Cologne Cathedral and its surroundings: a subject of discussion for many years. Cathedral master builder Peter Fussenich talks in an interview about New Year’s Eve rockets, construction sites, wild pedestrians, funiculars, new fences – and great progress in recent years.
Interviewer: How satisfied are you with the east side of the cathedral at the moment, it is not quite finished yet?
Peter Fussenich (Cologne Cathedral Master Builder)We expect the construction to be completed this year. Then you can walk all areas and look at the result from all sides. I am very satisfied with the first stage. Three more will follow. Compared to the past, I see a very clear difference. It was a very neglected urban space that people hardly dared to walk through. Now it is a very open and bright urban space. This is the beginning of the activity for a worthy cathedral environment.
Interviewer: As the cathedral building lodge, you are directly involved in the redesign – you display exhibits in shop windows – is this also a kind of advertising for the work of the cathedral building lodge?
Fussenich: This is intended. On the east side this new cathedral base has been created with the baptistery from the 6. Century in the center. To the right and to the left of it two show depots have now been created, there we exhibit works of the Dombauhutte and archaeological finds, z.B. the parapet of the old cathedral surroundings from the 19th century. Century.
Interviewer: It took years until the east side was changed, the area of the baptistery degenerated into a dirty corner. Why has this traditional Christian place been treated so poorly for so long in terms of urban planning?
Fussenich: It has taken 14 years of planning and implementation to reach the current status. Sometimes such complex projects take so long. When the Domplatte was built at the end of the 1960s, it was thought that it would be a worthy urban space for the cathedral. Today one thinks quite differently.
Interviewer: Tourists demolishing parts of the facade – how much work does that mean for the cathedral’s construction lodge??
FussenichA whole lot of work. If z.B. If a small pinnacle or a figurine on one of the canopies is broken off as a souvenir, it can take a year for the stonemason to repair the damage to the canopy.
Interviewer: On New Year’s Eve, rockets were fired directly at the cathedral, even against the windows – as a cathedral builder, this is surely a terrible sight?
Fussenich: This is not a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, this has been happening for several years. The employees of the Dombauhutte keep watch on the cathedral on New Year’s Eve to prevent anything worse from happening. It has also happened that a rocket has shot through a window. There is a clear legal situation: no rockets may be fired in the vicinity of churches. It would only have to be enforced. But especially on New Year’s Eve it is not so easy to draw a dividing line.
Interviewer: How dignified or undignified do you think the area around Cologne Cathedral is at the moment??
FussenichSome positive things have already happened: The grand staircase at the station, the demolition of the concrete mushrooms, the Pope’s Terrace and the Petrusbrunnen. But there are still many things that urgently cry out for improvement, especially on the west side of the cathedral. There are a lot of things that would have to be tidied up: wastebaskets and traffic signs, for example. The Bimmelbahn is also rather disturbing. In general, the current traffic situation can be further questioned. It is, after all, a result of the traffic planning of the post-war period and the 60s and 70s. It was a matter of course that everything is motorized and that you can get close to everything by car. Other cities are now dealing more rigorously with traffic and are achieving good results. Barcelona, for example, has succeeded in getting traffic out of the immediate city center. But it is not only the traffic that affects the cathedral – but also the many pedestrians. Preference should be given to them in principle.
Interviewer: Cathedral provost Bachner has erected a construction fence on the north side, the side facing the main station. It is set up in the evening to avoid damaging and polluting the gateway. Can you live with the fence?
Fussenich: The construction fence also protects the current construction site at the Michael portal on the north side of the cathedral. That’s why I don’t think it’s a problem at the moment. Of course we have to come up with a better solution for the long term.
Interviewer: But there were also problems due to wild pinklers and the cathedral was smeared, right?
Fussenich: The construction fence came into being when the construction site was built up to the east side and there was no more flow of people there and these unsightly things happened. There we are in various considerations, whether to put up permanently an artistically designed lattice to protect the portals. There we are currently in talks.
Interviewer: On the south side at Roncalliplatz there is already such a fence. This has been well accepted. Do you think that this idea would also be well accepted?
FussenichHere it was similar at that time. Many people had smeared and sprayed the cathedral portals on the south side. The fence was for Dombaumeister Wolf at that time the possibility to protect the cathedral. And the result speaks for itself. Nothing has happened there since then. The grid looks wonderful. It is quite excellently designed.
our siteBefore the construction of the Domplatte at the end of the 1960s, steps led up to the cathedral, which stood visibly on the cathedral hill. In other words, the cathedral’s feet were taken away from it in 1970. Of course, lowering the cathedral slab would be complex and expensive – but do you think it is a desirable option?
FussenichWe hear again and again the wish: Give the cathedral back its feet. But we cannot decide that alone. Of course, we also have to get together with the city of Cologne to find out whether things are even conceivable there.
Interviewer: Would that be possible at all?
FussenichFrom a technical point of view, I maintain that it is no problem to give the cathedral back two or three steps. Because in front of the cathedral there is a slope. We just have to make sure that the cathedral remains barrier-free. That means that it is accessible to everyone.
Interviewer: On the other hand, today’s Domplatte was seen as a form of democratization, the cathedral was brought to eye level with the people, so to speak – how do you see that??
FussenichIt is also a question of the attitude in which one enters the cathedral. We very often notice that people enter the cathedral with the same attitude from the shopping street with coffee mugs in their hands. From my point of view something like a threshold is missing when crossing from the profane to the sacred. I think it must be felt that a different area is now being entered.
Interviewer: What is the most urgent problem at the moment from your point of view as cathedral architect for the cathedral surroundings?? What do you wish for the future?
FussenichThere are still a lot of problems around the cathedral. We need to develop an overall plan for how we want to design the cathedral and its surroundings. The dean of the cathedral always says: "the cathedral is a jewel that needs some catching."
Interviewer: What does it look like on the north side?
Fussenich: There is a clear need for improvement in the Komodienstrabe area. The west side must be looked at again in a special way. We have Komodienstrabe to the north of the cathedral with many bus parking spaces, it is heavily trafficked, there are rows of parking spaces there. The stores are beneath the dignity of the cathedral surroundings. We have to ask ourselves: do we want to keep it that way, or can’t we imagine something else??
our site: What is currently in the pipeline?
Fussenich: It would be desirable, of course, everything could happen at the same time. But there we are also realistic, you have to start with the most important thing. And the most important thing for the moment is the historical center in Cologne. The cathedral building administration is to be demolished – together with the administration building of the Roman-Germanic Museum. We have to concentrate on that first. An architectural competition is currently underway here.
The interview was conducted by Mathias Peter.