A tour through the city Bonn's grubbiest spots and what is being done about them

Bonn · Is Bonn's city centre really as scruffy as is often claimed? A walk through the city centre reveals foul-smelling corners and vacant sites, but also beautiful buildings that have become new hangouts.

The Maximilianpassage has its own cleaning service that removes all kinds of rubbish. In addition, a security service maintains order.

The Maximilianpassage has its own cleaning service that removes all kinds of rubbish. In addition, a security service maintains order.

Foto: Nicolas Ottersbach

There are some corners in Bonn that you would rather steer clear of. These include the haunts of drug and alcohol addicts around Kaiserplatz and the main railway station. But is everything as bad as is often claimed in public discussions about the state of the city centre? Or are Bonn citizens and businesspeople particularly fussy? Let's take a tour.

The last election was months ago. The wooden poster stands on Friedensplatz look exactly the same. The candidate or the election slogan have faded, but the small CDU party logo reveals who is responsible. When you walk through the city centre, it is often the little things that spoil the impression of an otherwise beautiful town.

Passers-by agree. "There’s always litter lying around the market," says an elderly woman. Another mentions the dingy-looking stop at the university/market with all the graffiti. Most recently, there was a dead rat on Bottlerplatz - evidence of the pest that usually affects Kaiserplatz and keeps the city exterminators busy.

"It looks worse in Cologne"

Meeting place weekly market: there’s a huge variety of food for a quick and convenient lunch at the market stalls, but so much rubbish is left behind. There used to be cardboard bowls piled up on the municipal waste bins or ending up on the pavement. But the traders have made improvements and there are at least two rubbish bags at almost every stall. "When I take a closer look, I don't know what people are bothered about," says a young man who is just walking past. "I come from Cologne. It looks much worse there." But he doesn't like the fact that paper waste has been piling up in front of the shops to be collected. "It downgrades the shopping street.

"For some years, the municipal waste service provider Bonnorange has been noticing that rubbish ends up carelessly in public spaces or that rubbish bins are wilfully damaged. This also increases the time and effort spent on cleaning. "Since 2020, Bonnorange has been cleaning the pedestrian zone in the city centre twice a day," says Andrea Schulte from the city press office. In addition, the "Clean Bonn" campaign has been launched. Citizens can help out by using the City of Bonn's Deficiency Notifier and reporting overfilled or defective wastebaskets.

Pigeon droppings instead of kebabs

Moving away from the splendid buildings on Marktplatz and Münsterplatz, the plaster is coming off in many places. The worst is probably the Viktoriakarree. Where once hundreds queued for kebabs from rapper Xatar opposite the Old Town Hall, pigeons now nest. At least on the Rathausgasse side, scaffolding reveals that something is happening here. "Unfortunately, the city's powers are limited when it comes to neglected buildings," explains Schulte. The building regulations office only intervenes if there is danger to the public. In the case of residential buildings that are intentionally left empty, the city can intervene after six months thanks to the misappropriation statute and, according to its own statement, it does so. In the case of other properties, there is nothing they can do.

 Next to the old Windeck bunker, the city is building a new green space with playground equipment and seating.

Next to the old Windeck bunker, the city is building a new green space with playground equipment and seating.

Foto: Nicolas Ottersbach

Some ugly construction sites cannot be avoided. There are two of them in the Hofgarten: the Academic Art Museum on one side and the main university building on the other, both of which have to be renovated. The Haus der Bildung on Mülheimer Platz, which has become a new gathering place, shows what a difference renovation can make. The small new park and playground in the immediate vicinity look promising. The Windeck bunker next to it is another negative example. One corner has been closed off with construction fences. This does not prevent many people from defecating there, and it smells that way.

"Totally disgusting and not fit for humans"

Three men of different ages drinking beer at Kaiserplatz are concerned about the public toilets situation. "Down there at the bus station, the city has put up a urinal. That's a good idea in itself. But it's also totally disgusting and not fit for humans." One man says that he would go into the bushes rather than relieve himself there. "There are far too few toilets here. You shouldn’t be surprised about wild-peeing." And the man says that he doesn't like to be near the drug scene because it is unpredictable - in every respect.

The Gabi police station was founded 30 years ago to get a grip on the scene around the Bonner Loch, which has since been closed, and the resulting problems. Police and public order officers are on patrol in the city every day and demonstrate their presence at the meeting points of the alcohol and drug scene. As they say themselves, they work together but do not fraternise. Those who misbehave must bear the consequences. Those who abide by the rules can expect to be looked out for.

The city has installed a temporary urinal at the bus station. There are too few toilets in the city centre, say critics.

The city has installed a temporary urinal at the bus station. There are too few toilets in the city centre, say critics.

Foto: Nicolas Ottersbach

So every morning, the patrols check the sleeping places of homeless people and offer them help. "The staff are always in close dialogue with the agencies providing help for addicts and the homeless as well as the Office for Social Affairs and Housing," explains Andrea Schulte from the press office. This gives rise to other projects, such as the exchange of syringes, which has been going on for years, so that fewer syringes are lying around. Junkies make for an unpleasant atmosphere, many residents agree.

Run-down bus station

The bus station itself is also part in the problem. The bus shelters have been renewed, but the old building with the red roof is falling into disrepair. "The subway in the direction of Poppelsdorf also makes people feel uncomfortable. You have to watch out for what's going on around you," says a young student. Apparently, the Bonn police camera tower, which is directly in front of the main station, does nothing to change this. But this is no wonder as it can only monitor this one area.

When you go underground, two worlds collide: the new and bright Maximilianpassage meets the urban 70s charm of the existing station buildings. The owner has hired two security guards to patrol the passage around the clock, and a cleaning service. "I always have something to do. You find everything here. Pee, poo, rubbish, syringes," the cleaner tells us. He also reveals that it has become much better since the security service has been there. "It is not only the people who feel safer, but also me."

Bonn’s inhabitants are concerned about security, order and cleanliness and often complain about them, according to the city hall. This is not least because many public spaces has increasingly become meeting places since the start of the pandemic. This is why the administration wants to start a dialogue and participation process on the topic this year. The aim is "to be able to plan and implement tailored prevention and intervention measures at various locations in the city districts". Suggestions from the inner city are welcome.

Original text: Nicolas Ottersbach

Translation: Jean Lennox