*I was gifted a free walking tour around Ehrenfeld with Cityleaks by Cologne Tourism Board
In between a city centre and its nearest day trip neighbour, there’s the districts and boroughs of real people. We pass through on trains as we go from one obvious recommendation to another, or as we get a cab from the airport, but we don’t stop to look around. It feels intrusive to walk the streets families go about their every day business; washing out to dry in their front yards, kids curious at who this stranger with a camera is (and rightly so!).
I live in such an area myself; you won’t find it top of any London to-do lists but when you know where to go and what the locals do, you could easily compile a convincing case for any visitor to make the trip. It’s what I often want from a holiday – to experience authenticity and ‘real’ life, beyond what the guide books tell you.
It was my love of street art that drew me to Ehrenfeld, but as I saw on the subway to the end of the line, I realised I was the only person not going about their daily grind. The breadth of artists that have created pieces in this area of Cologne is enough to draw a whole heap of hipsters here, but that’s not yet the case.
The murals of Ehrenfeld are still performing the most traditional role of street art: regeneration. Although it’s now carefully curated and commissioned, urban art can still be vilified in more middle class areas, but in Ehrenfeld it proudly tells stories first, ensuring history is not forgotten as gentrification slowly creeps in. It means that buildings and suburbs that might have looked a little worse for wear in the past are now homes to colour and imagination, but also play their part in educating locals and visitor alike.
Since 2013, the Cityleaks* street art festival has been a bi-annual leader of Cologne street art, bringing in new and established talent to add to the already flourishing scene. It wasn’t until I was invited to experience the Crystal Ship street art festival in Ostend in 2018 that I realised these dedicated mass commissions even exist. People are choosing to surround themselves with art. It gives fans like myself the chance to see new pieces from stalwart favourites (like ROA’s rabbit in Ehrenfeld – his first people to include colour), and encourages a treasure hunt experience, knowing that you’ll find multiple creations in just one day.
Homegrown art collective, Captain Borderline, really champion the pieces with deep social commentary. The vast mural ‘Surveillance of the Fittest’ can’ be taken in with a quick glance. It’s the tale of Big Brother but in a Hunger Games stadium set-up; the black sheep within the packed crows being plucked out by an all-seeing CCTV eagle and its henchmen. Around the corner is piece detailing the incredible bravery of the Edelweiss Pirates – escapees from Nazi concentration camps who formed a resistance group together. The mural in in the area where the group were publicly hanged in 1944 to ensure a permanent reminder is left in the minds of Cologne’s most diverse neighbourhood.
The art in Ehrenfeld feels alive, as it peeks out behind ivy that’s grown over it, or water stains add tears to portraits. It is one of the locals, rather than simply watching over them. It’s labelled as street art, but really, it’s neighbourhood art, and it is the essence of the community of Ehrenfeld.
PIN IT FOR LATER