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History

Reconstruction of the Roman city. Photo: Nicolas von Kospoth
Cologne inner city 1942, Bundesarchiv Bild 121-1339
Cologne 2015. Photo: Fabian Stürtz

Many an academic work has been published about the history of Cologne, so this page only serves to give you an idea of the rich history of our city.

The Roman Empire acquired the territory of Cologne, which was then already home to people, some years before the Birth of Christ, and named the city Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. Traces of the Roman rule are still visible in Cologne, such as the Roman city wall (find more information on Roman sights here). Towards the end of the 5th century, the Romans were defeated and driven away by Germanic tribes, and the Franconian people took over. During the Middle Ages, the city was an important link in the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, and at times its largest city. From this time, sights like the Medieval city walls including the Severinstor, Hahnentorburg and the Eigelsteintor, as well as many Romanesque churches remain (find more information on medieval sights here). In 1794 the French military under the leadership of Napoléon Bonaparte garrisoned the city of Cologne. Their most visible legacy is the house-numbering system adopted in 1795. This is where the famous perfume brand Köln 4711 got its name (ever heard of Eau de Cologne?). Following Napoléon's defeat in 1814, Cologne became part of the Prussian Kingdom. It was Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. who ordered the completion of the Kölner Dom in 1842. During this time, Cologne still kept the French currency and the Code Napoléon, which had both been introduced by the French. During the years of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic, Cologne preserved its status on the important trading route which was the Rhine. During the National Socialist Regime, which began in 1933 and lasted until the end of the Second World War in 1945, Cologne sadly continued to play in important role; many crimes against humanity were committed here. You can visit the NS-Documentation Center of the City of Cologne, which is located in the former home of the Gestapo (Secret State Police during the NS). To this day, "Stolpersteine" (lit.: stumbling block, tiny memorials in the ground) remind us of the names of people from the city who were abducted and murdered during the Holocaust. After the war, a temporary US military government was established in Cologne, which was gradually removed after the Federal Republic of Germany had been founded in 1949.

Culture

Even among Germans, people in the Rhineland and especially in Cologne have their own set of characteristics.

Bild: Festkomitee Kölner Karneval von 1823 e.V.

"Kölle, du bes bunt": In Kölle, as Cologne is called in the local dialect, we are proud of our heritage and actively cultivate our welcoming culture. Being "bunt" cannot be translated properly, "colourful" and "diverse" come close but cannot quite catch the meaning. In Cologne, you come as you are, and we welcome you with open arms. Even if we might not share your way of living: "Jede Jeck es anders" - everyone is different. And: "Leeve un leeve losse" - live and let live. Also, every year in summer, people celebrate Christopher Street Day with a several days long street festival and the highlight, the famous CSD parade through the city on the last day of the festival.

Foto: Fabian Stürtz

Rhein: Vater Rhein - father Rhine - plays a big role in the Cologne mentality. Everything is according to the Rhine: Whatever happened in the past, the Rhine was already there, and we survived, because the Rhine survived, too. Whatever the future may bring, before then lots of water will have traveled down the Rhine. On New Year's Eve and during the local summer festival "Kölner Lichter" (Lights of Cologne) you can see all the fireworks above the Rhine and it can make even the toughest Köbes shed a tear.

© CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Kölner Dom: The Cologne Cathedral is what all of Cologne revolves around. You will find it everywhere: on postcards, on clothing, on dishes and glassware, on the official city website, in almost every apartment in Cologne the Dom is present in one form or the other - we even put it in the ELP logo. It has its own figure of speech: no matter how bad a situation may seem, "as long as the Dom still stands", we will be alright. Even in the Second World War, which left Cologne completely destroyed, the Dom remained tall and mostly intact. It may have likely been more of a military tactic to use the large cathedral as navigation aid, maybe even respect for its religious significance, still the Dom survived and to this day provides a feeling of strength and hope. The foundation stone was laid in 1248 and the building was finalised true to the original medieval plans by the Prussian king in 1880 (read more about the Dom's history here or on the UNESCO World Heritage website here), at the time the tallest building in the world. Even today, it remains one of the tallest and largest cathedrals worldwide, so if you go visit, you may find it difficult to catch the entire Dom on one single photo. Ever since the early 20th century, there has been renovation work being done on the Dom in some form at almost all times, in order to preserve the structure. This coined another figure of speech: if you hear someone say, “Before this happens, construction on the Dom will be finished”, it is likely that whatever they are talking about is not expected to happen anytime at all. But if you are lucky, you may be able to see it without scaffolding for a few days while you are here.

Foto: Festkomitee Kölner Karneval von 1823 e.V.

Karneval: Every year at 11:11 a.m. on the 11th of November, the “fifth season” begins. Karneval is called “Fastelovend” or “Fasteleer” in the local dialect and people will greet each other with or otherwise exclaim the phrase “Kölle Alaaf”. The day is celebrated in the streets all over the city, but the so-called “crazy days” (jecke Tage) do not start until Weiberfastnacht, Thursday before Lent in early spring. From then on, in a week-long festival, people will celebrate in costumes in the streets, in public squares and in every pub all day and all night. The highlight is the big parade on Rose Monday (Rosenmontag), called the “Rosenmontagszug”. On Tuesday, the “Nubbel”, a straw puppet, will be burnt in many pubs around the city, in order to cleanse the communities from their sins they committed during Karneval. This particular event is designed to resemble a funeral, as the crazy days come to an end and Lent begins the next day on Ash Wednesday. There even is a song in Cologne folklore called “On Ash Wednesday everything is over” (Am Aschermittwoch ist alles vorbei).

If you come to Cologne, you will learn about the centuries-long history and traditions of Karneval, the Dreigestirn, the stage shows (Sitzungen) and the traditional music that accompanies Karneval and can be heard in some pubs and clubs all year long. If you are curious, learn more about it here.

Foto: Fabian Stürtz

"Drink doch ene met": Pubs have a traditional significance in Cologne. For centuries, people have met in the evenings "in d'r Weetschaff op d'r Eck" (in the pub around the corner). It is where you meet your neighbours from your Veedel (quarter), old and new friends and drink your Kölsch. You will be introduced to schunkeln: a kind of rhythmic movement to the beat of a song, people link arms and sway from side to side on the spot. In Cologne, you schunkel with strangers whilst singing local tunes, no matter if you know the lyrics, you become part of the feeling that is Cologne. "Drink doch ene met" (have a drink with us) encompasses all of this and can be said to a total stranger just as easily as to your best friend; it is an invitation to join the table and become part of the community.