Cologne. Reconstruction as preservation of urban identity

The destruction of 90% of the old city and about 60% of the general buildings was the result of the numerous bombings of Cologne by the Allied forces during the Second World War.

Most of Cologne's historical monuments, with the exception of its Gothic landmark, the 157-meter Kölner Dom, and another more modern city symbol, the Hohenzollern Bridge, are post-war "renovations", which does not prevent the city's love for both citizens and tourists. We consider how this was achieved in the article.

Operation "Millennium" was the most destructive for Cologne on the night of May 31, 1942, in which more than a thousand bombers of the Royal Air Force of Great Britain participated and which was aimed simultaneously at several German cities: Cologne, Berlin, Dresden and Hamburg. In one night, more than 5000 buildings were destroyed in Cologne, about 500 people died, and more than 45 lost their homes.

After this raid, up to 700 residents left the city, whose pre-war population was about 150, and by the end of the war, no more than 000 citizens remained in Cologne. 40 non-residential buildings were destroyed, 3 were seriously damaged, and 300 were slightly damaged—a total of 2 buildings, of which 090 were industrial or commercial.

Altstadt Süd district, Cologne, 1945. Photo source:

Among the completely destroyed buildings are 7 administrative buildings, 14 public buildings, 7 banks, 9 hospitals, 17 churches (in total, 91 churches out of 150 were destroyed during the war), 16 schools, 4 university buildings, 10 postal and railway buildings, 10 historical buildings , 2 newspaper offices, 4 hotels, 2 cinemas, 6 general stores. Also, 13 apartments were destroyed, 010 were seriously damaged and 6 were slightly damaged. The Cologne Cathedral survived a direct hit by 360 bombs and today is one of the few churches in the city that have survived in their original form.

Despite the destruction, the city remained until the end winy under the rule of the Nazis, who used prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates to clear and remove the rubble to demonstrate their invincibility and "action according to the plan". The plan was to rebuild the central part of Cologne to host mass Nazi rallies and marches, which required large squares and wide avenues.

3 non-residential buildings were destroyed, 300 were seriously damaged, and 2 were slightly damaged—a total of 090 buildings, of which 6 were industrial or commercial.

The main road was to connect the Deutz station on the right bank of the Rhine with the central station on the left, which was planned to be moved from the cathedral to the area adjacent to the current university campus, and there to arrange a huge "field" for rallies, Maifeld. Located between the university campus and the artificial lake Achener Weiher, the "field" was part of a plan to be implemented before the start of the war and used for Nazi marches.

Ruins and cathedral in the distance. Photo source:

A B-24 bomber over the city, 1945. Photo source:

Mass in the bombing-damaged Cologne Cathedral, 1945. Photo source: Life Photo Collection

Already after the war, the remains of Meifeld were filled with the debris of bombed buildings, and in 2004 it was transformed into a park with a hilly landscape, dedicated to the victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Hitler wanted to see all German cities modernized, with wide streets for cars and skyscrapers. So many city councils had planners who started thinking about reconstruction even before the war. When the bombing began, they even thought it would speed up modernization, but it turned out to be the opposite. After the war, many cities rejected both planners who supported Nazi ideas and modernization as such.


Components of the pre-war city

It was founded in the 1815st century. N. e. by the Romans, Cologne acquired its main features during the 1866th and early XNUMXth centuries, absorbing many nearby towns and villages. During the German Confederation (XNUMX–XNUMX), Cologne was transformed into a fortress with two fortified belts. Forts, bunkers and wide defensive areas surrounded the city and prevented its expansion. This has led to very dense construction within the city.

The driving force behind Cologne's growth was industrialization, namely the production of cars and engines. The symbol of the city is the Gothic Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God and St. Peter, the construction of which began in 1248, was finally completed in 1880 and immediately received the status of a national monument, symbolizing the progress of the German nation since the Middle Ages. The development took place partly at the expense of the historical heritage of the city, much of which was demolished (for example, the city walls and the area around the cathedral) and replaced by new buildings.

During the days of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), Cologne managed to flourish and achieve certain positive changes in the field of urban planning and social construction

During the First World War, the city did not receive significant damage that would affect its structure. But later, as part of the demilitarization of the Rhine region under the Treaty of Versailles, the city fortifications were dismantled. This made it possible to create two green belts around Cologne, turning the fortifications into large public parks. This project was completed in 1933.

In general, during the days of the Weimar Republic (1918–1933), Cologne managed to flourish and achieve certain positive developments in the field of urban planning and social construction. At that time, Konrad Adenauer, the future chancellor of Germany (1949–1963), who was the mayor of Cologne from 1917 to 1933, took care of the city. On his account, together with the "green belt", in particular, new port facilities, sports grounds and exhibition buildings, Adenauer also initiated the restoration of the University of Cologne.

The social housing projects initiated during this period, many of which are associated with the name of the architect Wilhelm Riefan (1889–1963), were considered exemplary, and this experience was transferred to other German cities.

The new heart of Rotterdam. Post-war reconstruction of the destroyed city


New old plan

On March 6, 1945, American troops occupied the city, and in June 1945, Cologne entered the British occupation zone. The restoration of the city began in the first post-war years, and ended only in the 1990s, when the Romanesque church of St. Cunibert was finished. In 1946, the architect and urban planner Rudolf Schwarz (1897–1961), who at the end of the war called Cologne "the biggest pile of rubble in the world", was appointed head of the reconstruction office and presented his plan in a year, 1947.

Although the destruction allowed for a wide range of reconstruction alternatives to be considered, the planners decided to restore the medieval central part of the city according to the original plan. Most of the narrow streets in the area have been preserved and the buildings have been restored to their original pre-war scale.

The only thing that was revised was the function of the central streets, which shifted towards office and commercial facilities, which became the basis for the creation of a large pedestrian zone. According to the implemented post-war plan, it stretches from the cathedral to Neumarkt. The railway station and the bus station are the two poles of the district, and people move between them at any time of the day.

Hohenzollern Bridge, 1945

Apostolic Church in Neumarkt, 1945.

The destruction during the Second World War of twelve famous Romanesque churches, including the Basilica of St. Gereon, the Church of St. Martin, the Church of St. Mary of the Capitol and about a dozen others, meant a huge loss of cultural heritage for the city, so it was decided to rebuild their copies.

Although the restoration of these churches and other landmarks, such as the Gothic Gürzenich Palace (1441–1452), was not supported by most of the leading architects and art critics of the time, public opinion prevailed. Only one church was left in its ruined form - St. Alban's, which was turned into a memorial to the victims of the war.

The Church of St. Alban, destroyed in 1945. It is the only Romanesque church that was not reconstructed. Photo: Adam Jones, Ph.D. 2013

Cologne after the bombing, 1945. Photo source:

Another direction of the designers' efforts was the reconstruction of the city transport network, taking into account the further increase in the number of private cars. A new traffic system consisting of three rings was laid around the central part of the city in parallel with the restoration of the buildings. To facilitate movement in the center of the city, two extended streets were formed, crossing the central part and connecting with bridges over the Rhine. These two streets divide the city into quadrants.

The Hoestrasse and Schildergasse, the commercial heart of the city, were closed to vehicular traffic for several hours each day during the reconstruction in 1949. The owners of shops and buildings who financed the restoration of Schildergasse were initially against its transformation into a pedestrian zone. City planners then realized that before they could do that, they needed to create a new alternative to east-west traffic to serve one of the three bridges that cross the Rhine.

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In 1960, when the new Cecilienstrasse was completed, everyone agreed to make Schildergasse a pedestrian street. Moreover, the owners of the buildings created an association that covered 60% of the costs of repairs and lighting, and also paid for the street sculpture. The owners of commercial establishments on Hoesstrasse were inspired by the example of their "neighbors" and in 1962 also decided to make their street pedestrianized.

The prohibition of automobile traffic on Hoeschstrasse and Schildergasse subsequently led to the fact that many lanes became de facto pedestrianized as well, which greatly improved the overall ecological conditions of the old center. The level of air pollution, as well as the level of noise, halved - a strong argument in favor of the introduction of pedestrian zones in large cities.

Panorama of the modern city from Kölner Dom

The modern reconstruction of the square around the famous city cathedral has added a pedestrian zone. Directly connected to the Hoestrasse, the square is also connected to the train station. The greening of this area and the embankment near the pedestrian bridge over the Rhine and the open-air café contributed to the creation of a place to relax and contemplate the famous spire of Cologne Cathedral.

The lack of budget funds and the priority of private investment led to the fact that the master plan of reconstruction developed by Rudolf Schwarz and the team was never fully implemented. Schwartz set out his vision in a work entitled "New Cologne". It included decentralization, the involvement of Cologne's sister cities into a single city system, the creation of educational and commercial districts in the southern and western parts of the city, and industrial districts in the north.


Cause and effect relationships

Reproducing the historical appearance of medieval churches destroyed during the Second World War — the path taken by Cologne among other European cities is still debated by researchers. Is it possible to have a reconstruction that is XNUMX% true to the original? Is it necessary to reproduce the past at all? Is reconstruction in modern forms the proper response to the irreversibility of history?

If in the countries that became victims of aggression in the Second World War, reconstruction was desirable and indisputable, then in Germany, in the defeated aggressor, many considered it an illegal attempt to obtain indulgence and a second chance at the same time. But in both cases, the public, who demanded the reproduction of their cities according to the old plan, first of all wanted to return the familiar cityscapes, despite the original dreams of architects and urbanists about tabula rasa design.

The ruins of St. Alban's Church in modern construction

The public demanded the reproduction of Cologne according to the old plan and wanted to return the familiar cityscapes, despite the original dreams of architects and urban planners about designing a tabula rasa

Church of St. Mary of the Capitol. Photo: (c) Hpschaefer / WikiCommons

Even the guardians of cultural heritage, who traditionally opposed such reconstruction, could not prevent these desires. Art historian and curator Hiltrud Kier retrospectively described the situation regarding the rebuilding of the tower of the Romanesque church of St. Martin in Cologne: "It was obvious that the tower should not be rebuilt, but it was also obvious that it would be done."

A decisive vote of the citizens also prevented the widening of the streets around the Cologne Cathedral: the majority of residents rejected this idea because it did not correspond to the character of the area. The reason that the fate of reconstruction in Cologne was decided by the townspeople was the absence of a national government in Germany until the end of 1948 and the beginning of 1949.

Old town with Great St. Martin. Photo: (c) stefan_bernsmann / Pixabay

So, there was no situation where the "capital" told the cities how to rebuild, and there was no state funding either. German cities had to allow local residents to rebuild on their own. Accepting certain proposals of planners and developers, people were guided by the desire to preserve the city's identity.

Planners drew up plans and held exhibitions, townspeople came, looked at the designs and often objected to modernization, and could even speak out against some buildings from the recent past if they had negative connotations. For example, after saying "yes" to the creation of replicas of 12 Romanesque churches, the Cologne community said "no" to the XNUMXth-century buildings for their belonging to the architecture of the Prussian period, to which the majority had a negative attitude, and they were replaced by new ones.


In eternal dialogue

American researcher Jeffrey Diefendorf, who wrote several books about the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II, noted one interesting thing. When compared to German cities that took the opposite approach to regeneration, such as Cologne and Frankfurt, cities that used historic plans for their regeneration and partially preserved their traditional urban density became more attractive in the long term than those that were completely rebuilt and opened the urban space in a modernist way.

Why so? The restored old center of Cologne, with its narrow streets transformed into a pedestrian zone, in a few decades managed to acquire the necessary minimum of "patina" to camouflage its true youth, and became the foundation on which the city was able to develop further, healing its wounds at an accelerated pace, but not interrupting his own history and not starting from scratch. The fact that the structure established by Schwartz's post-war plan is working is eloquently evidenced by the buildings integrated into it at various stages of the XNUMXth and XNUMXst centuries, iconic for the city and modern architecture.

Central mosque. Architect: Paul Behm, 2017

Department store Peek & Cloppenburg. Architect: Renzo Piano, 2005

In a complex and unique mix of the few surviving historical monuments, replicas of the Romanesque era, post-war Neubau buildings, late modernist buildings by Wilhelm Rifan and his Opera House (1954–1957), one by one the projects of the new era were integrated, starting with the 266-meter-high the Colonius TV Tower (1981), the WDR Arcades multifunctional building (1996) by Gottfried and Elisabeth Behm, the Cologne Tower office tower (2001) by Kohl & Kohl and Jean Nouvel, the glass bubble of the Peek & Cloppenburg department store (2005) by Renzo Piano, three crane-shaped office buildings ( 2010) by Hadi Teherani Architects on the banks of the Rhine and ending with the Central Mosque (2017) by Paul Behm, a representative of the third generation of an illustrious architectural dynasty.

Colonius TV Tower, 1981

Cologne Tower, designed by Kohl & Kohl and Jean Nouvel, 2001

By the way, Paul's father, Pritzker laureate (1986) Gottfried Bohm (1920–2020), called himself "an architect who creates connections between the past and the future, between the world of ideas and the physical world, between the house and the urban environment." And for connections, that is, dialogue, two are needed. Perhaps, that is why the people of Cologne managed to do a controversial trick with replicas. But the content of the dialogue from the past still provides a gothic colossus with an impeccable reputation.

While the fate of the Romanesque churches destroyed by the war worries only specialists, the public expresses its attitude to the rest of the post-war construction, especially residential, lively and regularly. The wave of dissatisfaction and the desire to demolish everything that was built in the 50s and 60s is replaced by an understanding of the economic impracticality of such actions.

Social housing in the suburbs of Cologne designed by Wilhelm Rifan, built in 1926-1927.

Higher School of Music and Dance. Architect: Thomad van Nies, 1960s Photo: jaime.silva /

Bastei designed by Wilhelm Riefan, 1924. Photo: Thorsten van Elten, 2015

The main reason why most of the reconstruction projects of historical buildings, including post-war ones, are welcomed by the townspeople today is the growing feeling of instability. It is the result of the accelerated change of urban landscapes and social life and stimulates the need for a historical image of cities, which is a source of urban identity and ensures the continuity of connections.

Renovation of the Dom Hotel, built in the 2021th century. Photo: (c) Raimond Spekking, XNUMX

Therefore, it can be argued that post-war architecture, despite all the controversies, has already won its place in the history of the city and will continue to function in the future with a certain amount of modernization.



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