Live music venues in Cologne
Stage lights up, please!
Live music is the way to go. The sound’s more forceful, there’s a real rapport with the artist(s), and the audience’s adrenalin levels are higher. In short, it’s quite simply a bigger, more colourful experience.
One major success factor is the venue where it all happens. Familiar concert venues almost feel like coming home. You see people you know and more importantly, you can feel your way to the toilets even in the dark. By contrast, unknown venues are new and exciting. What’s the atmosphere like? What kind of people hang out here? And where’s the toilets?
Here are five really special concert venues that you should definitely visit while in Cologne.
King Georg – „Der alte Puff“
Having passed under the mysterious bell suspended from the door frame of this venue in the heart of the Agnes district, you literally stumble into the main feature of the King Georg: an immense oval bar counter that stretches almost to the back wall. Beyond it, there’s a small mirrored dancefloor and a number of semi-open private areas.
The interior of the King Georg betrays its previous life as a bar and strip club. In fact, that’s what gives it its peculiar charm. Open from Thursdays to Saturdays, the venue has a regular programme of gigs to supplement its regular bar hours, including exclusive performances by bigger-name artists who appreciate its cosy living-room atmosphere. Mention should also be made of the Thursday-night series of readings on an improvised stage – a great alternative to the rather more staid affairs staged in the city’s bookstores.
By the way, the name of the venue is pronounced the German way, Gee-ork. No one will mind if you use the English name George, but it is, quite deliberately, Georg. King Georg.
My favourite King Georg memory: A couple of years ago, Austria’s surprise hit band Wanda presented their breakthrough album Amore here at the King Georg – in way too small a space accommodating fewer than 200 people. We were packed in like sardines and most of us couldn’t even see the band, but that didn’t matter to our enthusiastic crowd as we sang along to Wanda’s hit single “1,2, 3, 4 – es ist so schön bei Dir!“, which translates loosely to “How awesome it is to be with you!” And so it was.
Here’s a video which, while of amateur quality, will give you an impression of the King Georg:
Gloria – The society lady
Normally one is on first-name terms with concert venues, but it’s helpful to know that Lady Gloria has a last name, too: “Theater”. Naturally, this raises certain expectations as to appearance; in fact, it’s practically a promise. And what can I say? This concert venue, conveniently located between Neumarkt and Rudolfplatz, delivers on all counts.
The Gloria is one of those places that simply makes you happy the minute you enter. In fact you will hardly want to leave. Its atmosphere and interior is maybe second only to that of the famous Schmidts Tivoli in Hamburg, if that means anything to you. It’s the polar opposite to ugly, rectangular multi-purpose halls. Everything’s woody, round and cosy – and yet this is not your regular Baroque-style mini-theatre: the hall accommodates 900 standing (400 if seated).
You really can’t go wrong with the Gloria. Unless the artist really messes up, I guarantee you will return home with your soul replenished.
My favourite Gloria memory: OK Kid from Cologne as they presented their unique mix of beat-heavy hip hop and songwriter flair on a magical night in 2015. They’ve come a long way since, now regularly appearing on the cover of the music magazines.
Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld – The party buddy
Sadly, club Underground is no longer for this world, having closed down this year despite being one of the city’s most prominent concert venues. And what a sad day that was for local music enthusiasts. However salvation is nigh, for Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld is gearing up as a worthy replacement – or at least a good alternative. Like Underground, Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld has a beergarden-style sitting area outside; another similarity, besides its packed event calendar, is its slightly convoluted interior. As the name suggests, this venue is right next to Ehrenfeld train station, but is more comfortable than its slightly industrial air would suggest. Comfy seats are placed around elevated platforms off to the side of the stage where bands are playing to save their lives (or just to get through the set, depending on their energy levels that day).
My favourite Ehrenfeld memory is a recent one. Rising stars of the local hip hop scene Trettmann have been around the block a few times, but these days they tell their stories aided by Autotune and modern beats. So far, Trettmann have performed in Cologne five times this year (including at the SummerJam festival just outside the city). And the audience still hasn’t tired of them, if the response to their last performance in Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld was anything to go by. That was definitely an evening to remember.
Blue Shell – The blue institution
In Cologne’s music scene, the Blue Shell is legend. It constitutes one third of the night-life district known as the Bermuda Triangle (the other two thirds being Stereo Wonderland and Luxor). And the name is fitting: not everyone who ventures into the Triangle makes it back home after a show…
Just off Barbarossaplatz is this city mainstay of good guitar music, a natural habitat for non-stadium-level bands. Which is not to say that the Blue Shell only ever features no-name groups, on the contrary: the Blue Shell hall of fame is very rock’n’roll indeed.
The club has much to offer besides music. If it all gets a bit much in front of the main stage, simply head to the space next door, order a chilled Kölsch and play a clanging round of pinball (really, they still exist!). Although you risk the wrath of the performing artists (and your fellow concertgoers) since there’s no dividing door between the two rooms. That said, it’s a safe option during performances by South American death metal bands, where you’d be hard pressed to hear anything but noise. But generally speaking, the Blue Shell is where you go for music rather than pinball.
My favourite Blue Shell memory: A South American death metal band, what else? Just kidding. My favourite memory involves the Christmas concerts that songwriter Thees Uhlmann used to give here years ago. Although was before his major breakthrough, he managed to attract quite an audience. After all, it was the Blue Shell.
Here’s another wobbly amateur YouTube video from the Blue Shell featuring entertainer Thees Uhlmann.
GOLD + BETON – The crazy one
After all of these legends and crown jewels, here’s a real insider tip: Gold + Beton, which translates to Gold + Concrete. And what a fitting name that is, seeing as the venue is hidden in the midst of the post-Apocalyptic concrete jungle that is the area below Ebertplatz. A few “off” locations began to pop up here a number of years ago, mostly galleries that didn’t require much of an infrastructure. These developments have provided ample inspiration for Cologne’s nightlife scene, with idealists from the local art schools and affiliated organisations producing quite an atmosphere.
Gold + Beton is very much part of this scene: a one-room space with picture windows and nothing more, save a toilet and a fridge for visitors. Sounds positively spartan, but in fact that’s all that is needed for this small, austere gallery to create a setting for encounters that is more exciting than many traditional venues. Experimental art “happenings”, walk-in installations and unconventional artists make this a very changeable and diverse place to be. And so visitors to Gold + Beton can be sure to experience something entirely different from the run-of-the-mill bar and band combos that dot the city.
My favourite Gold + Beton memory: An incredibly intense, sweaty appearance by queer band Sans Gene from Cologne on one of the hottest days of the summer. The picture windows were literally opaque with the water (if that’s what it was) dripping down them. The humidity and endorphine levels went through the roof.