Alter Markt (Old Market)

The city’s former marketplace is now a lively spot known for its café culture and carnivals.

Alter Markt, which means “old market” in English, is a focal point of Cologne. The square is located just steps from the Rhine River and Cologne’s main shopping precinct, and is overlooked by the City Hall. Pull up a chair at one of the many cafés lining the square and enjoy a locally brewed beer.

The area was once a large medieval market and the site of jousting tournaments. Today, visitors will find traditional German architecture and old monuments dedicated to the city’s founders. Outdoor café terraces and open-air concerts fill the square in the warmer months. Thousands of tourists come for the annual Christmas market, held here in December, when there’s a skating rink, fairy lights and food stalls. Kids will particularly love the attractions at these daily markets, including a carousel and puppet theater.

In the very center of the square you’ll see a fountain constructed in 1884 to commemorate Jan von Werth, a successful army general who served in the Thirty Years’ War. Reliefs tell the story of von Werth and Griet, a woman who he had fallen in love with as a young man and who rejected him as he wasn’t from a wealthy family. Von Werth left Cologne and joined the army. When he returned years later, after marrying a noblewoman, he saw Griet, now an old woman, alone and full of regret about what could have been.

Look up at the top of the façade of house No. 24 and you’ll find a more lighthearted sculpture, the Kallendresser, a bronze depiction of a man with his trousers down. It was created in 1956 by sculptor Ewald Mataré, though its meaning is unknown. Some believe it to be a political statement directed at the adjacent City Hall.

Alter Markt is a short walk south of Cologne Cathedral. The closest U-Bahn stations are Heumarkt and Dom/Hauptbahnhof.

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