Discoveries in the Rhineland Music in Cologne’s not so sweet-smelling underworld

COLOGNE · In Cologne’s underworld, music plays every summer, even though it smells a bit like toilets in a sports stadium. There are also regular guided tours of the sewer system.

 Hard to get seats at the underground concert.

Hard to get seats at the underground concert.

When the municipal drainage authorities in Cologne (Steb) offer a concert in the underground below Theodor-Heuss-Ring, you can be assured of a unique combination for nose and eyes. The stagnant sewage flows from Cologne households while 70 classical and jazz music fans listen to the sounds of cultured music.

In their hands they hold a bouquet of fresh mint, which they place in front of their noses. In the chandelier lit hall, it smells like toilets at a sports stadium. Unobtrusively in the background, employees of Steb measure levels of methane gas and hydrogen sulfide - "a pure precautionary measure," says Stefan Schmitz, who regularly leads tours through the sewer system. "Nothing can happen, but if the gas levels rise unexpectedly, we would have to ask the visitors to leave."

Concerts get sold out quickly

But so far it has gone without a hitch. There are five classical concerts each summer and they are sold out year after year, after only a short time. For readers of the General Anzeiger, there are special tours.

The underground Chandelier Hall was built for Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890. It is five meters high, with brick walls, a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, a sandstone panel in the classicist style and a coat of arms of Cologne and insignia of Prussia. “How strong it smells depends on the precipitation,” says Schmitz, sporting a cheerful Rhineland nature. He said you get used to the smell after a few minutes.

Last year, there was a church service at the pubic sewer system for the first time. “Denomination plays no role in that what is flowing through the sewer system here,” says Ralf Bröcker of Steb in introducing the Protestant Church campaign, “95 church services in unusual places.”

The classical concerts are a maximum of one hour, "especially because the instruments could be damaged because of the high humidity," says Schmitz. Some musicians refuse to perform - out of fear for their violins, cellos, oboes and trumpets. But they miss out on the acoustics, which visitors swarm about and are far better than on many Cologne stages.

Schmitz has been leading tours through the chandelier hall for many years now. He said that originally, Kaiser Wilhelm II was to come to the inauguration of the hall but apologized and sent a note through the state secretary that he could not come.

Tours of Der Kronleuchtsaal (The Chandelier Hall)

The Chandelier Hall in the Cologne canalization was inaugurated in 1890. Originally, Emperor Wilhelm II was to come to the opening, so a chandelier was installed. This is how the showpiece of the sewage system got its name.

  • Address: Cleverstraße / at the corner of Theodor-Heuß-Ring (in the park area)
  • Opening hours: There are free guided tours (in German) and summer concerts (for a fee) in the Chandelier Hall. The concerts are already sold out for this year. Registration for the guided tours can be found at:

More information can be found on the page of the Kölner Stadtentwässerungsbetriebe (Municipal Drainage and Sewer authorities),

(Orig. text: Uli Kreikebaum; Translation: ck)

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