Cologne´s Forgotten Fortifications

www.tag-der-forts.de, www.koelner-festungsbauten.de, www.crifa.de

Ever since Roman times, Cologne has been protected by rings of fortifications traces of which can still be seen around the city: The Roman and medieval city walls with their massive gates, and two rings of fortifications built in the 19th century when Cologne was under Prussian administration.

Some of their remains are so openly present in the city they blend into their surroundings and most people don´t really pay attention to them in their daily life any more. Others are hidden away, overgrown and known only to those with a special interest in city history. Some - most of the former city gates - are still in use by various groups so can only be accessed by members of these groups or on special occasions.

One of these occasions is the "Day of the Fortifications", "Tag der Forts", which is held once a year. On this day, guided tours to the remains of the medieval city wall and some of the remaining gates are offered as well as guided tours (some even in costume) to the fortifications of the Inner and Outer ring. It´s well worth taking part in these, taking the chance to discover yet another little known side of Cologne.

Fort IX, Cologne Westhoven - 2008

If you didn't know it you'd never guess the Prussian fort was there. From the road, the only thing you see is a locked gate and two derelict buildings obviously dating from the 20th century which were actually once repair halls for tanks and other military vehicles. Let´s take a look inside before we go on to the fort.

Empty Halls

KB: "That was already broken before I arrived! Honest!"

We were asked not to go inside because the halls weren't safe... but the guide forgot to mention that this applies to Travel Blythes... not "also" but EXPLICITLY!

 KB: "Aww, these guys only always SAY not to touch anything, because they have to                 -  it´s not like they really MEAN it...!  What happens if I turn this...?"

Actually... Seeing how dead and abandoned these places are... the displaced rock in the picture above somehow reminds me of the Jewish tradition for visitors to a grave to place a small stone on top. (When this tradition started, grave monuments were mounds of stones. Visitors to the grave added to the mound, a gesture to show that the monument would never be finished and the deceased never forgotten.)

The Prussian fort is hidden behind the halls, on lower grounds. It's actually amazing how well-hidden such an imposing structure can be!

Fort IX

Fort IX was built between 1877 and 1881. With the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Cologne had fallen under Prussian administration after having been French since 1794. So what they wanted to protect the city from most were any attacks from France, which accounts for the fortifications on the Western side of the Rhine being somewhat heavier than those on the Eastern side, one of which is Fort IX . The forts were visible demonstrations of strength, even though by the time they had been finished, military technology had already advanced enough to outdate them.

After they built one ring of forts between 1816 and 1863, a second ring was added after the German/French War 1870/71.

After the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles demanded for Germany to dismantle any military fortifications. The Mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer (the future Chancellor) arranged for some of the buildings to be put to different uses, others to be buried, so the historical buildings could be preserved.

During the Second World War, Fort IX was named "Lager Hitler" and used as a camp for the RAD (Reichsarbeitsdienst Labour Service), which was considered auxiliary troops while the war was going on. You can still see the letters LAGER (camp) over the gate - the  Allies shot off the rest when they took Cologne. Well, who could have resisted the chance to shoot at Hitler back then?

That used to be the gatehouse...

Contrary to what it may look like, the fort was never used as a prison...

After the Second World War, the fort was used by the Belgian military, partly as horse stables. Today, it´s occasionally rented out as a movie location - as are many of the other forts around Cologne. They converted the cellars below Fort IV into the London tube for "Creep" and a number of rooms in this fort were made into an air raid shelter for the movie "Dresden". You can see a scene here ("Am Set", and then "Clip 8: Keller")

http://www.dresden-der-film.de/main.swf?rand=8

These authentic-looking signs "Don´t smoke!" and "Keep calm" are actually recent leftovers from the movie set. It seems film crews really suck at cleaning up after themselves...

When preparing for an attack during World War I, they started to fill some of the vaults with concrete in order to reinforce the walls. They never finished the job, though.

No railings, gaping holes. Safety is one reason why the forts are only accessible once a year.

This would be an ideal place to hide from the world - or the police.

In 2004, Fort IX was the location of one of the biggest and most expensive police searches in Germany's post-war history. The police had received an anonymous letter claiming a pedophile ring was active in Cologne. Homeless children from Eastern Europe were being brought here and sold into prostitution for 1000 Euro or more per night. Three years before, so the letter stated, two children had died during some perverted sex games and their bodies had been hacked to pieces and buried on the grounds of the fort. The letter contained enough verifiable information on the people named and accused for police to take the allegations very seriously - even more so because the case of the Belgian pedophile Marc Dutroux had just made the news.

For two weeks in April 2004, between 50 and 80 police officers and more than 20 specialist dogs searched the 60.000 m2  grounds every day. Virtually no stone was left unturned. In order to be able to search, police had to dispose of 40 truckloads of rubble and trash just to make the fort accessible. And in the end it turned out everything had been a hoax (the idiot was caught and confessed). But maybe, just maybe - if you like conspiracy theories and ghost stories - that was only the official story they gave to the press while in fact, everything was true and the ghosts of those two little girls are haunting the fort to this very day... *

http://wissen.spiegel.de/wissen/dokument/dokument.html?id=30542727&top=SPIEGEL

* I just made that up. ...  but if you come across this particular urban legend somewhere, remember that it started here, on this page! ;-)

Intermediate Work / Zwischenwerk IXb, Cologne Gremberg - 2008

We had just enough time after visiting Fort IX to get to the next Intermediate Work before the guided tour started. Even though the Forts and Intermediate Works are actually only 500m apart (half the shooting range of a cannon back then), due to a closed railway crossing we had to take a bit of a detour. Then it was a short walk from the parking lot through the forest to the abandoned brick building hidden in the undergrowth.

The guide warned us not to come here on our own at night, as the unguarded building attracts a lot of unpleasant folks. Sometimes even black masses are celebrated here. Well... it is a perfect location for something creepy and spooky to go on...

Basically, the Intermediate Works were fortified watch stations as well as ammunition depots. This one was built between 1877 and 1881.

The left picture shows what used to be one of the gunpowder storage rooms.

Back into the sunlight!

KB: "I'm a little disappointed we didn't see a ghost..."

KB: "So... Where do we go next?"

Update: As of late 2008, Intermediate Works IX b has been walled up and closed off due to constant vandalism. It is no longer accessible - thanks to a couple of assholes. I´m glad we still had a chance to visit.

Abandoned Belgian Military Base, Cologne Westhoven - 2008

Actually, we had wanted to take the guided tour through Intermediate Work / Zwischenwerk IXa  but we couldn´t find the meeting point and ended up at the gates to the abandoned Belgian Brasseur Military Base (on the grounds of which the remains of that part of the Prussian fortification were supposed to be) - well secured with chains, locks and "Keep Out"-signs.

We couldn´t resist the big gaping hole in the fence - and besides, we had an excuse, we were just looking for the guided tour group *cough* . So we explored the derelict place a little. It was exciting and a little creepy, like in one of those horror or science fiction movies where alien critters or monsters lurk in just this kind of place. It also reminded me of pictures I had seen of the abandoned Chernobyl area. Nature had already begun to reclaim the unused area and grass and trees were growing even on asphalt lots.

Besides, since the official function that had been the reason why we couldn´t visit Augustusburg way back when had been the farewell ceremony to the Belgian military, it had some sort of poetic justice that we now were able to look around the former Belgian military base. The place has been abandoned since 1995.

The only traces of vile critters we noticed were the ever present tags of graffiti idiots. (I do like graffiti - whether it´s tags or artwork - when it´s obvious that someone has been making an effort to add a little color to a boring grey cityscape, and has tried to create something that other people can actually bear looking at - but those carelessly scrawled tags just remind me of dogs urinating in places to mark their territory and they give about as much sensual pleasure as dogs´ piss, too.)

The only thing that remains of the everyday life in this building... or an unfortunate visitor who sneaked in just like we did?

Alien fungus?

The crumbling paint forms a pattern that is almost beautiful.

And then, in the middle of all the destruction and decay, this bright painting - completely unaffected and looking as new as if it had just been placed there:

KB: "We´d better not go down there! That´s where in the movies all the serial killers and murder monsters lurk!" Who knows just what we missed by not going down there...

Nature doesn´t care about STOP signs.

Update: The Brasseur Military Base is to be torn down in 2010. The area will be renatured, to compensate for the extension of the highways around Cologne, which means it will continue to be off-limits to the public for several years. Another place that will soon be gone, but I´m glad we still had the chance to sneak in to see it.

Fort X, Rosengarten (Rose Garden) - Open Day 2009

While Fort IX at Westhoven is part of the Outer Ring of fortifications, Fort X just north of the city centre belongs to the Inner Ring, of which there is less preserved. Both rings are numbered separately, by the way, which can cause some confusion as there are two Forts IV and two Forts X.

This Fort X was built between 1818 and 1825, one of the first five forts to be constructed for the Prussian ring of fortifications. These first five were given additional names in a solemn ceremony by the Prussian king. This one is called "Prinz Wilhelm von Preussen". You can see the name in large letters on the crescent-shaped main building (reduit).

This fort is particularly well-preserved, compared to the others we have visited so far.

     http://www.koelner-festungsbauten.de/files/neusserwall/fort_x.gr.jpg

Entering the courtyard, you can see one of the two traditor batteries that form a bottle-neck shaped entry way towards the main building. The half-tower contains a staircase.

As it was Open Day, there were stalls selling jams, cake and sausage made after old-fashioned traditional recipes, and plenty of costumed guards. Most of them are wearing either Prussian dress uniform or battle uniform, around 1850. The gentleman all in white is wearing what the soldiers would have worn on an average day.(http://www.preussenweb.de/uniformen2.htm)

He agreed very kindly to pose for a picture ^-^

These three officers didn´t mind having their coffee break briefly interrupted by K.B. - even though she was wearing an American, rather than Prussian, dress. (THANK YOU!!!)

Here´s a view from the left hand side of the courtyard towards the other half of the main building and right traditor battery. Check out the field kitchen (also known as "goulash cannon") serving pea soup. Stews were among the standard dished for the soldiers.

We´re on the other side of those benches now, having a look towards the left corner of the courtyard. That is the corner of the right traditor battery you can see on the left. Now let´s go up that staircase on the left traditor battery!

This is how the first floor casemates inside the traditor batteries look today. This is the one in the left battery. There is a similar one in the right battery, and both are being used by carnival societies. In Prussian times, these were living quarters. At Open Day, this one housed a small exhibition on historical weapons (mostly guns) and fire brigades.

 

Looks scary, but is only an early smoke protection mask.

 

A final impression from the inner courtyard. Now let´s leave the courtyard and take a walk around the main building.  

This is the outer side of the left traditor battery. Note the wall construction.  Left to the traditor, there is the "Enveloppen-Tor" which leads to a walkway inside the fortification wall "envelopping" the reduit.

From here, you can enter the defense gallery inside the envelopping wall and the casemates underneath the main building. The walkway leads on top of the wall, where today there is a beautiful rose garden dating back to the 1920s.

A beautiful place which has a bit of an "Alice in Wonderland" feel.

 

That´s the tower of St. Agnes church in the background. It looks unfinished, but it was actually planned to be built this way.

The church was built in 1895 by Peter Roeckerath, a former teacher who had come to riches as a builder and property salesman. In fact, a considerable amount of his wealth came from the building of the forts. The church was meant to be a memento of his wife, who was also named Agnes. It was modelled after Gothic cathedrals and churches, many of whom do not have pointed towers.

By the way, KB is wearing Barbie´s Bicentennial dress (Best Buy #9158), issued in 1976 for the USA bicentennial celebration. It has Revolutionary War Soldiers on the skirt waving the American Colonial Flag.

It´s hard to believe you´re in the middle of a metropolis.

Coming down the walkway again. On the left, just behind the wall, there is an entrance to the reduit casemats. In the middle of the picture, where the Prussian flag is, you can see the entrance to the defense gallery. Time for some dungeon crawling!

Reduit Casemats

We are now roughly in the middle of the main building. This tunnel slopes gently downstairs to a section which is still filled with rubble. It leads to the moerser battery. These areas were being used as bunkers during WW II, and partially walled up or restructured with concrete.  

A hole in the wall reveals a hidden room, probably used for munition storage.

Officially, this is a former munition storage room, but to Hannah, KB and me, it was obvious that we had found the crypt of Count Preussula, resident vampire.

Actually - Cologne had been severely damaged during the war. Since living space was rare, many people who needed a roof over their head were housed in the forts. One man liked living in the casemates so much that he remained there until at least March 2009!

Sniper Gallery in the outer wall

This part was walled up until recently. A rough slope leads down to the tunnel which was meant to ensure the protection of the left flank trench, just outside the envelopping wall.

Whee! Orbs! Spooky spirit photo!

We follow the tunnel around two bends. (The picture is actually looking back to the entrance - and most of the light is from the camera´s flash, as it was actually pretty dark in there). Every now and then we can catch a weak glimpse of daylight through the narrow firing ports. On the ceiling and in the corners, there are a few cobwebs with large white widow spiders who have certainly never seen outside.

Suddenly, a human face is staring at us with blind eyes. It seems the guy who lived here was some sort of artist.

The tunnel gets narrower. We have to walk in single file now. Every now and then, there is a bay with a firing port, some of them walled shut.

Another orb.

Then, our group gets stuck. The guide has stopped in a small room to explain something, and there´s not enough space for everyone to get in. Half of the group is left standing in the tunnel, and we can´t even hear what he says. The picture gives you a good idea of how narrow the tunnel was. On the left, there´s a bay with an - unfortunately closed - firing port.  

Taking a look behind us. Claustrophobic.

Finally, we can go on. At the end of the gallery, there are several small rooms which contained firing ports. It is a dead end, so we have to go back the way we came. 

A look around the last corner

Dead end.

The trench. You can walk all the way around the fort. The wall on the left is the outer wall of the fort; the right one is the outside of the envelopping wall. At both sides,in the very area of the trench that the firing ports from the gallery were facing, there are children´s playgrounds today.

Fort VI, Cologne Deckstein - 2009

Even though this fort carries the number 6, it is actually the first fort of the Outer Ring that was built, starting in 1873. What is left is still being used today as changing rooms for an outdoor sports centre.

What appears to be the ground floor in the picture is actually the original upper floor. The lower one was at the level of the former trench which is now filled up.

The left wing of the main barracks - the only remaining part of this fort - as seen when walking towards the front gate.

We are now at the right end of the right wing of the main barracks building, looking towards the left.

Felsengarten - Rock Garden

When the Treaty of Versailles asked for the forts to be torn down in the 1920s, the outer enforcements were blown up. Only the front barracks were left standing and converted into a sports centre. The debris was carefully arranged and a rock garden was created which is today a little-known, peaceful oasis.

Check out the large boulder on the left. You can see it is man-made from concrete mixed with gravel.

 

KB likes it here!

We are now standing approximately on the roof of the inner barracks building, looking towards the back. The trees mark where the outer walls used to be.

Dungeon Time!

A massive iron door blocks the way to the basement, which is not normally accessible. A staircase leads down to what used to be the ground floor.

These archways used to be open, then they were closed up and only firing ports left. Now, of course, everything is walled up.

Closed firing port. No escape!

These hooks were used to hold massive iron plates that were supposed to strengthen the fort against grenade attacks. Of course, any seasoned watcher of horror movies immediately has in mind a different use...

Steam heating pipes on the ceilings.

Don´t cross the tape, our tour guide warned us. (Here there be Zombies?)

... so of course we did...

Walking down that taped-off tunnel in the picture above.

Grünglas-Isolatoren - green glass insulators dating back to WW2 time. These are actually quite rare, since the material was expensive.

Somewhere hidden underneath that rubble there´s a staircase.

 

More buried rooms and passages.

"Oooh, it´s taped off! Shall we go in?"

...who knows what lurks in the dark...?

Coming back alive :-) It was a delightfully creepy atmosphere down there. The guides made sure to lock that door well behind us.

Bonus: Having gorged themselves on the unfortunate visitors group, the zombies shuffle up the stairs to look for more victims...

Festungsmuseum Zwischenwerk/Intermediate Work VIIIb, Cologne Rodenkirchen - 2009

In this Intermediate Work, Crifa (Cologne Research Institut für Festungsarchitektur) - one of the amateur societies dedicated to the preservation, excavation and study of the forts - entertains a small museum about the fortifications, open every first Saturday in a month (www.museum.crifa.de)

www.deutschesatlantikwallarchiv.de/treffen/trefkoel.htm

This is the window to the officers´ room in the right wing and the firing ports that guard the main entrance.

This is a map of what´s left of the intermediate works today. The narrow rooms to the back were used for ammunition storage. The rooms in the main building were living quarters, with the kitchen at the far end of the right wing. The larger rooms were those of the average soldiers, the smaller ones to the sides of the main entrance belonged to the officers. To the front is the guard room. This was meant to be inhabited by 150 - 180 soldiers.

Main Entrance

This used to be a rather massive door frame.

A look inside the window on the right side.

Irresistible!

Crampons (Steigeisen) lead down to the basement.

Exhibition on the history of the forts in a former storage room in the left wing.

Passageway in the right wing.

Grenades and ammunition chests in a former ammunition storage room.

KB: "Gee, check out the size of this grenade!"

The sign says: 21cm grenade, 211mm caliber, 83kg, made in 1880.

Tombst... *cough* samples of the stone work, displayed in another former ammo room.

Former officers´ quarter, right wing.

Former soldiers´ quarters, right wing.

Former kitchen. The hole in the ground used to be the well.

Hang on, what´s that?!

Squee! A skelly!

View from the top of the guard room, which leads to the

Former Rose Garden

This intermediate work, too, was covered by a garden in the 1920s. Originally, it was a rose garden, but today, there are not many roses left. It´s nice, though.

Wild Dump... err, Sculpture Park

Taking a look in the trench surrounding the intermediate works, we noticed what looked like various huge pieces of scrap metal there as well as in the garden, rusting away.

Believe it or not, this is officially the sculpture park "Kunst am Fort" (art at the fort), compiled in 1985 by 8 so-called "artists" several of whom are actually art teachers at various universities. Originally, it was only meant to be there for one year, but sadly, they left most of the nameless "sculptures" (cough!) there to rot and ruin the area. 

Or, expressed in best "Emperor´s New Clothes" style by a local magazine, "nowadays, more than half of the artworks are still around, corresponding with nature" - "noch heute korrespondiert mehr als die Hälfte der Kunstwerke dort mit der Natur."  (http://www.bilderbogen.de/Archiv/Juni99/198190.htm)

I guess the gentlemen university professors were not too keen on adorning their own gardens with their creations, either.

 No wonder the place - which looks like an abandoned sad attempt at a skater park - attracts graffiti vandals. Since the names of the culprits are known, I think they should be fined for littering.

Secret WW2 Bunker, Cologne Nippes

Cologne was a major target for allied air raids during WW2, so there are plenty of bunkers. However, most of them are not accessible or they have been transformed for modern use such as the High Bunker in Nippes which is now an apartment block and the Kulturbunker in Mülheim which is a concert hall.

 

This little gem for historians was secret while it was in use, and was left in a hurry when the allied forces entered Cologne in March1945. Nobody knew about its existence until recently, when the nearby playground was built and the workers came across it, virtually unchanged for more than 60 years. Now it has been cleaned up (at least inside - the graffiti pigs had a go at the door already) and lovingly restored to its 1941 state. It is open as a museum every second Sunday 10 - 16h. (www.ag-festung-koeln.de). Come on in!

A sloped tunnel leads 2.5m below ground.

This bunker originally wasn´t open to the public - the local residents had to go to the High Bunker or another one nearby. They did not even know about this one, which was built in 1941 as the command post of the Reichsbahn Ausbesserungswerk (Repair Works), RAW. The RAW´s main function was the maintenance and repair of the Reichsbahn railways and cars.

This was the command post to which all reports of incoming air raids were made, and which in turn warned the rail stations around Cologne, so trains carrying goods deemed "important for the war" or ammunition could be diverted or brought into shelter in time. There were several telephones.

 

Right: Remnants of Reichsbahn tickets and papers.

Saffy poses with an old typewriter and telephone.

A female operator was on duty here, who also doubled as a nurse, as the RAW works doctor had his treatment room here as well. In a larger room next door, there was a sick bay.

This is the back of that telephone in the alcove, along with an old document case.

The treatment room

First Aid Instructions.

The white chest contains medical supplies.

The sick bay

Heating.

 

Various findings on display in the former sick bay. Every one tells its own story...

An old radio played 1940s music.

Field Cantina.

The bunker was also the quarters of the RAW fire/air protection brigade.

  

 

18 beds!

   

A heavy door protects the second entrance, which is still closed off.

Note the heavy iron bars on the ceiling, and compare with those in the following room:

The destroyed ceiling. After 65 years, it has begun to resemble a stalagtite cave.

Secret or not, since the bunker was located close to the actual RAW works, it was affected several times by bombings. The worst was a full-on hit in December 1944, during which one room was entirely destroyed and the nurse/operator on duty killed. Her comb, shoe and ID badge were still found in this room. The shelter was emergency repaired with bricks and kept going until March 1945, when the allied forces entered Cologne and the RAW was finally closed down.