Cities in Germany can appear very similar. There’s always a shopping street busy with tourists; stations are located next to the city’s most well-known structure, and, of course, every city has its hip quarter. In Cologne—a city considered by many to be the only real alternative to Berlin’s subcultures and diversity—this quarter is Ehrenfeld, and it is the best the city has to offer.
Ehrenfeld is diverse, it’s artistic, and it’s full of places you will not want to leave, even though you’ll suddenly feel old and boring. Here are the locations you cannot afford to miss.
It’s all about the arts in this particular part of Cologne. This structure is exactly what the name suggests: An old bunker turned into an exhibition space, primarily hosting political pieces. Located on a site that used to house Ehrenfeld’s old synagogue, vandalized during the 1938 Kristallnacht, tolerance is a key theme at this gallery. Expect your visit to be emotional, regardless of the exhibition.
Insider’s tip: If you have any old books or toys, bring them. There is a free library next to the bunker that will appreciate it (even though there’s no one actually manning it!).
Ehrenfeld has a history of resistance to the Nazis, and there’s no place where this is more apparent than this memorial to one of the most famous anti-Fascist movements. The Edelweiss Pirates were a group of young people who opposed the Nazi ideas of the Hitler Youth, instead choosing to focus on music and love, like the generation of activists that would follow in the late 60s. The memorial marks a site where many of them were executed, under a bridge in Cologne’s hippest quarter.
Cologne’s Central Mosque
Ehrenfeld is a very diverse neighborhood, and one of its newest trademark structures is the Central Mosque, designed by Cologne architecture royalty Paul Böhm, who specializes in religious structures. It is huge and beautiful and feels like a declaration that everyone is welcome in this neighborhood.
Cologne’s Central Mosque
Location: Venloer Straße 160
Contact: (+49) 221 508000
Opening Hours: None. The mosque has yet to be opened to the general public (although guided tours are offered) but even from the outside, it’s still one of the most beautiful structures you’ll see in the city.
You’re going to struggle with this one. The pros are quite apparent: Schamong Kaffee is the oldest coffee roaster in Cologne, the coffee is amazing, and there’s hardly any better brew to grab and take home with you. There’s just one thing, though: the place has the opening hours of a government office in a Communist country. Rest assured, though, it’s worth the meticulous planning of your time.
Location: Venloer Straße 535
Contact: (+49) 221 544938
Cost: Higher than your normal Starbucks
Opening Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekdays / 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturday / Closed on Sunday
The waiters and waitresses at this Ehrenfeld institution are friendly and helpful, and its central location makes it a great place for sipping coffee and having a bite. The place feels like a cross between a city library and a young hipster’s apartment. It’s a great spot to stop for an hour or two, have a cappuccino, and grab one of the weekly specials on the menu—you can’t go wrong. Just know that, no matter how cool you think you are, people around you will look smarter and swaggier, so brace yourself.
Insider’s tip: Everything, and I mean everything, tastes better with Goldmund’s yogurt.
Location: Glasstraße 2
Contact: (+49) 221 5341584
Cost: Friendly. Expect a bill of around 30 euros for two, with a main dish and a decent amount of Kölsch. Worth every euro cent.
Opening Hours: 8 a.m. – 1 a.m. on weekdays / 9 a.m. – 1:00 a.m. on weekends
A typical Ehrenfeld bar, in the sense that there’s nothing typical about it, Qlosterstüffje is Cologne’s most famous left-wing hotspot. Political stickers are everywhere, and you can expect the music to match the anti-corporate theme. If you’re into this sort of thing, well done, you’re home. If you’re not, you can still enjoy the great food, drinks, and decent atmosphere.
Insider’s tip: This old-timey Cologne bar has a hidden room where you can play Kegeln, which is a German version of bowling. Failing miserably takes on a whole different meaning when everyone involved is tipsy.
Location: Venloer Straße 221
Contact: (+49) 221 17919130
Cost: It’s Cologne. Beer is quite literally cheaper than water. Get used to it.
Opening Hours: 4 p.m. – midnight on weekdays, 4 p.m. – until the last customer on weekends. In Cologne, you’re lucky if that’s 7 a.m.
Clubbing is Ehrenfeld’s thing, and the Underground is top of the list. This interesting mixture between a club and a beer garden caters to diverse musical tastes, particularly where rock and hip-hop are concerned. Drinks are cheap here, and entrance is free of charge. Dance, chat, and have a couple of drinks in the beer garden.
Insider’s tip: You’re going to enjoy it if your secret, guilty pleasure is 2000’s nu metal. (Everyone’s secret, guilty pleasure is 2000s nu metal, so we’re good.)
Location: Vogelsanger Straße 200
Contact: +49 221 542326
Cost: Free entrance, friendly alcohol prices, decent selection of beers—which doesn’t mean all that much as you’ll end up having Kölsch anyway.
Opening Hours: Thursday to Saturday from 8 p.m. until the early morning (at least)
This city is all about beer, and this Ehrenfeld brewery—Cologne’s smallest—is a gem. The atmosphere is easygoing, the beers are small and cheap, and it’s usually full with revelers who are there for the same reason as you: to drink and laugh.
Insider’s tip: Walking down the street with a bottle of beer is completely legal in Germany, and it’s celebrated by this wonderful term called Wegbier (literally: beer to go). Carrying a Braustelle-brewed beer while taking to the streets will earn you cool points in Ehrenfeld.
The only real punk club and bar in and around Cologne calls Ehrenfeld home. One of many subcultures celebrated throughout the quarter, punk and indie have a special place reserved in the hearts of the locals. Local indie bands play Sonic Ballroom every weekend, and those gigs are followed by a punk rock party with one of the most diverse mixes of cool people that Cologne has to offer (and boy does it have a lot of those).
Insider’s tip: The Ballroom also hosts the occasional flea market on Sundays. Add some beer to the equation, and if that doesn’t sound appealing to you, you’re probably not fun at parties.
A quarter full of clubs, Ehrenfeld is naturally home to a significant number of takeaway spots as well. After a night out, all you want is to grab something that will prevent hangovers and keep sorrow at bay. Libanon will do just that. This Arab-styled eatery has everything you can ask for when in post-partying mode, including falafel, hummus, and shawarma. I strongly recommend the falafel plate.
Insider’s tip: Ask for extra hummus. And if it’s not too busy, have a friendly word with the people running the place. There’s every chance in the world you’ll get rewarded for it in the shape of food.