Victor Hugo at Cologne City Hall

“The Cologne City Hall, located quite close to the Cathedral, is one of those charming harlequin buildings made of pieces from all times and morsels of all styles that one meets in these old municipalities that are themselves, with their laws, mores and customs, constructed in the same way.”

This was Victor Hugo’s impression when he visited Cologne in 1840, from his book Le Rhin (The Rhine).

Tower of the old City Hall in Cologne

He surmised that the City Hall “probably has some Roman cellar in its foundations” and that around 1250 it was a serious and severe Gothic building with pointed arches. Later the need arose for “a belfry for sounding alarms, for the taking of arms, for the night watchmen, so the fourteenth century built a beautiful tower, bourgeois and feudal at the same time.”

In the early sixteenth century, during the reign of Maximilian I as Holy Roman Emperor, “as the joyful breath of rebirth was beginning to shake the dark stone foliage of the cathedrals and a taste for elegance and ornament was spreading everywhere, the aldermen of Cologne felt the need to spruce up their city hall.”

So they embellished their black thirteenth-century façade with “a triumphant and magnificent porch. A few years later, they needed a promenade next to their archives, and they built a charming backyard with arcaded galleries, sumptuously brightened up with coats of arms and bas-reliefs, which I saw, and which in two or three years no one will see, because it is being allowed to fall into ruins.” 

In the middle of the sixteenth century, during the reign of Charles V, the aldermen of Cologne “recognized that a large hall was necessary for auctions and for assemblies of the bourgeois, and they erected opposite their belfry and their porch a rich main building in brick and stone in the finest taste and the noblest order. Today, the nave from the thirteenth century, belfry from the fourteenth, porch and backyard of Maximilian, hall of Charles V, aged together by time, loaded with traditions and memories by events, welded and grouped by chance in the most original and picturesque way — together they form the city hall of Cologne.” (Translated from Letter 10 of Le Rhin by Victor Hugo.)

Old and new parts of the City Hall

Most of the City Hall was destroyed by aerial bombing during the Second World War, but the Renaissance loggia at the front of the building remained largely intact. The destroyed parts of the building were reconstructed, starting in the years 1954-56.

Cleaning up after a wedding

The old City Hall is a popular place to get married. But wedding guests are asked not to throw rice, so they tend to throw confetti, instead, as the newlyweds emerge from the building. A sign at the entrance reads:

A big request!
Dear wedding guests!
Please do not throw any rice,
because rice is a valuable food.
Also it prevents us from keeping the pigeon plague
under control here on the City Hall Square
it creates a danger of slipping for the guests.
City of Cologne

Sign asking wedding guests not to throw rice

My photos in this post are from 2010. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on Cologne (=Köln), Germany.
See more posts on the French author Victor Hugo.

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