Fritz Schramma, former Mayor of Cologne (Oberbürgermeister der Stadt Köln)



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This archived article was published 23 February 2004
Cologne's former Mayor Schramma: Long-term
planning needs to take centre stage again
By Tann vom Hove, Editor

After a career in teaching and as a freelance journalist, Fritz Schramma was elected Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) of Cologne in September 2000. The Mayor, a member of Germany’s right-of-centre party CDU, occupies the post that was once held by Konrad Adenauer, the country’s first post-war Chancellor. Cologne, with a population of almost one million, is Germany’s fourth-largest city. In an interview with City Mayors, Mayor Schramma discusses his city’s role on the international stage. He also explains the significance of ‘Vision Cologne 2020’.

Update 2009: Jürgen Roters is the new Mayor of Cologne

Cologne in North America | Cologne as media city | Effects of German re-unification | European Capitals of Culture | Cologne and its international partners | Vision Cologne 2020 | City versus region |

City Mayors: Mr Mayor, the City of Cologne belongs to a small group of European cities that enjoy worldwide recognition. How important is it for your city to be a well-known ‘brand’?

Mayor Schramma: Cologne is fortunate to have the Dom (Cathedral) as its internationally recognised symbol and logo. It gives us an advantage in marketing terms, since the best locational factors count for little if a city is unknown. We realise that in today’s global competitive market, Cologne must present a strong positive image. Our city has to be a global brand.

City Mayors: In North America, Cologne is better known than Northrhine-Westfalia, the state the city located in. How do you use Cologne’s prominence to attract investors?

Mayor Schramma: It is true that in North America more people are familiar with Cologne than with Northrhine-Westfalia; however, despite the city’s fame, we need to do much more to inform the North American public and business community about Cologne. Some three years ago, a number of German cities became aware that ‘Standort Deutschland’ – ‘business location Germany’ – could be better promoted in North America through its cities than through its federal states. This realisation led to the setting up of ‘German Centers of Excellence’ (GCE), an initiative to promote Germany’s large cities in the US and Canada. The economic region of Cologne and Düsseldorf is a prominent member of GCE.

City Mayors: Cologne describes itself as one of Europe’s leading media cities. Are there other business sectors of interest to your city?

Mayor Schramma: I think I can say without exaggerating that Cologne is Germany’s TV capital. But the media sector, as a modern, growing industry, is courted by virtually every town and city in Germany. It is therefore vital that we strengthen and expand our position among TV, film, and new media, as well as pre- and post-production companies.

In addition to Cologne’s still very important traditional industries, such as automotive, machinery and chemicals, the city is home to a vibrant service sector. Our outstanding transport links via air, high-speed rail and water have benefited German and international companies from sectors such as IT, bio-technology, commerce and insurance. We believe our mix of industries gives us stability even in economic difficult times.

City Mayors: In 2002, in a business survey conducted by your city, some of those questioned mentioned the difficulties involved in finding employees with the appropriate skills in Cologne. Has your administration taken any steps to counter skill shortages?

Mayor Schramma: The findings of the survey you mention have, due to last year’s difficult economic conditions, become less relevant. The results of a number of exhaustive interviews carried out in November 2003 showed that some skill shortages exist, but they are not as severe as two or three years ago. Currently there is little shortage of personnel with engineering skills. However, employers are concerned about the lack of educational qualifications of many young people applying for apprenticeships.

City Mayors: The relocation of the German government and parliament from Bonn to Berlin has benefited the capital internationally. Does Cologne, in addition to Bonn, belong to the losers of German re-unification?

Mayor Schramma: No doubt, the relocation of the German government and parliament to Berlin hurt the Bonn-Cologne region economically. However, both Cologne and Bonn are strong enough to compensate for the losses. For example, if you look at Bonn’s and Cologne’s real estate markets, there has been no discernible crisis, despite many gloomy predictions. On the contrary, Cologne, in contrast to many former real estate hot spots, has seen an increased demand for office space. According to real estate consultants Atis Real Müller International, 2003 saw record lettings of office space in Cologne. Some 203,000 square metres were let, an increase of 25 per cent over the previous year.

There have also been other positive developments. Cologne’s population is bucking falling demographic trends, and growing, while the number of visitors to Cologne has also increased.

City Mayors: Cologne is bidding to become European Capital of Culture 2010. What would the title mean to your city?

Mayor Schramma: I believe that Cologne would be an excellent choice. Since the city was founded by the Romans some 2000 years ago, Cologne has always been open to European cultural influences. From the very beginning, people with different backgrounds and nationalities have lived together in the city. And today, with people from 181 nations calling Cologne their home, the city is more international than ever.

Furthermore, Cologne is internationally renowned as a city of culture. There are very few cities in Europe that can boast a livelier art scene with more theatres, musical events, museums or galleries. Culture is alive in Cologne. Artists, collectors and patrons of the arts are part of our society.

If Cologne were to be selected as European Capital of Culture 2010, we would use this opportunity to drive forward development in areas like architecture, the arts, science, immigration and youth.

City Mayors: Cologne is a member of four international city networks. How important do you view cooperation and exchange of views in these forums?

Mayor Schramma: European politics dominate more and more the legal and political framework of municipal administrations. European politics have become local politics. European institutions rely increasingly on the support of local communities to carry out their policies efficiently, close to the people and with democratic legitimacy.

Membership of European city networks allows cities to promote local interests among European institutions and to fight for their right to self-government. The city networks we belong to also allow us to discuss successful examples of best practice and pan-European projects. City networks are becoming an institutional basis on which to develop distinctive European city policies.

City Mayors: The public is largely unaware of the city networks to which Cologne belongs, and of others as well. Is there not a need for an international organisation that is not only a members’ club, but an organisation with a strong public voice to speak out for the interests of cities?

Mayor Schramma: I do not share your view, nor are the points you make mutually exclusive. Local and regional municipal organisations do not necessarily pursue the same interest agenda. There are good reasons that Germany has three local government associations representing big cities, towns, villages and rural areas. While their views on detailed questions may well differ, it is important that municipal associations speak with one voice on the big issues. This stance was also incorporated in the draft European constitution, which the European Convention prepared for European Union members. European city networks like the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and EUROCITIES presented a range of agreed position papers to the Convention. They succeeded in being heard, and had some influence on the constitutional debate. They also generated public resonance. Furthermore, some city networks, like POLIS and TELECITIES, fulfil defined specific functions.

I should also mention that Cologne is partnered with 23 cities that form a unique network that contributes to European integration and understanding between nations. No international organisation can match the personal contacts between citizens offered by our network of partner cities.

City Mayors: You initiated ‘Vision Cologne 2020’ (Leitbild Köln 2020). What are its aims?

Mayor Schramma: In Europe, Cologne is in competition with cities like Munich, Barcelona, Lyon or Milan and, outside Europe, we compare ourselves to cities like Chicago or Toronto. It is therefore important to know where we stand, how we compare… Also, each and every one of Cologne’s citizens should know where and how he or she fits into our society. To answer these questions, we felt Cologne needed a vision for the future. It aims to provide not only our citizens, but also our guest and investors, with an idea of the direction our city is taking.

Vision Cologne 2020 looks two decades ahead, and was arrived at after intensive discussions involving some 350 individual citizens and representatives from most economic, labour, social, cultural and religious organisations. It took more than 18 months to finalise Vision Cologne 2020.

City Mayors: Does it make any sense to plan so far ahead? Seventeen years ago urban planners could not have foreseen the impact and importance of the internet.

Mayor Schramma: Local politics all too often involves short-term thinking. Politicians plan from one decision to the next. I believe long-term thinking needs to occupy centre stage again. It is important to determine which direction to take and how to carry out our tasks responsibly.

The next 20 years will see radical changes in technology, economics and demographics. In Cologne, we must be clear how we position ourselves within the city and to the outside world. The chosen timeframe of two decades is there to remind us that our kids will harvest what we sow today. We are the custodians of our children.

Earlier you mentioned the internet. Vision Cologne 2020 does not prevent us reacting to changing circumstances. On the contrary, our vision for Cologne allows greater flexibility, because we have recognised the strengths of our city and, based on them, have decided on and described the way forward. Vision Cologne 2020 does not replace tangible and detailed planning and decision-making.

Vision Cologne 2020 consists of a tangible picture in written form of a distant but desirable future. A future that comprises an open, knowledge-based society, an economically dynamic city, a modern civic society, a living cultural centre and an attractive built environment.

City Mayors: Would you agree that economically, culturally and socially, metropolitan areas will become more influential to the detriment of regions and nation states?

Mayor Schramma: I see it slightly differently, particularly where regions are concerned. Sure the importance of big cities across the world is on the increase, but a city like Cologne is economically dependent on close co-operation between it and its surrounding region. The city may become more prominent in public awareness, but this does not diminish the economic importance of the region.

City Mayors: Finally, which problems cause you, as the Mayor of Cologne, the most sleepless nights, and of which achievements since taking office are you particularly proud?

Mayor Schramma: I am concerned about the fiscal and financial situation of our city. Cologne and many other German cities are facing real difficulties. Nevertheless, I believe I have achieved much for Cologne. Cologne will play host to the 2006 Football World Cup, the Cologne-Bonn airport is attracting more passengers and flights, the redevelopment of the Rhine river port is on schedule, and the decision of the TV company RTL to expand in the Deutzer Rheinhallen further strengthens Cologne as a media location. Cologne is on its way!

City Mayors: Herr Oberbürgermeister, wir danken Ihnen für dieses Interview.


Cologne's carnival offers citizens and visitors a range of extravagant parades and characters dressed in outrageous costumes (Photo: Stadt Köln)


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.