In Cologne, the administration often rules
The start of the Cologne carnival provided on 11.11. for chaotic states. Just one more example of the question: Who is actually in charge in Cologne?
Cologne – It’s been a week since the eleventh in the eleventh. From now on, disguised or uniformed jesters will stomp through our city again. In contrast to the already Christmassy ambience, this triggers rather incredulous looks from some tourists. The people of Cologne know this – and unfortunately also the downsides. After this Mass rush at the start of the session, after which a lot of rubbish was left behind, the trams didn’t run and the safety concept apparently had nothing under control, the search for the culprits has begun. “Unfortunately, the day was once again a disaster for the residents of Zülpicher Straße and for the inner green belt‘ it thought Christopher Kückelkornpresident of Festival Committee Cologne Carnivalat 24RHEIN and in Cologne City Gazette. “It’s time for the city to live up to its responsibility in public space in order to successfully channel the hustle and bustle in the old town and on the Rhine bridges.”
After 11.11. in Cologne: Who is actually in charge in Cologne?
But the “Eleventh in the eleventh 2022“ seems to be just another example in a long list (including New Year’s Eve in Cologne, renovation of the opera, Geißbockheim extension) that makes you wonder: Who actually has in Cologne the call? Who sets the direction? Who decides – and then also takes responsibility? A question that is asked again and again here in the newsletter. And I (with the NRW-correspondent of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Christian Wernicke) for the latest issue of the magazine “Gossip. Plain text for Cologne“ from the emons publishing house.
In short, there is no simple answer. Ministers and other high-ranking officials in the NRW State Chancellery in Dusseldorf tells me years ago that Cologne is not governable. Others tend to see a vacuum, with power over the city lying “on the streets”. True, say third parties, but there are also those who simply take power. And then there is – of course – a legal basis. The Municipal Code, which defines the rules for the interaction of the council, administration, parties and the mayor’s office. So between all the institutions that are assumed to be “politics”. What is striking: the mayor does not go ahead with loud requests to speak. Henriette Reker is more the administrative expert type. As a non-party, she first had to learn politics. “It takes an enormous amount of time and energy to find the necessary majorities with factual arguments alone,” she says. And then, after a pause: “And sometimes it’s impossible.”
Henriette Reker: “People always believe that the mayor can decide everything”
Henrietta Recker is from Cologne. Maybe it’s her Cologne soul that regularly allows her to get very specific when it comes to distant questions. The violation of human rights in Turkey, the Russian war in Ukraine – they can be sharp. Even during the refugee crisis, she stood by her wife as an ally of Angela Merkel – and then wrote an essay for an anthology in honor of the former Chancellor. Title: “’We can do it!’ A communal look at the European migration crisis”.
Globally concrete – but locally rather vague and evasively abstract? In the dispute over Geißbockheim expansion Reker avoided any clear announcement for months, until afterwards (in the Cologne press club) she positioned herself differently. And for many (even tolerant) Cologne residents, the probably reasonable question is whether Muezzin in Ehrenfeld, Südstadt or Kalk may call for Friday prayers, the town hall explains without debate. He can, at least for two years, thanks to a surprising “pilot project”. Power is a word that Reker immediately puts into perspective. “People always think the OB can decide everything. Transferring the true situation is difficult.” When children ask at an on-site visit whether they can “decide everything” here, Reker explains it like this: “No, many people decide here. And I make sure that what most people want WILL be done.”
► 24RHINE-Guest author Moritz Küpper is NRW correspondent for Deutschlandfunk and book author. Among other things, he wrote a biography about Armin Laschet. Küpper is a member of the Cologne Press Club. This article comes from the newsletter of the “Cologne Press Club”, which you can subscribe to here.
“In Cologne there is tolerance to the point of indifference”
But it also has something to do with the Cologne mentality, as Volker Hauff told me. The SPD ruled in Cologne for decades. For more than 40 years she was the strongest force in the council and held the office of mayor. The SPD faction leader was the strong man, the mayor the extended arm. The SPD ruled, the CDU added itself as a second force – at council meetings, when posts were awarded, at carnival celebrations. “There is no hostility – and therefore no opponents”, Volker Hauff this reliable state. “The opposition has arranged itself, everyone gets enough.”
Hauff, himself a member of the SPD, once federal minister for five years and then mayor of Frankfurt am Main: “The people of Frankfurt love conflicts, the people of Cologne hate them”. Hauff has been living in the south of Cologne for forty years. “During this time, Clodwigplatz has been rebuilt at least six times,” he says. At some point someone asked for a usage concept. “It didn’t exist,” he recalls. His conclusion: “It’s also part of the mentality of the people of Cologne, there is a tolerance to the point of indifference.” When asked who currently governs the city, Hauff says: “Nobody. You just don’t want a fight.”
Who could become Mayor Reker’s successor in Cologne?
After all, Reker’s candidacy and career as Cologne’s first female mayor in 2015 was also the answer to two shortcomings, two vacuums. The people of Cologne were fed up with the parties – and the CDU and the Greens lack prominent heads as top candidates. Jörg Frank, the group manager, was the strategist for the preferred eco-party. And at the CDU, Bernd Petelkau, as parliamentary group and party leader, was already pulling all the strings. Both Frank and Petelkau are “machinists of power”, as it were often in Cologne. Men who regulate and steer everything in the belly of the Cologne city ship – but who have neither charisma nor guts to stand visibly on the bridge as captain and to run for the highest offices. And Reker, the independent, speaks of a break with the old system. The result? A twisted reversal of the situation: in Cologne, the administration does politics. And the policy administration. At least currently.
Now the course is set for the time after Reker. It seems clear that the CDU, SPD, but also the Greens will have to find their own candidates – for self-preservation. Who could that be? Shrug, awkward silence, from everyone you ask. The alternative to the return of the parties would be a new, a second Henriette Reker. Non-party, hovering over the institutions – because the vacuum in Cologne allows it. The question of power in Cologne is still open. (Moritz Kuepper/IDZRNRW)