Five magical Cologne concert venues
Let there be light!
For music fans, there’s virtually nothing greater in this world than to witness a perfect live performance. Cologne offers a large range of concert venues, ranging from tiny live stages to major A-list performance halls such as E-Werk in Deutz or Live Music Hall in Ehrenfeld.
Here are five magical concert venues in the city that I love to recommend to anyone who asks – either because I’ve known these places for so long, or because they are really welcoming, or because I think they are an indispensable part of pop culture in Cologne.
Enjoy! I’ll see you in the front row.
Kulturkirche Köln – Warm and welcoming
In the heart of the sedate quarter of Nippes lies one of the city’s most extraordinary concert venues: the gorgeous Lutherkirche church. A neogothic place of worship dating from 1889, it still hosts a Protestant service every Sunday and serves an active community.
The Kulturkirche has functioned as a venue since 2002. Pastor Thomas Diederichs is a veritable concert organiser who takes pride in delivering fun, concise introductions to the bands that perform in his church. In organising his series of monthly readings, cabaret shows and concerts, he is ably supported by members of his congregation who are consummate hosts – and who go so far as to staff two Kölsch bars located in the naves of the church. Odd as it may feel to be in a church clutching a beer, here at Kulturkirche it’s considered normal – in fact it’s actively encouraged.
A permanently installed, state-of-the-art sound system delivers reliable acoustics in what is a challenging space for audio technicians. However, this minor drawback is more than compensated for by the church’s impressive and well-lit interior. That said, just like any other concert venue the Kulturkirche is only as good as its bookings. The organisers regularly succeed in attracting both German artists and high-profile international musicians – the less mainstream, the better. Previous Kulturkirche performances by the Editors, William Fitzsimmons and Patrick Wolf have rightly become legend. Cologne’s fairly spoilt concert-going audiences are rarely seen in a more relaxed, even euphoric mood than here. At the Kulturkirche, the spirit is uplifted in more ways than one, regardless of one’s religious beliefs or lack thereof.
Siebachstr. 85, 50733 Cologne
Gebäude 9 – Shabby and atmospheric
There’s not a concert venue in Cologne that has been delivering as consistently as Gebäude (Building) 9 in Mülheim Süd on the city’s east bank. And that is not my skewed personal opinion, but the objective assessment of people in the know, who each year rank the venue among the ten most popular musical stages in Germany.
The building itself is admittedly not exactly state of the art; after all, it’s a disused factory hall located on a former industrial estate. Owing to a years-long disagreement over tenancy rights, it was never renovated and so continues to exude much original shabby charm. Once visitors get past this, they can start to enjoy what is a highly professional and audience-friendly operation. The service at the bar in the foyer is friendly and efficient, there’s a cloakroom, and while the toilets look slightly adventurous, they are always clean. Inside the venue itself, a dated but effective PA system faithfully does its job –occasionally even literally raising the roof.
Gebäude 9 regularly hosts independent, punk, hip hop, folk and avant-garde artists that tend to be on everyone’s lips within six months. The venue’s booker Jan van Weegen has an almost supernatural instinct for what works here, although it’s more likely his extensive experience, great research skills and talent for tirelessly ferreting out new artists that make Gebäude 9’s listings the best that Cologne has to offer.
So it’s no wonder that in 2014, an initiative led by Gebäude 9 supporters protested vehemently against the sale of the industrial site to an investor who had other plans for it. The plans were thankfully withdrawn, although the episode was proof of how valuable Gebäude 9 is for the city. Definitely make this venue one for your bucket list! There’s nothing better for concertgoers than enjoying live music in this incredible space, enclosed by crumbling brick walls in a backyard corner of Mülheim.
Deutz-Mülheimer Str. 127–129, 51063 Cologne
Tsunami – Tiny and cosy
Tsunami is located in the Südstadt on a side street just off Chlodwigplatz. You enter the venue by passing the eternally friendly box office and cloakroom staff and negotiating a narrow corridor plus a steep downward stairway. For Tsunami is a cellar club in the literal sense of the word. Once you’re in, the first thing to catch your eye is the blazing red bar – offering drinks at very moderate prices – followed by the audience space off to the left, also painted red. It’s all quite small, as is the barely elevated stage area, but the exceedingly cosy and intimate space can’t be beat for atmosphere. Audience and artists are closer here than anywhere else. Tsunami boasts an efficient ventilation system and the sound during live performances is typically above average.
Another strength – besides the friendly, laid-back atmosphere – is Tsunami’s lovingly crafted programme of events, which features regular indie parties but also performances by bands and artists who, though they may not be crowd-pulling A-listers, are certainly worth seeing regardless (in fact, that could even be an asset). German and international indie and underground stars regularly make a stop at Tsunami, leaving a mark that is often more distinctive than their better-known mainstream peers. In other words, the monthly programme is definitely worth a look or two – and to top it all off, ticket prices are very fair.
Upon leaving, the friendliest bouncer in town will ask you to keep as quiet as you can so as not to disturb the local residents. By then you’ll have realised that this venue may be small in real life, but very big in spirit.
Im Ferkulum 9, 50678 Cologne
Underground – Cool and old-school
Since the late 1980s, Underground in Ehrenfeld has been the place to be for old-school alternative music. Hidden behind an enormous iron gate and surrounded by graffiti-adorned buildings, this expansive concert venue is located on a disused industrial estate. The atmosphere is friendly and rough all at once; imagine this as the perfect movie set for a dystopian apocalypse.
Besides the immensely powerful PA system which is ideal for more serious rock, punk and hip hop and enough space to accommodate crowds of around 400 to 500, Underground’s other great asset is its on-site beer garden, a great place to hang out pre-concert with other fans, admire their outfits and enjoy the general sense of anticipation.
So if you’re not afraid of punk, metal or rap, head out to Ehrenfeld for an ear-splitting experience in one of Underground’s two concert halls. Afterwards, cool off with a Kölsch on tap in the beer garden or in the venue’s own pub, which offers foosball tables and even a pinball machine. At this venue, time has stood still, in the best sense of the word. Here’s to a long and loud future for Underground!
+++ Unfortunately, Underground Cologne is temporarily closed +++
Vogelsanger Str. 200, 50825 Cologne
Stadtgarten – Classy and sophisticated
Stadtgarten is a concert venue, restaurant and club all in one, with a generous outdoor dining area and beer garden, located directly adjacent – as the name would suggest – to the Stadtgarten park. The building itself is fairly centrally located near Hans-Böckler-Platz off Venloer Strasse and boasts a rather impressive history that reaches back into its jazz stage days in the 1950s. Today, Stadtgarten hosts more than 400 highly diverse musical events every year. However, it’s remained loyal to its jazz and improvisation roots, with music from these genres slated to play a stronger role in the months to come.
While Stadtgarten is just that bit more elegant than other concert venues, it’s not at all stuffy or impersonal. You get the impression that the artists, who perform on the main stage against the backdrop of a glittering curtain, feel particularly at home and well taken care of – delivering direct benefits to the audience too, who tend to be more switched on and open to what’s going on in front of them than in other venues across the city.
The diverse and sophisticated schedule in combination with a stylish, welcoming atmosphere makes Stadtgarten one of Cologne’s greatest – in all senses of the word – venues in the city. The sound, too, is convincing: the concert hall was designed specifically as such, with a team of highly professional sound technicians behind the scenes. It’s not for nothing that in 2016, Stadtgarten deservedly received the APPLAUS award for concert venue schedules.
Electronic (live) music enthusiasts might want to check out another highlight in Stadtgarten’s basement, home to the legendary Studio 672, which in decades past left a clear mark on Cologne’s distinctive techno sound. However, rather than rest on its laurels, the club has embraced a new generation of electronic artists and DJs who regularly play the venue.
Venloer Str. 40, 50672 Cologne