Gürzenich boasts more than 550 years of history as a Cologne venue. After the city’s Rathaus (town hall), today it is considered Cologne’s leading secular structure.
A ‘front parlour’ for the City of Cologne
The City of Cologne’s ‘front parlour’ was built by the City Council as a civic ballroom and market hall between 1441 and 1447. The ground floor was initially used as a market hall, and the festival hall on the upper floor formed a distinguished backdrop for social and political events. This was where Cologne’s guests of honour were received, where festivities were celebrated by emperors and princes – but court sessions and a Reichstag were held here as well.
After serving solely as a market hall from the 17th century, medieval festival-hall tradition of Gürzenich was revived in the 1820s. With no other Cologne festival hall able to compete with the size or tradition of Gürzenich, the venue soon rose to become Cologne’s top event location – particularly during the Karneval season.
Even before the Festival Committee Cologne Carnival was founded in 1822, the people of Cologne were dancing at masked balls held in Gürzenich. The Gürzenich also became popular as a music venue. Concerts held in Gürzenich formed the basis for Cologne’s international reputation as a music city, with the city’s musicians named the ‘Gürzenich Orchestra’ in recognition of their concert hall.
Its popularity created a need for additional space. 1855 to 1857 marked the construction of the neo-Gothic annex based on plans by Julius Raschdorff; the festival hall was given a new, neo-Gothic design.
An ensemble of modernism and Gothic
Large parts of Gürzenich were destroyed in 1943. Already in 1948, with housing construction still a high priority, the City of Cologne decided to rebuild Gürzenich – sending a clear signal of the structure’s high status among the citizenry of Cologne.
From 1952 to 1955, the Gürzenich building ensemble was constructed from the Gothic walls of Gürzenich and Old St. Alban based on plans by Karl Band and Rudolf Schwarz. Here, modern architecture combines harmoniously, but also in deliberate contrast, with the walls of the Gothic structures. The building ensemble gained national recognition and enriched the Cologne architectural landscape as an extraordinarily high-quality instance of the ‘organic construction’ of the 1950s.
Perfect for smaller and large events
After the Gürzenich Orchestra relocated to the Cologne Philharmonie, which opened in 1986, new areas of use had to be found for the building. As a result, in 1994 KölnKongress Betriebs- und Service GmbH, in which the city of Cologne holds 51% and Koelnmesse 49%, was established as the new operator of Gürzenich.
In 1996 to 1997, the architectural firm KSP Engel Kraemer Schmiedecke Zimmermann Architekten BDA transformed Gürzenich into a restored, updated and expanded event centre with the help of restoration experts and specialised craftsmen and -women, while largely preserving and conserving the listed building structure.
Ever since then, Gürzenich has served as a venue for social and cultural events, congresses and smaller exchanges and exhibitions.