, which to the sorrow of some is not lined with racks of vintage bottles anymore, is these days used for wedding ceremonies.

In 1424, Cologne’s Jewish community, one of the oldest in Europe, was expelled from the City. Two years after the expulsion their synagogue was turned into the chapel of the City Hall. More council buildings for different purposes where built around City Hall Square in the following years and decades. Between 1569 and 1573 a beautiful loggia was build to replace an older one. The loggia, the main entrance of today’s City Hall, has been carefully renovated and preserved. In 1794 the French revolutionary army invaded Cologne and the City Hall became property of the French government. The Rhineland was passed to Prussia in 1815. Between 1860 and 1890 the City Hall was restored. There were some plans to erect a completely new building, but Prussian patriotism allowed the old building to survive.

In 1943, at the height of World War II, the City Hall was hit by bombs and set on fire. During further bombing raids in 1944, the City Hall, together with most of Cologne’s central district, was destroyed. Only the loggia survived.

After the war the tower was the first part of City Hall to be rebuilt. In 1955 the City Council decided to rebuild the tower’s original ornamental facade, a task, which kept craftsmen occupied until 1975. In 1988 work began on the 124 sculptures, which decorate the tower - the last one was finished and re-erected in 1995.

In 1968 the Council choose local architect Karl Band to rebuild the main building – and finally, in 1972, the new Cologne City Hall was opened. Today it is officially called the ‘Historical City Hall of Cologne’. Opposite the historical City Hall, the 1956-built ‘Spanish Building’ houses the Council Hall and the administrative offices of the City Council. The building is a unique example of 1950s administrative architecture. The cellar of the building provides access to Cologne’s Roman history including the walls of the Roman Praetorian, which was excavated in 1953.

Council meetings take place in Council Hall. Today, 90 councillors represent the four big political parties (Christian Democrats (CDU) 29 members, Social Democrats (SPD) 28 members, Green Party 15 members and Free Democrats (FDP) 7 members). Also represented are six smaller political parties and groups with 11 council members. Cologne’s Mayor Fritz Schramma is a member of the CDU. It is Mayor Schramma´s second term as Mayor. In the state of Northrhine-Westfalia, the Mayor is directly elected. During local election citizens have three votes: One for a district representative, one for a local councillor who will be sent to the city council and one for a candidate running for Mayor.

The Historical City Hall houses the Mayor’s Office and is used for a variety of public events such as receptions and other official meetings. It is also a very popular place to get married. Mayor Fritz Schramma and the City Council are keen for the City Hall to be used by the people of Cologne. The building is open to the public and hosts numerous public and private events throughout the year.

One of the highlights of Cologne City Hall was in 1998, when the G8-Summit, the EU-Summit as well as the meeting of EU foreign ministers took place in Cologne. Guests who visited the City Hall during that that year included former US President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Japan’s Prime Minister Kaizo Obuchi as well as many other heads of states.

In front of the City Hall, inside a glass pyramid a Mikwe, a Jewish ritual bath is preserved as a reminder that the municipal building is situated next to the city’s former Jewish quarter. According to Jewish religious practise, the Jewish community needed a bath, which allowed its members to use ground water. So the Mikwe was built as a bathing shaft, which is 16 meters deep and incorporates an internal staircase to reach ground water level. The fascinating structure dates back to the middle of the 12th century.


Cologne Cathedral and the City Hall tower at night


Carnival is Cologne`s 'fifth season'
Cologne`s carnival, the city's 'fifth season', is known across the world as a colourful, joyous celebration that attracts annually around one million visitors to the city. The 'Three Mad Days' are the end and climax of Cologne Carnival. The time of merrymaking in the streets is officially declared open at Alter Markt on the Thursday before the beginning of Lent. Pubs stay open till the early hours of the morning, and the spirit of Carnival reigns in the streets and public squares, in offices and at home and, above all, in places for dancing and drinking.

The following Sunday belongs to processions through the streets, organised by local schools and the various districts of the city, and watched by hundreds of thousands of people.

The real highlight is the next day, 'Rosenmontag' (Rose Monday), the day of the big Carnival procession, with the three chief Carnival figures, Prince, Peasant and Maiden. Each year's procession tries to outdo that of the year before in colour, humorous originality and extravagant costumes. Scores of decorated floats with huge figures parodying topical events, about 130 bands, hundreds of horses, brightly clad groups - all passing through streets packed tightly with millions of people cheering and calling out for sweets and the little bunches of flowers that are thrown by the ton and in tens of thousands to the merrymakers.

The day on which Rose Monday, the chief day of Carnival, falls depends on the date of Easter. Carnival Sunday, the day before Rose Monday, is the seventh Sunday before Easter. On both Carnival Sunday and Rose Monday, motor traffic is banned throughout large sections of the city centre. No vehicles may be parked along the procession route. Those without a grandstand seat or access to a convenient window are advised to secure themselves a roadside position in good time.