Highlights of the Cologne City Museum

Thanks to the Cologne Card, I decided to check out the Cologne City Museum, and it was a delightful experience before I even got there. Even though the museum is close to the center of things, I had trouble finding it, and a lady decided to just lead me there. On the way, she told me she’d originally come to Cologne from Leipzig, but just before the Berlin Wall went up, she fled to West Berlin with thousands of other East Germans, whom the Americans flew out and relocated in East Germany. She’d been able to visit her Leipzig relatives regularly, but they weren’t allowed to visit her in Cologne until they were over 60; in the 80s, the restrictions were lifted slightly, so an East German could visit West Germany for one week before turning 60.

I think I was the only visitor to the Cologne City Museum that late in the afternoon, but it immediately delighted me with its audio tour selection:


Besides offering audio guides in German, English and French, it also offered them in the local dialect, Koelsch. I was seriously tempted to take an audio guide in German or English and pair it up with the one in Koelsch, and learn the dialect while touring the museum, a two-fer! I settled for just taking the English guide, which was in actual British English rather than euro-English, but reading the German placards was faster in the end.

It was an excellent museum, not just about Colognial history and culture, but touching neatly on Germany’s personal transformation as well. It pointed out lots of Colognial stories and traditions, including Karneval (of course); the traditional way of being served Koelsch (by a quick, fat waiter who’ll never let you sit with an empty glass); the city’s unique marionette play; and Cologne’s witty buddies, the city guy and the country guy. This statue is of the too-curious housewife:


According to legend, if you put out a treat for house-fairies, they would come and mend your clothes and fix up your house while you slept. But the too-curious housewife stayed awake to watch them, and the fairies were so insulted they left Cologne forever. And since then, Colognials have had to do for themselves.

There were many medieval artifacts, from old carvings, armor, weaponry and helmets (including full-on horse armor), including tips on proper barroom brawling:


And if I’d ever doubted Cologne’s reputation for being a fun, laid-back place, it could be put to rest by the reports of Cologne’s reservations about joining united Germany in the late 1800s. Back then, they were worried how they’d ever get along with those uptight Prussians, and the Colognial newspapers were often at odds with the Prussian politicians.

But what I found most intriguing were artifacts relating to the first two World Wars. There was the Cologne Knight, whose “armor” consists entirely of nails that were nailed into his wooden body:


Each nail had been sold as a fund-raiser for money to help the World War I widows, orphans and invalids of Cologne:


The town staff is a hand holding the flagpost, and I saw it first lying in a reproduction of some of the town’s rubble from World War II bombings. On the screen in the back is archival footage of German soldiers surrendering to the Allied forcescologne-rubble.jpg

Neither my audio guide nor the placard explained this curious currency, apparently printed exclusively for Cologne.


I asked an artist working on an exhibit about it, and she called over one of the museum’s docents. The docent told me Cologne had been occupied territory after World War I, and thus had had to have its own currency. One of the local reasons for Hitler’s popularity in the region, she explained, was that he’d brought Cologne back into being part of Germany. She also showed me the German currency from the 1920s, which had become so devalued it had been printed in million and 5 million and 50 million mark bills.

The museum was also big on historical ephemera, like children’s toys. Here are tin-soldier type figurines of Hitler, Göring, Goebbels, and Hess:


Behind them is a book whose title translates as “Oh, how fun it is to be a soldier!” and part of the chess game with Third Reich figurines.

The section upstairs focused more on the things Cologne made and was known for. Naturally, we all know Eau de Cologne is Colognial, but there were also reknowned for furniture, and in particular, musical instruments. But most of all, I was taken by the fin de siecle ephemera, including this card warning school children how not to sit:


It could delight an ergonomics coach, but for myself, as someone who’s always slouched and sprawled on any chair, it was really amusing.

I could have spent much longer in the Cologne City Museum, especially if I’d been using its audio guide to teach myself Kölsch, but the museum was closing, and I had plans to go to a Cologne comic book shop to get Peter some German comic books.

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