Two artists are fighting in the Otto-Langen-Quartier to get a space for culture. The city should exercise its right of first refusal.
BERLIN taz | Moss sprouts in the meter-high flower-decorated foyer, perforated work shoes stand next to it. Typed letters from the 1950s hang on the wall: “If your son doesn't write better grades soon, we have to cancel his training contract.” “It is certified that Otto Brunner was not a member of the NSDAP.”
Then lead Anja Kolacek and Marc Lessle onto the enchanted courtyard, wild lilac breaks out of the concrete, past the lettering “The Art of the Revolution”, into a dark hall, around 300 meters long and 13 meters high, which used to be a factory street. 9,000 employees once worked at this location Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz AG (KHD) worked to manufacture gas engines – from tractors to tanks.
It was actually right here, on a thoroughfare on the right bank of the Rhine in Cologne-Mülheim, where the history of world motorization began in 1869 and the four-stroke engine was invented – the KHD became a world empire. Since 1993, the workshops, also known as the Otto-Langen-Quartier, have been gradually abandoned. Now a landscape of mossy palettes on glittering water surfaces from afar gives a surreal picture, in front the artist collective Anja Kolacek and Marc Leßle alias raum13 built a piano, coffee tables and sound equipment.
Here the musician FM Einheit gave concerts on old machines, theater performances take place, tours, but also legendary parties. “I love this hall the most”, explains Anja Kolacek, former dancer and choreographer; here you have found the collectibles for the foyer, here you can see the farthest, the area looks like a three-dimensional set.
Central work of fine arts
But the factory landscape goes up several floors, with extensive, wood-paneled executive floors above the hall that look like stage sets for Marthaler productions. Through a sliding door in the hall, secured with padlocks, one could go further into the areas that Anja Kolacek and Marc Leßle did not open to the public because deep holes protrude, junk and green take over – and which are nevertheless secretly busy .
Sprayer meet there, lost-place fetishists, in the back a few people have recently started living with dogs, from time to time there is a bark. The six-hectare site, which is partly owned by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and partly by a private investor from Cologne, cannot be closed off completely.
Almost ten years ago, he left the front part for a small rent to liven it up and not to leave it to vandalism – even today, burglaries are still carried out here regularly. Raum13 turned the Otto-Langen-Quartier into an enchanted cultural place, which they called the Deutz Central Work of Fine Arts.
They built several stages in it, invested all their time and money, collected funding and a large circle of lovers. In Cologne, one of the narrowest major cities in Germany, the area has since become the largest, but also one of the last urban open spaces for art.
At the same time, and this is the most important thing for both of them, they see it as a kind of museum of modernity and matrix for the future at the same time: “We have explored the spirit of the place over the past decade, as an industrial contemporary witness who is unlike any other with mobility , Climate, the change in work and technology, we see this as a place of friction for the future, ”says Anja Kolacek. And they see it as an ideal place to develop a “real laboratory” to experiment with alternative living and working models.
Laboratory and start-up
For two years now, the two have also been holding “future workshops” with architects, conservationists, sociologists and artists to develop a model district for the future of society.
With the help of architects, they calculated how 430 apartments could be built in the complex while preserving the historical layers, with studios, creative start-ups, urban gardens, research laboratories for climate, mobility and art: “It is about real research here how we want to live as a society in the future, ”says Marc Leßle. And ultimately, it's also about resolving one of the most virulent social conflicts of the time: the common good versus investor logic.
Because rents and land prices have also exploded in Cologne, the Otto-Langen-Quartier is also one of the last filet pieces of the currently largest Cologne urban development project, coveted by major investors, whose future is still unplanned. All around, the Gerch and CG groups have already accessed: the rust-brown brick facades have been razed to the ground in the past few months in order to build high-priced residential and office complexes, only a few listed buildings have remained.
“A catastrophic mistake by the city that it no longer regulated when it was bought,” says monument conservationist Walter Buschmann from the Rheinische Industriekultur association, who sees potential for entry as a World Heritage Site – he also had the Zollverein colliery in Essen before its demolition in 1986 preserved.
Canceled by the investor
The investor also canceled raum13 on April 30 of this year and many brokers have already been led through the building. The Otto-Langen-Quartier now faces a similar fate as the surrounding industrial buildings: demolition and faceless new construction.
A lot has already been lost. For over two years, Kolacek and Leßle have been working to get the city of Cologne to buy the site – even if the investor has so far asked 22 million euros for it and has now stopped responding to discussions.
Hundreds of supporters have now won them, including the Cologne Chamber of Industry and Commerce, renowned architects, foundations oriented towards the common good, such as the Trias Foundation, the pastor Hans Mörtter, who wants to realize a real utopia here, the Deputy Managing Director of the Chamber of Commerce Ulrich Soénius.
A few weeks ago, after months of persuasion and charm offensive with all parties, they achieved a spectacular success: In an amazing alliance, the factions of the Cologne Council agreed on a joint declaration of intent, which calls for the “departure into a new type of urban development”.
At the end of March, the Cologne City Council could actually decide that the city would exercise its right of first refusal – and provide the site with monument protection statutes and building regulations in order to limit the required price. Despite all the positive signals, it is still far from certain that the investor logic will be broken, the administrative mills in Cologne are slowly grinding. And even if the city buys, the utopias of raum13 have to be implemented.
Similar real laboratories, so-called living labs, in which questions of the future are explored in small form, have already been publicly funded, founded in Sweden, Norway, France or Baden-Württemberg. Role models are, for example, the île de Nantes, a Loire belonging to the French city of Nantes. Insel, the RDM site in the port of Rotterdam, the Belval-Ouest iron and steel works in Luxembourg.
In 2018, the German Bundestag even published a Europe-wide study on this. A real laboratory, in which art and culture lead the development, has never been planned.
After all, a joint meeting of city planners and Mayor Henriette Reker is planned for May. Kolacek and Leßle are confident: “We have the strength to go on for quite a long time.”