Since 1958, the permanent exhibition, the offices and the library of the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum have been accommodated in the historic former city arsenal (‘Zeughaus’); today, the restoration workshops are also in the same building.
The Zeughaus was built between 1594 and 1606 as the city’s arsenal. The word ‘Zeug’, which in modern German just means ‘stuff’, in those days meant specifically military equipment and weapons. The south front of the building facing the street named ‘Burgmauer’ stands on the remains of the Roman city wall – on the site occupied in the late Middle Ages by the ‘Blidenhaus’ or ‘catapult house’, named after the medieval ‘Bliden’, or catapults.
The Zeughaus is 66.80 metres long and 17.15 metres broad. It was built by the city architect Peter of Siberg, the city stonemasons Peter of Blatzheim and Matthias of Gleen, and the city carpenter Master Clas.
Stylistically, the simple brick structure shows the influences of the Dutch Renaissance. The decorative portal on the north side was designed in around 1595 by Peter Cronenborch. The 23.60 metre staircase tower on the west gable end is the last surviving late-medieval staircase tower in Cologne. A display portal created by Melchior of Rheidt in around 1600, leading from the tower to the main hall on the upper floor, was moved in the late nineteenth century to the old Rathaus or City Hall, where today it forms the passage from the Hansesaal to the Prophetenkammer. The coat of arms which once stood over the door, however, was reclaimed for the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum a few years ago.
When Cologne lost its status as a free imperial city, the new French rulers, and then their Prussian successors, continued to use the building as an arsenal. It was not until the demilitarization of the Rhineland under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that the Zeughaus took on a civilian function. From about 1920 it housed, among other things, the regional revenue office.
In two air-raids in 1942 and 1943, the building was burnt out, leaving only the outer walls standing. It was reconstructed between 1954 and 1956. However, the historic vault was not restored; the two lower floors were rebuilt each with a hall occupying the whole area, with concrete rib-vaulting. They are connected by a 1950s-style free-standing staircase, which in 1984 was painted in its present colours by the artist group ‘Mülheimer Freiheit’ and Toni May.
Since 1991, the historic staircase tower has been surmounted by the ‘Goldener Vogel’ (‘golden bird’) created by the artist HA Schult – a gilded Ford Fiesta with wings, visible from far and wide.
At the east end of the Zeughaus is the ‘Roman fountain’ created from remains of the Roman city wall between 1910 and 1915 by Franz Brantzky, and restored in 1955 by Karl Band. The walls continue to the west of the building and have been restored to their original height by additional brickwork.
To the west of the Zeughaus is the Neo-classical Alte Wache (‘Old Guardhouse’) with clear Renaissance borrowings. It was built in 1840/1841 as a Prussian guardhouse opposite the regional administration building.
The architect was Engineer Major Heinrich Ferdinand Schuberth. Of the originally three Prussian guardhouses in the city, this is the only one still standing, having been rebuilt after partial destruction in the Second World War. Then, for a time, the Alte Wache served as the exhibition space for the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, until the premises were taken over by the Stadtmuseum in 1973, since when they have been used for special exhibitions.
Adjoining the Alte Wache, there used to be a building housing military vehicles, but after severe bomb damage in the Second World War it was not rebuilt. The site was cleared and is now used as a car-park.
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