A city in Cross Section

Pittsburgh, PA
Francesca Torello
Fall 2019

The identity of the city as I understand it has been formed through layers in plan and section. In plan Cologne is an utter palimpsest, layers upon layers being built on top of the previous time period with varying degrees of modification. The roman urban fabric persists, segments of the wall and other structures poke through when one least expects it, and the cardinal streets are still crucial for orientation and function of the city. The understanding of the city as a rich and proud trade capital still holds weight, as some traces and some whole pieces of medieval context are present. The cathedral, the walls (both portion and trace), and the markets. After the bombings of the second world war, the city was hastily reconstructed directly on top of old foundations in many cases. In section, the city is readable in rings - ageing as you go in, much like a tree. Moving through the Grüngurtel you see the newest developments on the outskirts, moving into 20th century work in between the two rings, passing through the inner Grüngurtel you come to the 19th century around the Ringstrasse, then the 18th, and so on.

This paper seeks to walk through the morphology and historical development of the city in a similar such way and will try to present a broad context for how and why Cologne has grown the way it has while still maintaining specificity regarding the most important factors. The lens through which I am particularly biasing the inquiry is that of the articulation and effects of the Prussian Governmental and Military presence in Cologne. Throughout its history, and in particular during the 19th century, Cologne’s growth has been defined by the limitations of fortifications, and the opportunities for redevelopment provided when they finally come down. The government through policies and decrees of the Kaiser himself have caused great difficulty on Colognes development while under Prussian control, likely giving it so much attention due to its importance in the barrier of fortifications running along the Rhine.

Since Roman times it has been a crucial city militarily. The high plateau protected the city center from the frequent flooding of the Rhine, and a naturally occurring island in the river created a harbor that allowed the city to flourish. It was located on the intersection of five of the most significant Roman Roads, with the addition of access to the busiest water corridor on the continent, it was a location worth fighting over.[i]  The city grew immensely in the Medieval, with the construction of new fortifications in 1180 it expanded to encapsulate an area of 405 hectares – making it officially the largest city in the Germanic Fiefs.[ii]Cologne’s location and trade access made it incredibly wealthy, but for such a brief period that not even the Cathedral could be finished. The first stone was laid in 1248 but worked had reached a standstill by the beginning of the 15th century, the uncompleted towers and rotting wooden crane became a symbol of the economic stagnation of the city.

The city at the end of the 18th century was in a comparably pitiful state. The French occupation from 1794 to 1814 had not served it well. The Chief Municipal Architect, Peter Schmitz, remarked that “A third of the buildings are dilapidated barracks, another third can barely be considered in mediocre condition, and the last third have been maintained in reasonable condition (tr)”.[iii]The story of Modern Cologne really begins in June of 1815, when after the fall of Napoleonic France the city is reincorporated back into the Kingdom of Prussia. The forthcoming development of the city was defined in a large part based on the state and military presence, and the way these two bodies interfaced with the city.

The transformation of Cologne into one of the Fortresses of the German Confederation marked its real recognition by the Prussian State as a key territory[iv]. As they poured $800,000 into the fortification and infrastructural development Cologne the Prussians became attached not only to city for power reasons, but also cultural, religious, and artistic – which bring about tensions we will see later on.

The first key figure in the 19th century development of Cologne is appointed in 1822. Johann-Peter Weyer was Chief Municipal Architect during an incredible population boom, and was confronted with problems of housing, sanitation, and transportation not dissimilar to many other large European cities – although the rate of Cologne’s growth set it apart. In 1822 there were 56,000 inhabitants, in 1837 there were over 72,000, and by 1855 it had grown to 107,000. Weyer had studied in Paris and had witnessed many of the newest urban ideas come into practice there. Interestingly, when he returned to Cologne he brought with him many of the ideas that would later emerge in the urban fabric of Paris through the work of Haussman. Weyer designed new plazas, and freed monuments of the encroaching surroundings, orienting the streets towards them. He created a new east-west axis which connected the Cathedral to the Stadtgarten, later expanding it over the Rhein with the first bridge to span the great river in Cologne. The rapid growth of the city required the layout of 73 new streets, the re-pavement and widening of many existing streets, and the clearing and designation of certain areas as city parks.[v]

These were the first official public parks the city had seen. A semi-circular promenade was established leading along the Rhein and circling back around the outskirts of the city walls. To great appeal the City Gardens Director Jakob Greiβ planned an English Garden on the Wertchen Island, which would later be enveloped by the Rheinauhafen. It is around this time as well that the first measures of preservation were taken. Cologne began to take pride in its architecture, denoting monumental buildings of particular historical or cultural significance, restoring those that were in disrepair such as the Overstolzenhaus[1], and installing artistic lighting features to highlight the city’s most important buildings.[vi]

The population boom was largely associated with the beginnings of the German industrial machine. The Ruhr Valley, slightly further up the Rhein, became one of the largest areas of coal and steel production in Europe. Already in 1804 there were 229 collieries with an output of 380,000 tons.[vii]Cologne’s position downriver made it an excellent location for assembly and manufacture industries utilizing the raw goods produced in Essen. Bochum, Duisburg, and the rest of the Ruhr Valley. The other significant portion of the population was employed in the military sector, both in manufacture – using the goods produced from the Ruhr Valley – and in maintenance, operation, and stationing of the huge fortifications.

With the advent of the railroad Cologne recaptured its crown as one of the continents most important hubs of trade and commerce. As a border city it was the connection point for rail networks to France, Belgium, and the Southern Rhine region to the goods being produced in the Ruhr Valley. The first line to be built connected Cologne to Müngersdorf and opened the first station at the Türmchen. The Cöln-Mindener Eisenbahn Gesellschaft constructed in 1859 the first railroad bridge over the Rhein, creating a vital link between the lines on the left and right banks. With this the Central Station was opened – interestingly adjacent to the cathedral. This plan went distinctly against the wishes of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, who demanded the relocation of the building. Due to the necessity of the support of the king for the success of the larger endeavor of Cathedral reconstruction the city was forced to relocate the Central Station to the prior location of the Botanical Gardens. The bridge however remained and is part of the critical post-card image of the city as we know it today. Unlike in most German cities of the time which had nationalized train lines, this was probably a major irritation for the Kaiser to have so close to his precious crown jewel.

This, along with critical road maintenance and hygienic concerns, instantiated the city’s struggle against the Prussian state for control and administration of public works. In 1877, after the state had blocked the construction of a sewer system and granted a streetcar monopoly to a private company Cologne filed a formal declaration to wrest ahold of those rights. The rights to locally administer to and maintain streets and other public works were finally granted to the city in 1879 (although building inspection privileges would remain withheld until 1894), after which Cologne promptly set about dismantling the most gratuitous of the state’s offences towards it, the massive and outdated fortifications and glacis.[viii]

After its incorporation into the Prussia in 1815, the Prussian government claimed ownership of the existing medieval wall and constructed additional fortifications outside with a 975-meter-wide glacis surrounding the entire ring. In the subsequent years, mainly between 1825 and 1863, the Prussian military had turned Cologne into one of the “Fortresses of the Empire”. They had built 11 forts and 7 lunettes, making this one of the most modern fortification systems in all of Europe.[ix]The extreme extent of these fortifications had made Cologne one of the densest cities in Europe by 1860. Industrial suburbs had begun to grow outside the kilometer-wide boundary and channeling this traffic through the 12 gates in the city wall proved to be a nightmare. The city council first raised the issue of expansion in 1861, but due to the strong desire of the Prussian officials to hold on to their investment despite its obsolescence and a misguided reluctance of the city officials to enter into land speculation lead to 20 years of ensuing proposals and negotiations.[x]Finally giving in and agreeing to the state’s price of 12 million marks, the city purchased the land in 1881 – effectively doubling its size - and began to raze the wall and plan its expansion. However, the military / state retained control of the outermost portion of the glacis for “fear of invasion from France”.

The city officials had a promising opportunity in front of them. They envisioned a Neustadt (new city) rising up, encircling the old city bounded by the Rhein. It would more than double the size of the existing city. The prime location of the land made virtually certain the rapid private development as soon as the state relinquished control of parcels. The city council envisioned the Neustadt as “a new quarter, where villas with large gardens will be built… A dispersed city, a city of villas.”[xi]The council saw a huge need for housing of the wealthy, blind to the much more crucial issues of housing for the workers. Or rather, an intentionally blind eye was cast, as this would not have been the correct character for the Neustadt.

Rather than zoning regulating the height of buildings for light and air concerns, the priority was on establishing a rule regarding the minimum width of a façade. A minimum width of 12 meters in one section was established, and incredulously a minimum height of 11 meters was also proposed. The developers were more concerned with the grandiose quality of the street fronts than the ability for sun to reach the other side. One of the few centrists on the council, Peter Roeckerath, spoke out against these rules, warning that the ring might end up being built full with Mietkasernen as was the case in Berlin.[xii]

Modelling themselves after Vienna, the city opened a competition for the planning of the Neustadt which heralded 27 entries. The first and second place prizes were awarded to the same pair of architects from neighboring Aachen: Karl Henrici and Josef Stübben. Henrici was an esteemed professor at the Technische Hoschule, and Stübben was the new and very young city building director for the old city of the emperors. In addition to winning the competition, the city realized that they were utterly unprepared to undertake such a massive redevelopment initiative, not having anything that even resembled a planning department. The logical choice to direct the new department and oversee the extension was Josef Stübben, our second significant figure, who assumed the position in 1881 just as the walls came into the city’s possession. His proposal developed with Henrici sought to present Cologne in a new perspective, as light, airy, monumental and prosperous.[xiii]  

We can draw quite a number of connections formally and technically between the methodologies Stübben put to work in Cologne with those at play in Paris and Vienna. Wide, straight streets fanned out from complicated intersections, forming radial and diagonal connections through the city. Provisions were made for a modern sewer system underneath the roads, and greenery above along with many squares and parks.[xiv]

Stübben had very few contemporaries operating on the same level as he was. Berlin and Düsseldorf were really the only other two major cities in Germany at the time being guided by a general extension plan – and neither of these represented a plan which sought to integrate existing as well as new portions of the city. Through several publications - chief among which was Der Städtebau– synthesizing his ideas and principles he gained considerable fame and rapport. His gift lay in the ability to recognize and synthesize the many needs and aspirations surrounding a project into a single, cohesive plan. In architectural terms, perhaps he was more of a form-finder rather than a form-maker.

Stübben’s priorities for effective and beautiful city building were as follows. Firstly, the orderly circulation of traffic and management of material and population flows. This dictated the layout of streets, sizing of buildings, locations of significant buildings, etc. Second priority was sanitation. Adequate drainage and an effective sewer system were high priorities, as were the allowances of adequate light and fresh air two all interior portions of the city. Third came the aesthetic principles that were in fashion at this period, often referred to as “Haussmannesque”. Characteristics of which were the wide, straight streets constructed for the purpose of extensive sight lines, as well as the freeing of monuments from their immediate contexts. A particularly revealing quote by Stübben regarding his assessment and admiration for Parisian planning is as follows:

“The city lies, so to speak, transparent before us, and it is just as easy to find one’s way about as in a clearly designed house. This gives us a feeling of security and pleasantness, a certain feeling of friendship for the city in which we move about-something that the visitor in an unsystematically designed city will always miss.”[xv] 

In Stübben’s eyes, Paris was the highest conjunction of practical and aesthetic planning. In another fashion, the freilegung or disencumberment of monuments was a frequent practice in Cologne due to the surplus of Romanesque churches in the densely packed Altstadt.

Drawing perhaps more heaving from Vienna, the characteristic feature of Stübben’s Neustadt was the Ringstraße, or Ring Boulevard. Unlike Vienna though, the Ringstraße in Cologne was divide into 10 segments which were designed and constructed in sequence, based off of the developing plan and needs of the area. For instance, two sections of the Ringstraße – the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Ring and the Deutsche Ring (today Theodor-Heuss-Ring) – were designated as larger greenspaces based on the increasing densification of the Neustadt in those areas.[xvi]A 1875 law called the Fluchtliniengesetz allowed for the creation of up to 26 meter wide streets by the municipal government without needing to compensate land owners for the land absorbed by the state to do so. The economic advantages were clear in these scenarios, and as such the streets throughout Germany became significantly wider – acting as green and social spaces that any city could afford to create.

While the Ringstraße was as wide as they could get (typically around 26 meters), not all of the streets in Cologne were planned out to be long and wide as per the prevailing wisdom at the time. The concern was linked closely to the sanitation and health regulations which prescribed the maximum heights of surrounding buildings based upon the width of the street. By virtue of this rule, a smaller street meant a lower house, allowing deeper lots to get far more light than they would if the buildings were allowed to be taller.[xvii]Stübben would continue to advocate for the narrow residential street in Cologne and elsewhere in the region. 

This era of great development though would cause a great deal of tension between the city and the state. The laws that were overturned in 1877 which allowed Cologne to construct the Neustadt in the first place, did not allow for the city to complete inspections or other police powers. These remained under control of a state-appointed Chief of Police, who in many cases had more say than the city officials due to the power he had behind his back.[xviii]The only one who came close was the mayor, who again was only acting in his capacity of a servant of the state. In the end, very little could be done without first going through the national channels and seeking the approval of the Prussian Officials.

Much to the chagrin of those officials, the Neustadt development turned out to be a huge success for the municipal government. While they were initially nervous to make a foray into the real estate market, they quickly realized that there was an enormous demand for the land. Due to their excitement to make a tidy profit and the reluctance of Prussian officials to cooperate, the building restrictions remained as loose as they previously were despite development having increased so drastically.[xix]While the real estate speculation turned out to be a success for the municipal government, the Neustadt was heralded as a resounding failure by planners and housing reformers alike. The housing reformers hadn’t supported the initial plans of a dispersed, grand, spacious city – but disliked the density and lack of coherence that ultimately came about even more so.[xx]

A well-timed catalyst for the reinvigoration and reinvention of modern Cologne was the completion of work on the Cathedral in 1880 after over three centuries of pause. Serving as a symbol for the city and a marker of what it could accomplish, the completed figure on the horizon instilled a sense of pride which helped accelerate the development of the Neustadt. While the reconstruction itself was a lengthy and political process involving a great deal of back and forth between the city, the architects, and the Kaiser – it was really the Zentral Dombau Verein[2] that ensured its success.[xxi]

The reconstruction of the Domumgebung, or area surrounding the Cathedral, was equally as political and tensely discussed. Hermann Maertens, and architect and theorist from the area was adamant that the Cathedral be set free of its highly built up contextual confines. He understood architecture (of this scale at least) to be “the monumental expression of the level of cultural development” represented by that period of time.[xxii]Maertens’ ideas were quite influential in Cologne at the time, but were in direct counterpoint to those of the emerging theories of Camillo Sitte. The Kaiser also voiced his opinion, desiring almost the entire region to be leveled. In any case, during the 1880s a slew of Cologne architects including Hermann Pflaume and Josef Stübben drew up a series of plans for what the Cathedral’s surroundings could look like. It was vital that from one or two viewpoints the Cathedral be visible in its entirety, and as such required the removal of many of the historical buildings surrounding it. The eventual 1893 restructuring of the surrounding blocks has held its urban character until today.[xxiii]

The last major urban affect of the long 19th century was the creation of the Grüngürtel, or Greenbelt. Birthed in a similar manner to the Neustadt of 30 years prior, the 1907 acquisition by the city of the outer-most layer of fortification/glacis, added a subsequent 120 hectares of land. The mayor at that time, Konrad Adenauer (who would eventually become the first Chancellor of the Republic), insisted that this area be treated as a park to encircle the city, and serve as a break between the urban conditions of different eras. A competition was held in 1919, and Fritz Schumacher – the Head Building Director of Hamburg – was awarded the commission. He was entrusted not only with planning the Grüngürtel, but also with an overarching framework for the continued expansion of the city passed this threshold. Like Stübben before him, after winning the competition Schumacher was instated as the Chief Municipal Architect for the city. Serving from 1920-1923, he was not so much concerned with the Fluchtlinien Gesetz, particular parcels, or other regulations of the past. Schumacher sought an overarching, space-based approach that was highly derivative from the landscape underneath it.[xxiv]

Historically Cologne has witnessed four different Grüngürtel. The first being the aforementioned garden promenade constructed by Weyer and Greiss. The second, maybe a slight stretch, is the wide and tree lined boulevard of the Ringstraße. The third is the inner Grüngürtel described in the previous paragraph, and the last is the outer Grüngürtel – a wide and expansive park arcing around from the south-west edge of the Rhein to the north-west axis of the Decumanus. All of which are a direct resultant of the cycle of extreme military development and obsolescence that were present here.

This cycle gave Cologne a unique methodology of development that has left a visible and tangible morphological trace on the fabric of the city. The border location of Cologne more than any thing else is what made it a key military stronghold and has also ensured that the city be tossed back and forth between powers with relative frequency. Even within its own 19th century association with Prussia things were not smooth sailing. Repeated strife with the Kaiser and state politics left the city struggling for power in many situations, and often Cologne could barely make any decision without first running it by representatives of the state. In a profound display of resiliency and innovation Cologne has survived all of this and come out a veritable palimpsest of different ages of building, urban intelligences, and cultural sensibilities.

[1]One of the oldest buildings in all of Cologne, still standing today. It is the familial / dynastical mansion of the Overstolzen clan who in the middle ages were one of the most powerful families in the city, and carried their wealth forward with investment into real estate.
[2]This was a club dedicated to the practice of Cathedral-Building, which still exists today and is one of the few places in the world you can learn the required skillset. They raised more than 60% of the 6.6 million budget and later paid the full 5 million price tag required to “set the Cathedral free”.

[i] Gerhard Curdes, Markus Ulrich: Die Entwicklung des Kölner Stadtraumes, Der Einfluß von Leitbildern und Innovationen auf die Form der Stadt, Dortmund 1997, P. 73
[ii] Ilbid. P. 19
[iii] Karl Josef Bollenbeck: Stadtplanung nach Pariser Vorbild,
[iv] The United Service Magazine, Volume 3; Volume 91, December 1859
[v] Karl Josef Bollenbeck: Stadtplanung nach Pariser Vorbild,
[vi] Hiltrud Kier: Reclams Städteführer, Architektur und Kunst Köln, Stuttgart 2008, P. 173
[vii] Damals auf dem Pütt. In: WAZ Extra. Essen, 16. April 2010
[viii]Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 91
[ix] Hiltrud Kier: Reclams Städteführer, Architektur und Kunst Köln, Stuttgart 2008, P. 208
[x] Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 92
[xi] Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 96
[xii] Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 97
[xiii] Gerhard Curdes, Markus Ulrich: Die Entwicklung des Kölner Stadtraumes, Der Einfluß von Leitbildern und Innovationen auf die Form der Stadt, Dortmund 1997, P. 35
[xiv] Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 97
[xv] Josef Stübben: “Paris in Bezug auf Strassenbau und Stadterweiterung“, Zeitschrift fur Bauwesen 29 (1879): 383
[xvi] Hiltrud Kier: Reclams Städteführer, Architektur und Kunst Köln, Stuttgart 2008, S. 212ft
[xvii]Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 110
[xviii]Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 93
[xix] Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 196
[xx] Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 197
[xxi] Wirtz, Caroline: Dass die ganze Umgebung des Domes eine würdige Gestaltung erhalte : der Zentral-Dombau-Verein und die Freilegung des Kölner Domes (1882-1902, 8
[xxii] Hermann Maertens: Skizze su einer praktischen Aesthetik de Baukunst und der ihr dienenden Schwesterkunste (Berlin: Wasmuth, 1885), 60
[xxiii]Brian Ladd: Urban Planning and Civic Order in Germany, 1860-1914. Cambridge, 1990 P. 117-126
[xxiv] Henriette Meynen: Licht, Luft, Sonne,