The Gürzenich, a popular and traditional Cologne venue, can look back on a history of over 550 years. Today, among Cologne’s secular buildings from the Middle Ages it is second only to the Town Hall. At the same time, the Gürzenich-St. Alban ensemble is one of the city’s outstanding architectural monuments of the 1950s.
Built by the City Council as a civic ballroom and market hall between 1441 and 1447, the Gürzenich was the architectural expression of the prestige of Cologne’s citizens who had recovered their economic strength and gained political power. The festival hall on the upper floor created the distinguished setting for social and political events – this was where Cologne’s guests of honour were received, festivities celebrated by emperors, princes and citizens – but coronations, court sessions and a Reichstag were held also.
The ground floor of the Gürzenich, which had served solely as a market hall from the 17th century, had its medieval festival hall tradition revived in the 1820s. It soon rose to become Cologne’s top address for special functions, as no other Cologne festival hall could compete with the Gürzenich in terms of size and tradition.
Among the most popular festivals, in those days as much as today, were the carnival events. Already in 1822 – one year before Cologne’s Carnival Committee was founded – the citizens danced in the Gürzenich at masked balls. And as well as with carnival events, the Gürzenich is also associated with music. The Gürzenich concerts were the foundation of Cologne’s international reputation as a music city, and the city’s musicians were named the Gürzenich Orchestra, after their concert hall.
The increasing use of the venue for cultural events led to a lack of space which was relieved through the neo-Gothic extension (1855 – 1857 based on plans by Julius Raschdorff). In addition, the festival hall was provided with a new, neo-Gothic design and the stock exchange was accommodated on the ground floor. The term “Cologne’s front parlour” was coined. Following destruction of the interior in 1943, it was decided to reconstruct the Gürzenich already in 1948. As the most urgent need at that time was the construction of housing, this early decision indicates just how much importance was attached, and still is attached, to the Gürzenich by Cologne’s citizens.
Based on plans by Karl Band and Rudolf Schwarz, between 1952 and 1995 the Gürzenich ensemble was developed, achieving national recognition and enriching Cologne’s architectural landscape as an outstanding example of “organic construction” in the 1950s. In the complex of buildings, modern architecture is combined both harmoniously and deliberately in a contrasting fashion with the Gothic outer walls of the Gürzenich and St. Alban.
When the Gürzenich Orchestra moved to Cologne’s Philharmonie 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 founded as the new operator of the Gürzenich.
Largely preserving and conserving the substance of the historic monument, the Gürzenich was restored in 1996 – 97 as a special events centre by the architects office KSP Engel Kraemer Schmiedecke Zimmermann Architekten BDA with the cooperation of restoration experts and specialised craftsmen.
Today, the Gürzenich is the venue of social and cultural events, congresses as well as smaller exchanges and exhibitions.