I managed to catch the Richter exhibition just in time, and I’d like to say a few sentences about the experience, but I’d also like to use the occasion to offer a few Cologne tips.
Because the sun was shining, I did a bicycle tour to the museum. I underestimated the headwind, but I managed to get 45 km onto my weekly km-counter, so it’s all good!
If you’re in the area and wish to explore the Rhine riversides by bike, I recommend that you stay on the right side between Düsseldorf and Cologne-Mülheim, cross the Rhine either via Mülheimer Bridge or Zoo Bridge (at the moment I’d recommend the former because of some annoying construction sites that are in the way), and then stay on the left side of the Rhine all the way to Bonn, Remagen and Koblenz.(If you want to take the typical Cologne panorama cityscape photo, you can quickly cross the Hohenzollern Bridge, position yourself in front of the Hyatt Hotel, do your photoshoot, cross the Rhine again, and continue).
There are a couple of industrial sites where you have to leave the riverside to get around them, but it doesn’t cost a lot of time. Bonus tip: if you have to get around the Bayer industrial area (Chempark) in Leverkusen, you will pass a small park on your right. And if you have the time I urge you to do a little detour! There’s a beautiful little Japanese Garden hidden inside this park (you cannot see it from the street, but there are clear signposts).
Now, on to the Museum Ludwig!
It is the museum for twentieth and twentyfirst century art in Cologne. It is also the home of the “Agfa Foto-Historama”, a collection of historical photography. In (not only) my opinion it is *the* German address for modern / contemporary art. Its iconic architecture is hard to think away from Cologne’s panorama.
Today, however, I didn’t really linger*. My plan was to see Richter’s new abstract paintings and then enjoy the rest of the sunny day.
Gerhard Richter “Neue Bilder” (New Paintings)
A few of his new abstract paintings. © Gerhard Richter, obviously.
The paintings from 2016 are luminous and very powerful. They have much depth and detail. I loved exploring them. But I caught myself trying to find meaning where there (probably) is none… I understand what Richter is doing, but I don’t *understand* it. I admit that I will always look for patterns and some reflection of the world out there. And some kind of signature or thumbprint. I am not 100% sure, but I think Richter doesn’t want me to do this 😉
It is often interesting to listen to other people while viewing a contemporary art show, especially when it’s abstract art, *really* abstract, nonrepresentational art. It can become a little bit fantastical, when people try to make sense out of it. There is always some know-it-all who starts to explain to their companion what the artist wanted to say – which is especially bizarre when you talk about an artist who does everything in his power to take himself *out* of the picture – there were hardly any visible brushstrokes!
They contrasted the new paintings with pieces from their permanent collection.
Ema. Nude on a Staircase. © Gerhard Richter
When it comes to Richter, I believe it doesn’t get any more iconic than this blurry painting of his first wife. I have seen it in various cities and exhibitions by now, because apparently curators almost always try to include it in their (Richter) show.
Many paintings in the siderooms seemed like ‘old friends’.
Five Doors. © Gerhard Richter
I’m glad I managed to catch the exhibition just in time. I am always eager to see a new part of Richter’s enormous and inspiring body of work. Also, he is so strongly linked with the city of Cologne by now that it would have been a shame to not see this exclusive show that he personally put together. Who knows how many opportunities like this remain? He is 85 years old after all.
If you’re interested in his work, his history and/or his process, then I highly recommend the documentary: “Gerhard Richter Painting”
What to do on a Sunday in Cologne?
I’m going to concentrate my tips around this area of Cologne this time: Museum Ludwig, Cologne Cathedral, Cologne Central Station, Hohenzollern Bridge, and Rheinterrassen.
Since I have been writing about Gerhard Richter, I have to “send” you into the cathedral next, of course. You will have to look at the (in)famous Richter window with your own two eyes! This stained-glass window has been the cause of debate, derision, admiration, even a bit of scandal in the city of Cologne (and all of Germany, really, because people feel that Richter’s work is sort of German ‘collective property’). The then archbishop of Cologne rejected the window completely, but the cardinal wasn’t a member of the cathedral chapter, so he had nothing to say. (This division between the diocese and the cathedral chapter is a peculiarity that is hard to explain, but makes for some funny episodes).
Have you seen the window? What do you think of it? Leave a comment if you know it!
For those of you not familiar with German customs: as opposed to many other countries, our public museums charge an admission fee, but our churches do *not*, so you can do a quick flying visit of the Richter window, if you don’t have much time – for example if you’re just changing trains in Cologne. If you’re doing this on a Sunday, you’ll have to check for services, of course **
What else to do on a Sunday?
Since you’re here anyway, why don’t you sample the food at the “Ludwig im Museum”, the café / restaurant of the museum and philharmonic hall? The restaurant is located in a prominent place as part of the museum building, directly next to the famous Hohenzollern Bridge, above the Rhine. They use organic and regional food, fair trade products, roast their own coffee, and every Sunday from 11:00 to 14:30 you can have a delicious breakfast accompanied with live music.
It is hard to describe the atmosphere you experience while listening to the grand piano, drinking excellent coffee or champagne, enjoying the food, and watching the life revolving around the museum, the cathedral, the train station, and the Rhine. This is definitely one of the parts that embody Cologne for me. (I’m sorry to say, but I can’t really recommend the “Altstadt” (old town) at the riverside. I know other people see this differently, but I won’t send you there).
The crowd here is a little bit artsy and a little bit touristy and a little bit “Kölsch” (Cologne’s locals). And Sunday breakfast is quite popular, so it’s probably a good idea to book.
If this is not really your style, there’s another place where you can have a unique brunch experience in Cologne, although calling it ‘breakfast’ or ‘brunch’ is somewhat generous: Every Sunday (and most public holidays) from 12:00 to 17:00 there’s the so called Chill out Breakfast at the Rheinterrassen, which are on the right side of the Rhine. You can walk there across the bridge and along the riverside. There you will meet the party crowd, the late risers and some other “Kölsche” locals. For €24 you can feast on an enormous mediterranean cold and warm buffet, which fills a whole hall. From vitello tonnato and panna cotta, to a Crêpe station, soups and fish, you will find everything your stomach desires, incl. tea and coffee.
The special features here are the spectacular view across the Rhine and the on-site live DJ.
That’s why it’s called “chill out”. Cool, relaxed electronic music will accompany your meal while you lounge about in a partly heritage-protected and partly futuristic design. I haven’t been there in a while, but whenever I pass by, I kind of soak up the beats… This is another part of ‘Cologne on a Sunday’ for me.
(They don’t accept reservations, so the queue can be a bit long, but if you arrive 20-30 minutes early, you should get a good seat with a view – and even if it’s not the best seat, the atmosphere is worth it anyway).
I have two more tips for you!
If you like museums and history/archaeology, then don’t miss the Romano-Germanic Museum right next to the Museum Ludwig. It’s often overlooked, which is entirely undeserved, because it is an absolutely interesting place housing a marvelous collection! (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium… founded in the first century AD – just a reminder)
And another place I want to point out to you, which can be quite useful (but also fun!) on a Sunday, is the Central Station. You may or may not have noticed that in Germany most places are closed on Sundays… Which is rather inconvenient if you forget. Here the Central Station comes into play and may very well become your salvation. You will find everything from food to books to toiletries and clothes.
I will admit that on especially rainy and miserable Sundays I have been known to take the train to Cologne and spend an afternoon at the station…. I will look for interesting new books, browse the international press, drink green juice, Italian espresso, and eat chips and falafel, look at bags and shoes, visit the tea shop, and watch people.
So, that’s a Cologne Sunday near the Cathedral for you.
*) If you’re visiting the museum apart from a special exhibition, then you’ll be able to enjoy the most comprehensive collection of American Pop Art outside of the USA, one of the most extensive collections worldwide of the Russian Avant Garde from the 1920s, German Expressionism, Max Ernst (Dada and Surrealism), and the biggest German collection of Picasso’s works.
**) This post isn’t the place to go into detail about everything you can see (and do) at the cathedral, but of course the Richter window is only a small part of it.